Cast: Jayaram, Lakshmi Gopalaswamy, Kadambari
Director: Shaji N. Karun
Rating: Three stars
Kochi: Emotional isolation, inner fears, and arrogance stir the fires of artistic genius in the directions of both creativity and self-destruction. In Swapaanam (The Voiding Soul), one such flaming couple experiences moments of bliss while journeying together on a spiritual jugalbandi.
When chenda virtuoso (Jayaram) is challenged by a mohiniyattam danseuse (Kadambari) to keep time to her every movement on the floor, he readily accepts. And succeeds in the seemingly impossible, creating soft, graceful whispers from his furious instrument. The duo immediately finds themselves magnetised.
Since artists are mavericks, the in-thing would have been for them to drum and dance into each other for eternity come what may. Instead, ludicrous subplots and characters are introduced. Everyone in the village has heard of The chenda hero except the chenda-hating daughter of a chenda player who marries him. And a strong woman decides to live out her life with a useless crackpot whom she cannot love.
Jayaram as the master chenda artiste whips up an insane frenzy. His eyes are dazed, at moments, as he slips in and out of his senses. And his sticks and fingers fly in sync even to the high-speed drum beats. He’s almost as intense as Bharath Gopi once was as a tablist. Kadambari matches his prowess with her steps. Together they quiver like passing comets attracted to each other.
Perhaps not since Louis Banks once famously used the chenda in one of his jazz fusion albums has this humble percussion instrument been elevated to centre stage in recording history. Here, its loud intoxicating sounds rumble over soothing Carnatic ragas, making for an unusual musical feel.
The Shaji N Karun touch is evident throughout (although another cinematographer and editor are credited). From the careful placements of the subjects within the frames to the flow of the visuals.
This could easily have been a classic lyrical film on a couple from contrasting art forms finding solace in each other’s madness. Reduced to a cheesy melodrama, though, it still manages to stand out for Jayaram and Siddique’s performances, the complex rhythmic renditions, and Karun’s remarkable command over the cinematic language....