Dissecting Halitha's ‘Aelay’ and Lijo's ‘Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam’. Dots that fail to connect

Aesthetics can be understood to relate to the style, tone, look or mood of a film. Movie stills

In a Facebook post on February 24, Halitha Shameem accused Lijo Jose Pellissery of stealing the aesthetics of ‘Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam’ from her ‘Aelay’.

If you have watched both and is still unable to spot the resemblances even after revisiting the two movies on Netflix, don't fret – you have company.

For it is extremely difficult to draw lines between the two beautiful works. Even then we embark on a journey to find the parallels between the two works.

Differences, similarities

In her FB post, Halitha complained that she and her team introduced the villagers in ‘Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam’ (NNM) into acting and prepared the village for shooting. And she should feel proud that her understudies have done a superb job in ‘Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam’ alongside Mammootty.

However, they or the village did not look similar to their appearance in her 2021 comedy-drama. Kudos to DOP Theni Eswar and the art directors of 'Aelay' and 'NNM', Vinoth Rajkumar and Gokul Das, in that order.

In 'Aelay', the external walls of the houses in the village are newly painted in bright white or yellow. However, the houses looked neglected from the inside, just like the protagonist Parthy played by K. Manikandan.

In 'NNM', the village dons a rustic look while transforming into James's dream. Cracks and patches have formed on the exterior walls and the rains and sun have faded the white, bringing out the blue pigment.

It is a pointer to Sundaram's gloomy hours inside James's dream. Halitha's village shows traces of modernity in various forms while Lijo's village is stuck in the past. Theni Eswar has successfully evaded the trap of replicating the frames, despite being in the maze of the village alleys.

But, Halitha's opening shot of 'Aelay' creates an illusion of similarity with the bus sequence in ‘Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam’. The long shot, giving space for opening credits to roll, remains in Parthy's POV while the terrain and the night pass by. Though the viewers are not shown the passing vehicles and the glaring headlights, it is well established with the honking of horns and sound treatment that sounds similar to NNM.

The journey is an unbearable one for both Parthy and James. Parthy is sleepless on an overnight bus from Chennai travelling back home after getting the news of his father's sudden demise. He is tormented by memories of his father, a con man, who only created humiliating moments for him.

In James's case, despite being the owner of the theatre company, he feels taken for granted by the members of the group. He detests their every bit of action inside the bus.

Milkman, the ice cream guy and the dog

Halitha complained that the milkman in Lijo's ‘Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam' is a version of the ice cream man in her 'Aelay'. Other than both characters roaming around the village on their two-wheelers, the striking similarity one could find is in the performance of the lead actors. Mammootty and Samuthirakani acts it out to perfection as James-Sundaram and Muthukkutty-Sudhakar. Sundaram is a hardworking villager who is loved by all while Muthukkutty had to 'die' for his bar-owner friend to remember his good deeds. Whatever good is there in Mathukkutty is buried under his mischiefs.

Posters of both films shared by director Halitha Shameem on Facebook

The dogs in the films are shown as pets of protagonists. Halitha wrote about the similarities in Muthukkutty's Sembuli running behind the ambulance and Sundaram's Sevalai running behind James's minibus. But Sembuli is on a quest to rescue his master while Sevalai's chase represents the lingering uneasy memories from James's siesta dream. One is purely physical and the other deals in the ethereal realm.

There is, however, a similarity between Muthukkutty and Sundaram – they both ‘return’ from 'death' to their loved ones. Muthukkutty had to die twice (and return) to make his son Parthy shed tears for him. Sundaram, who is missing and is presumed dead in James's dream, returns to his kith and kin and he is caught in a (kind of a) Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) situation from M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Sixth Sense'. It is the indifference of his friends and family that makes him realise that something is not right with him. In his dream, James regains his identity when Sundaram realises this fact. Muthukkutty's deaths are his ploys, first to win the insurance money and then in self-defence.

According to Oxford Cambridge and RSA website FAQ, "the aesthetic is the way a film’s visual and aural features are used to create essentially non-narrative dimensions of the film, including the film’s ‘look’. Aesthetics can be understood to relate to the style, tone, look or mood of a film."

Halitha Shameem's ‘Aelay’ and Lijo Jose Pellissery's ‘Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam’ share no similar visual or aural features. The style, tone, look and mood of these films are extremely different. 'Aelay' is a well-made feel-good film and ‘Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam’ is a magical dream. Both films are available on Netflix.

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