'Ithra Mathram' starts off with a death of a woman who never knew it would stealthily arrive to snatch her away while she lay asleep. K Gopinathan's directorial debut opens with devastation and the suddenness of it, and then takes us along a road that is ridden with human frailties and convictions as revealed through many individuals who knew the deceased.
Sumithra (Swetha Menon), is a woman in her thirties, who has admirably adjusted with a quiet life with her husband (Biju Menon) in Wayanad. The couple has a daughter Anasuya (Malavika), and it seems just another night in their lives, until Sumithra refuses to wake up at dawn. Her lifeless body is laid out on the verandah, and as neighbors, friends and relatives arrive to pay their sympathies, a life though shortly lived, is unraveled before us through the memories of those who continue to live.
The conversation between Yaksha and Yudhishtira is pertinent in this context. When asked by the celestial form as to what the biggest surprise on earth is, Yudhishtira replies self-assuredly that it is the ability of human beings to go on with their lives as if nothing happened, despite the millions of lives that perish every day. Even as her body is carried to the pyre, the men who have assembled around, voice their concerns on more immediate issues. Death appears insignificant and quite a far-flung possibility that everyone but oneself needs to be bothered about
The cinematic adaptation of Kalpetta Narayanan's novel by the same is segmented into several visual episodes that have been titled appropriately. In a segment titled 'Abhayam' (Refuge), we see Sumithra tending to a young boy who is left alone after his dad suddenly takes ill and is hospitalized. The old man living next door (Nedumudi Venu) is one to realize her benevolence as well as he finds her knocking at his door on a rainy night, to see if he is doing all right.
'Samantharam' (Parallel) throws light on the conjugal life of the woman, and her husband Vasu appears to be an indifferent man whose apathy has set them sailing along parallel lines that have no intention whatsoever to meet ever again. The sparks of jealousy that ever so rarely make an appearance in Vasu confirm that there is no soreness as such. But over the years, the familiarity that had once drawn them together had transformed them into strangers on bed, and off it.
In 'Swakaryam' (Secret), Sumithra lends an ear to the troubles of an ever-dependent friend, while in 'Santhwanam' (Solace), she stand up for her housemaid, a tribal woman devastated by domestic abuse. The village harlot too finally finds someone to listen to her words, for a change. 'Avicharitham' (Unforeseen) has Sumithra opening her bedroom doors for a bronze vessel vendor (Siddique), who quickly strikes a deal.
The dialogues are the only reason for discontent in an otherwise neatly designed film, and at times they sound a bit too contrived to appear naturally wedged into real life. I am also doubtful if the precise nuances that make the book very special have indeed been captured with precision in the film.
Swetha Menon is an actor who has ceased to surprise us, and here she is at her best again as the woman who is made to leave, in the middle of things. Biju Menon and Siddique are excellent as well, and so is KPAC Lalitha in a brief role. The film also has an absolutely bewitching background score by Isaac Thomas Kottukapally, and a few outstanding melodies composed by Jason J Nair. K G Jayan's hypnotic cinematography ensures that the chill of the Wayanad air is infused into the ambience of the film.
The story that 'Ithra Mathram' tells is unrelentingly downbeat, and yet it remains downright engrossing. It has an elegiac feel to it that ponders on why and how life must go on, even as death hovers all around.