I got to see Makaramanju only yesterday though the film was released last year. In my blog post Lenin Rajendran going ahead with Raja Ravi Varma movie I had translated the name of this Malayalam film to English as Winter Mist. The official name however is The Mist of Capricorn.
Makaramanju is an allegorical presentation of certain segments of the Royal Painter’s life and his creation depicting of the mythological parting of King Paruravas and Apsaras Urvashi. The raja falls in love with Sugandha Bhai (Anjali Bhai in the cinema), his model for Urvasi. In Makaramanju the painter alternates as the king, and the model as Urvashi. There is a continuing interchange between the eras of Ravi Varma and Pururavas, and the characters.
It is remarkable that the Director Lenin Rajendran who wrote the script also, cast Santhosh Sivan, an established cinematographer and director, in the main role. He has done a good job as Ravi Varma and Pururavas. In fact, one wonders in which role he shines better.
Urvashi is played by Karthika Nair. Makaramanju is her second film, and the first in Malayalam. But before dealing with her performance one has to mention Nithya Menon, the pretty young actress. Her portrayal of the Jasmine Girl in the beginning of the movie, though not very demanding, is beautiful. She models for Ravi Varma a few times. Then she is murdered by unknown persons, perhaps at the behest of some jealous lady. There is talk that the painter could be involved. In disgust Varma leaves Travancore and goes to Bombay (Mumbai).
That is where Sugundha Bhai comes into his life. Karthika does her dual role well. She does present the two personalities handled by her satisfactorily. Quite apparently, the naturalness that Nithya Menon so pleasantly presents is not consistently seen in Karthika’s performance. The reason seems to be that Urvashi is an Apsaras who was banished to earth and therefore is different from mortal females.
As Sugandha Bhai she is more earth bound. Sometimes there is a whiff of sophistication that does not blend. For instance the way she alights from the car – all very modern and confident. Such finesse is not expected from a woman of her level and situation in the story. The car itself is a model that came out after Ravi Varma died. The boat ride of Varma and Karthika also indicate an element of modernity. Such drawbacks could have been avoided, but really they are only a bit of dust in the corner of a brilliant canvas.
Raja Ravi Varma is the man who gave faces to Indian goddesses. Millions keep the prints of his paintings of Mahalakshmi and Sraswathi and others in their prayer rooms and worship them. The Royal Painter chose his models with great care. They were from different walks of life. Soon a rumor started that his models were prostitutes and widows and there was a court case. The Director handles this situation with great ease and there are no boring sequences.
The movie has a thread of sensuality. It is often thin, occasionally thick. That is quite natural for the story in the manner in which it is presented. But there are a couple of negative aspects as well. The rather prolonged erotic scenes slow down the movie when it is already slack at certain places. Also, the same body positions and movements at least on two occasions are illogical in the land of Kamasutra and tedious to watch.
The scenic locations are beautiful. Cinematography by Madhu Ambatt is superb. Music by Ramesh Narayan and the singing are good. In every sphere the movie maintains high standard. That is nothing surprising in a film by Lenin Rajendran. He has created a high quality piece of art.
The King Pururavas – Urvashi painting by Raja Ravi Varma is reproduced in my blog post mentioned at the beginning of this article and also in Art and Wine. Ravi Varma’s Mahalakshmi painting can be seen in Ashtalakshmi Temple, Chennai.