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|March 31, 2000||
Shobha Warrier in Madras
It is college day at a women's college. A well-known writer and a police officer are the main speakers at the function. The writer becomes nostalgic standing on the podium and talking to the girls as the chief guest in the college she herself studied in.
She is reminded of the days when she, along with her friends, conscientiously listened to their idols. She also remembers how her literary career began in college with the articles she wrote for the magazine she and her friends edited. She still cherishes the excitement she felt when her first story appeared on the Wall magazine and says, "The kind of excitement I felt that day was more than what I felt when I won many awards later in life. I still treasure those moments. Five of us were virtually inseparable. Now when I stand in front of you, I feel like revisiting those fun-filled days."
The young police officer starts her speech by asking the writer whether she has any idea where the other four friends are now. The writer, trying to remember, says, "One was in Orissa as the district collector sometime back...after that...I do not know. Another friend has gone abroad and the other, we heard was somewhere in ...To tell you the truth, we lost track..."
The police officer sarcastically continues her speech, "Yes, this is what happens to female friends. Once they are adults, once they get married, they forget their old friends. Husband, children and family take precedence over friendship and eventually they forget their past. So girls, remember -- friendship is very sacred. Carry it with you till your last breath."
Inspired by her speech, two college students take a vow that their friendship will last forever and they will marry only after they achieve something in life.
History is full of stories about great friendships between men, but there is not even a single story about two women friends! If you take Hindi films, there are umpteen stories about two dosts (read 'male') who are willing to sacrifice their lives and love for their 'dear friends,' but no movie that delves into friendship among women.
But that was before Raakkili Paattu (Nightingale's Song), directed by Priyadarshan. This is a movie about the everlasting friendship between two girls. "When men can be friends for life, why can't women? We men have such good friends from school and college days that even now they can call us in the middle of the night and say they will be over the next day. We can take that kind of liberty with our friends, but we find that women do not enjoy this," says Murali Nagavalli, the film's associate director.
Raakkili Paattu is different in the sense that it has no male characters -- no hero, no father, no brother, not even a villain. No romantic element and no love scenes. The police personnel in the film are women, the college principal is a woman, the hostel warden is a woman, even the professors are women.
But what kind of a movie is it? It is a suspense thriller, says producer Mukesh Mehta, who has earlier made successful Malayalam films like Thenmavin Kompathu (the unsuccessful Hindi remake was Saath Rang Ke Sapne), Butterflies, etc.
The aspirations and goals of the two friends, played by Jyothika and Sharbani Mukherjee, are about to shatter when Sharbani's guardian emotionally blackmails her to get married. To prevent the marriage from taking place, they invent a lover.
To their horror, the fictional lover calls them one day. They cannot understand how the man they themselves created and who is known only to the two of them, can actually exist. To solve the mystery, they call the man to the hostel amidst college celebrations. But to their shock, he is killed in front of their hostel room.
Naturally, the two girls become the prime suspects in the murder and the film picks up momentum from this point. The two girls are on the run with an angry CBI officer after them.
The original story idea for the film is by Marathi writer Chandrakant Kulkarni, who had made an extremely successful Marathi film, Bindhaast, based on the story last year. "Priyadarshan heard about the film and asked me to see it and decide whether I would like to produce the movie. I went to Bombay, saw the film and liked it. Although we bought the remake rights from Kulkarni, our film is totally different," says Mehta.
Nagavalli reiterates that they have taken only the main thread from the Marathi story. The rest of the film, its sub-plots and the treatment are completely different from the original.
Initially, it was planned as a Malayalam film with a cast familiar to the Kerala audience. But as Priyadarshan's excitement over the project grew, the canvas got wider and the producer decided to look for a bigger audience. That's how young actresses like Jyothika, Sharbani Mukherjee and Ishita Arun (daughter of Ila Arun) stepped in to give it a more national flavour. Seasoned actresses like Manorama, Lakshmi, Lalitha, Sukumari, Mita Vasisht, Tabu and Dipti Bhatnagar also joined the all-female team.
Cinematographer Jeeva and art director Sabu Cyril have given the film a fresh, slick and elegant look to appeal to the young audiences. "In this women's college, you have students from all over India and abroad. Naturally, the movie has a rather modern and cosmopolitan atmosphere. We shot 90 per cent of the film in a college in Mysore and the rest in Madras. One of the highlights of the film is the live coverage of the Dussera festival of Mysore. The climax of the film, where the policewomen chase the girls, takes place there," Mehta explains.
Raakkili Paattu also takes on issues like eve-teasing and gender bias that prevail in our society today. The CBI officer, played by Tabu, is one such character who fights for women and their rights, but receives criticism and hostility from those at the top.
She gets angry and agitated whenever she hears about atrocities committed against women. Her career is one unending struggle against the male-dominated police force. She gets transferred when she arrests a bigwig's son for raping a four-year-old girl. Any resemblance to any high profile police officer in the country, is quite accidental, the filmmakers say!
The people in Madras remember even now the cruel murder of Sarita Shah, a college girl, by some eve-teasers. This incident finds a place in the film. States Nagavalli, "In the film, we have shown that the boy involved in the incident has political connections. But Tabu is so idealistic that she even refuses to attend to any telephone calls after the boy's arrest. She fears people with high connections will put pressure on her to release the culprit. Yes, we have dealt with many social issues in the film, but it is essentially a suspense thriller which will keep the audience on the edge of their seats."
According to Sharbani, who plays the one of the central characters, "The film is about two friends, played by Jyothika and I. It's about our commitment to one another and how we get through tough times. I play a rich girl. The basic idea is from Bindhaast, but it has been changed significantly. The treatment and story are different too. Apart from that, I don't want to say anything to give away too much of the story."
But she does add that "it's very interesting to do a film which has only women in it. I find it a fascinating concept and enjoyed the experience. I knew Priyadrashan from before and he thought I would be ideal for the role. I enjoyed the Marathi film from which the idea of Raakkili Paattu is borrowed and it was refreshing working in an all-women film, with no romantic angle or hero in it."
Mita Vashist, who also stars in the movie, says, "Though the film is a remake of Bindhaast, I think it will have quite a few surprises. My role is interesting and very challenging too. I enjoy working with Priyadarshan as he creates a comfortable atmosphere. Being in an all-women film, with no heroes, is certainly different. Also, I think in an unusual movie like Raakkili Paattu, it's the way the director treats the subject that makes the difference. I think Priyadarshan has done a fantastic job and I am not apprehensive about the fate of the film, I'm sure it will do well."
But to experience the suspense and the thrill, the audience has to wait until May. The film will be released simultaneously in 75 theatres in all four South Indian languages (Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu). Plans are on to dub it in Hindi too.
(With inputs from Sharmila Taliculam in Bombay)
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