The story of a mentally disturbed mother is rather personal to me – something that is close to my heart and the words that flow below may be highly biased from that perspective.
Aarohanam is the story of a mother who leaves home or the story of two children in search of their lost mother – depending on how you look at it. Nirmala goes missing one day, setting her children – a daughter who is preparing for her weddingin 10 days and a school-going teenage son – in search of her amidst fatigue, panic and restlessness. The film goes back and forth the lives of the family, their travails and troubles.
Nirmala is seen as a woman of strange behaviour – she gets angry too often, her actions are out of her control during such phases, saami aadifies, leaves home, hurts herself, is even suicidal. Unable (or unwilling) to deal with this, her husband abandons her and her children to live with another woman. Nirmala does random jobs to bring up her children.
Her behaviour is seen through the eyes of various people. Her husband, for one, thinks she is mad. He beats her, drags her home when she runs away once, has no faith in her and does nothing to help her. There is a scene where in the police station, her son tells the police officer that she sells vegetables for a living and the husband retorts with “ava ovvoru naal ovvoru velai seiva saar. Dhidirnu idli kadai poduva, insurance agenta velai paappa. Kuppai kuda porukkuva”. Also adds “iva yaarodayum otthu poga maatta”. The husband displays absolute indifference to her behaviour – almost as if he wants to have nothing to do with it.
The children, even though are the most affected by her, stay by her side. They are embarrassed, troubled, hurt but hang around anyway. The son is more expressive in his embarrassment than the daughter but they are both affected profoundly. The scene in which Nirmala burns her hand because her son came home with his father (who had abandoned her) is a heart-wrenching piece of story telling. The sheer fear in the eyes of the children and their surrender to doing anything just so their mother wouldn’t hurt herself is shattering.
The landlord and his wife, the Muslim couple are the charitable elders in her life. They see her as a troubled child, as if the world is conspiring against her and she needs to be protected. The landlady takes care of Nirmala’s children while she is away at work, they lend her money, give her advice when she is depressed and shoo her husband away when he is troubling her. They support her in their own little way and help her stand on her own. The scene where the neighbourhood doubts Nirmala’s ability to conduct her business successfully, the landlady says, “ava thane poi bank padi yeri saamarthiyama loan vaangi irukka”. The landlady plays the role of a mother to a troubled child.
Sandhya, the rich businesswoman sees Nirmala’s behaviour as a relief in some way. She thinks Nirmala is better off because she has a vent for her emotions that Sandhya herself did not have – a classic grass is always greener on the other side scenario.
For Nirmala, this was a rather normal life. She has no idea why her anger reaches unmanageable levels – she thinks she has been wronged and it is only natural to behave that way. The scene in front of the children’s school where she waves a knife at someone who (claims to have) helped her is one such incident. Her life swings between extreme anger, happiness, pride and depression.
Just for the sake of logistics, I have no idea why that MLA character is there in the film. That song at the end of the film is too long for comfort that you just sit around and wait for it to be over and the story be told. The beginning scenes where Sandy and Jay talk about their lives and how Jay gave up her singing career (?) because she had to take care of family is force-fitted. So is that piece in the song that Jay sings. If this is meant to be about the three ladies and their lives, it doesn’t come across as that. The last pep talk that the Doctor gives about Nirmala’s high energy is strange.
All said, Nirmala’s is a moving story. Her lonely struggle against the world (perhaps made up in her mind by her bipolar disorder) is painful. What’s more emotional is the story of the daughter (elder) and the son who try to cope with her in spite of it all. This story had to be told – for psychological problems aren’t at the tip of the Maslow’s pyramid.