are known as Yakshis in southern India, but we would think of them as succubi. Every culture has their equivalent, but one
architect fears he married one. Yet, his
perception of reality may or may not be so reliable in Shalini Usha Nair’s Akam (Palais in Bloom), which screened
at the 2012 South Asian International Film Festival in New York (trailer here).
seemed to have his life laid out perfectly, until an accident left the young
architect visibly disfigured. Abandoned
by his girlfriend, he descends into a deep existential depression. It is only the chance late night meeting with
a mysterious woman that snaps him out of his lethargy. Just what Ragini was doing at his
construction site at that hour is a question that will bother Srinivas in
months to come, but it concerns him little during their brief courtship.
a while everything is great and then just as suddenly things are terrible
again. Srinivas finds himself besieged
by minor misfortunes and ailments that he is convinced Ragini has caused. He is convinced she is a Yakshi, who seduced
him in order to torment and eventually murder him, because that is what Yakshis
Ragini is a Yakshi, Nair isn’t telling.
There is evidence in the film to support either conclusion, but none of
it trustworthy, because of the manner Srinivas’s obviously warped POV skews the
film’s narrative. Indeed, Akam’s open-endedness clearly gave some
SAIFF patrons fits, just as Nair intended.
based Malayattoor Ramakrishnan’s novel Yakshi,
Akam could have featured a spot of gore here and there, but Nair elected to
keep it off-screen, which will further frustrate genre fans. That simply is not the tradition the film
flows out of. However, there are enough
hat-tips to Vertigo to inspire an
angry missive from Kim Novak. Present
day Kerala might seem worlds and centuries removed from Puritan New England,
but Srinivas could almost be considered a Malayalam Hawthorne character, whose outward
disfigurement corresponds to a spiritual disfigurement. The real horror of his story is the uncertainty
whether he is the victim or the tormentor, much like a Goodman Brown.
Srinivas, Fahadh Faasil vividly portrays a man plagued by inner demons and
insecurities, while Anumol K’s Ragini certainly suggests a woman with closely
guarded secrets. Freed from traditional
genre demands, Nair’s pacing is decidedly patient. Unfortunately, the frequent flashbacks are
not well delineated from the present day, often causing viewer confusion. Yet, her sparing use of sound, and the
overwhelming sense of darkness and stillness are unusually effective. Akam has
a genuinely foreboding atmosphere that makes the ambiguous gamesmanship
is definitely not Bollywood. Technically,
it is Mollywood, but do not expect any Malayalam musical numbers. While the austerity of Nair’s style is
demanding at times, the overall vibe really gets under your skin. Though not perfect, this is a film more
festival programmers ought to consider.
Recommended for cineastes who have a taste for the macabre but prefer
mood over mayhem, Akam is set to have
a limited Indian release this November.
Labels: Mollywood, SAIFF '12, Yakshi