‘Manichitrathazhu’ raised the bar for Malayalam cinema. The Christmas release 1993 movie remains one of the best psychological thrillers to be made in India. The movie earned the lead actor, Shobhana, a national award. The movie was so successful that it was remade into Tamil, Kannada, Hindi and Bengali. The movie’s script is part of the curriculum in many film schools.
Director Fazil rightfully credits writer Madhu Muttom for the success of the movie. Madhu always comes up ideas rather than stories, Fazil said.
Madhu said that he goes to a director only after he has written at least 70 percent of the story. Directors take whatever ideas they found interesting, he said.
Fazil has shaped several of his superhit movies from Madhu’s ideas. ‘Ennennum Kannettante’ had its genesis in an idea about examinations. Even Kamal’s ‘Kakkothikkavile Appooppan Thadikal’ evolved from Madhu’s story idea about a group of nomads.
A friendly chat between Fazil and Madhu about a disturbing lore about ‘chathaneru’ paved the way for ‘Manichitrathazhu’.
Chathan, the invisible people of Kerala’s fairy tales, struck after dark. They belonged to an era before the advent of electricity. Their menace has lessened since electric bulbs lit up the evenings.
There was nothing supernatural about the naughty creatures. Their exploits were actually the handiworks of mentally disturbed people. These people were able to do things even when they acted normal among others.
The idea of ‘chathaneru’, the unexplained pelting of stones, gradually developed into a story of a full-blown multiple personality disorder in ‘Manichitrathazhu’.
Fazil and Madhu were aware that they were starting on a complex topic. The project hit a deadend many times. They lived with the idea for months. They even thought of dropping the idea and moving on.
In fact, Fazil did moved on to other projects, such as ‘Ente Sooryaputhrikku’ and ‘Pappayude Swantham Appose’. Madhu worked on the idea for three years until he came up with a first line for ‘Manichitrathazhu’.
He struggled to form the characters of the movie. The result was phenomenal. Ganga, Nagavalli, Nakulan, Alli, Ramanathan and even the Madampalli house became part of everyday conversations in Kerala.