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Mathilukal 1990 Malayalam Movie Review



Zussette Aplaon

4.5 Star popcorn reviewss


On my traverse through the exquisite richness of Indian Cinema, I indulge myself on the classics. I was fascinated by the stillness in the narratives of classical films, thus, continued my quest in discovering timeless gems of Indian cinema. I came across this film as my friend urge me to see this not only because it is his all-time favorite, but because this deserved to be watched by many. The film centers on the prison years spent by a noted Malayalam writer Vaikom Mohammad Basher in prison. Basheer was imprisoned by British Government for treason by advocating the exit of the British. Mathilukal is a cinematic art of the autobiography novel of the same title written inside the prison walls.

Frame, Score & Setting

The film opened with Basheer’s stay on his temporary cell while waiting for his sentence. On his first screen registry, he was wearing a wide smile on his face and a sense of optimism despite unjust detention. The first part of the film was invested on developing Basheer’s character. He was exemplified as warm-hearted writer turned political prisoner who was respected and love by prison guards and inmates. He is good with words where he sometimes offered spiritual enlightening to everyone he conversed with. In return, he received favors such as cigarettes, sweets, tea, and paper.

Characters and Acting Performances

Sir Adoor Gopalakrishnan penned a solid characterization on Basheer while Mammootty played to perfection. His delivery of dialogues was pure, sharp and poetic. His facial expression and body language all belong to Basheer. Mammootty only served as a vessel for the pure soul of Basheer. There’s pure innocence and suaveness in the way he expressed his thoughts that even mentioning breast and navel was poetic. The storytelling was elegant, it’s beauty was on its slowness. The detailed yet poetic narrative was brilliantly done. With aesthetic cinematography of DOP Mankada Ravi Varma every scene was frame-worthy even that slow walk to the cell, puffing of cigarette, and staring at the rain were compelling to watch. Other characters were introduced with their own stories but only the college friend of Basheer was given an ample back-story. The protagonist was characterized as calm, caring, cheerful, and heart-warming but when the turn of events caught him off guard, he lost all the light in his eyes and succumb into loneliness and despair. His aching desire for freedom slowly gnaw his soul that even the unexpected blossoming of the roses he had cared for months had not comforted him.

Screenplay, Dialogue and Direction

In deep solitude, Basheer had turned to talking to trees and squirrel, and walking to and fro along the unending walls. But on the last 30 minutes of the film, a faceless character was introduced. Narayani, a female prisoner on the other side of the wall whom later on had developed a bond with Basheer. Her voice was pleasant and endearing and their intimate exchanges of dialogues were ecstatic. Narayani despite unseen, had slowly healed the shattered heart of Basheer. The walls highly erected between them served as physical divides but their ingenious ways for communicating redeemed each other of their anguish. It was such a good implication how communication could touch lives. In this digital era where social media could connect everyone to anyone in the world, depression could be overcome, friendship could be formed and love could blossom.


Adoor Gopalakrisnan sir recaptulated a bleak prison autobiography with his tight screenplay, solid characterization, lyrical dialogues and grandeur direction. The storyline is poignant but the melancholic score by Vijaya Raman had put salt on the wound. The instrumental interludes escalated the emotions on the scenes but the closing music was the most depressing. The impeccable editing of M. Mani entwined the narrative from the humdrum opening scene to the heartbreaking finale. The film showcased a heartwarming tale of human as a social being. A story of companionship amidst unbearable loneliness. A story of solitude and freedom, of loneliness and hope, of unity and separation, and of loss and redemption. A film made more than 2 decades ago but still serving its purpose of reminding each and everyone of us that the world is a bigger jail but no one should be left alone and feel alone.

Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.

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