KG. George’s debut ‘Swapnadanam: Journey through a dream’ is a black and white feature. It wasn’t just compliance with contemporary technology, but the film also profiles a multi-dimensional verse through the colours black and white. It traces the black’s and white’s of Human mind. Swapnadanam opens on a beach, a man dressed up in Black and White is lying on the apparently white mud. The terrific stretch of its opening credits also have this anonymous man (unable to recollect his memory) who’s refuge in a mental hospital, rearranging the muddled blocks of black and white. Little did the spectator know, that the young man who crafted this unconventional opening sequence that sets up the whole mood required for one such film will become Malayalam Cinema’s greatest filmmaker ever. The fuss with black’s and white’s are recurring throughout the film as Ramachandra Babu’s photography too plays with shadows in white walls, soon we see chess boards and a fabulously staged dream sequence that literally plays with the idea of black and white. This might be something KG. George has drawn as inspiration from one of his certain favourites, Ingmer Bergman.
Dream sequences are the lexicon of KG. George’s film as the beautifully realised title refers to, it was first titled Palayalam and later changed Swapnadanam. The 70’s and 80’s were undoubtedly golden era for Malayalam Cinema and most of the films emphasised on sociology, psychology and history of the native land. Even though most of Adoor’s and MT’s script’s were psychological, it was George who scrutinised the psychology of human minds authentically, even the most peripheral parts of it. In Swapnadanam, George realises the emotional turmoil of a young introverted man through examining his conscious and subconscious state of mind. Even the narrative technique – which is through narco-analysis was way ahead of its times. Slowly the backstory of the man gets unveiled. And at the right time-frame’s we get his camouflaged identity (name) Doctor Gopi and his real name Parameswaran. This isn’t an identity crisis or counterfeiting, but a psychological concealment that Gopi’s subconscious mind finds to conceal his conscious mind. His conscious mind is distressed due to a broken past, a relationship which he had to forego due to a moral obligation that binds him to marry his Maternal Uncle’s daughter Sumithra.
Sumithra (Rani Chandra) is an extrovert and is pampered in a privileged family. Though she likes Gopi, Gopi isn’t mentally prepared for a relationship. His subconscious mind is still pondering over the lost college love. Gopi’s Mother later in the movie says, he’s too much a reticent person. The story narrated by Gopi (Meticulously dubbed by KG.George himself) opens with the marital relationship. It soon crumbles like a Mouna Ragam. But here it’s told from a male perspective, interestingly George in an interview said that he wanted to make this film the other way around. We are later introduced to Gopi’s house. His upbringing is by Single Mother parenting and that is obvious in his effeminate physical nuances and introverted persona, Mohandas (who played the role) is a great find by KG.George. Sumithra and Gopi start their living in Sumithra’s friend Rosy’s (Mallika Sukumaran) house where her Brother Mohan (MG Soman) also stays.
Now, this is a premise that’s so classic in the vintage era – i’m not specifically sure about the chronology pre and post Swapnadanam, but most of this era films were cheesy exploration on relationships. Here George plays with his spectator by confronting the ideas and themes of sensuality and extra-marital relationships. The narrative clutches are deeply organised with an intimate psychology of sexuality. We see this eroticism in character dynamics, between the maid Kalyani (played by Prema Menon) and Gopi, Rosy and Gopi and even between the central two there is a physical urge. Kalyani has a broken marriage and it’s been 8 years since her husband left her. Rosy is single. It’s further profoundly explored in a fabulously directed stretch – the night after Sumithra leaves Gopi. The night which turns into a psychological catastrophe for Gopi, there’s also a chilling dream sequence placed here, staged in a dissection hall which encapsulates the physiological condition of Gopi torned between two women. George doesn’t make his women as toys for men to play nor he creates voyeuristic pleasure, along with carving out the toxicity and sadistic culprit inside men with the disguising of alcohol, he also maintains a physiological narrative.
Chilling nightmares continue to haunt Gopi. Best one of the whole lot of eccentric dream sequences from Swapnadanam is the beach sequence that’s an extension to the previous dissection hall scene. Gopi tries to bury the corpse of his wife on a beach – this beach also appears in the first two dream sequences (which were daydreams), but soon when he goes back to dig the grave it’s his ex-lover instead. This is a metaphorical summation of Gopi’s subconscious mind subjugating his conscious mind. As much as he tries to bury and run away from his present day problems, the past is still haunting him dangerously.
The most beautiful scene from Swapnadanam happens at the verge of Gopi breaking into a nervous breakdown. It’s like a gentle breeze before the showering of rain. It’s ultimately the physical ecstasy. And how beautifully does George captures this intimate moment, with any other filmmaker this would possibly turn into a vulgar exposition. Soon the narrative gets dislocated and Gopi bypasses nervous wreak – the scene happens literally at the beach and mere daydreams and nightmares now transcends to hallucination. We are back to the hospital and the backstory gets unfolded. This small little part made me wish KG.George directed a full-fledged romance. The romance between Parameswaran and Kamalam is also affixed with psychology. It’s a beautiful introvert bonding. When watching Swapnadanam now, i get reminded of the romance between two medical students in B. Unnikrishnan’s 2017 film Villain: played by Vishal and Hansika.
Gopi’s condition is called fugue, his memory is temporarily lost and now he is shifted to a mental asylum. Swapnadanam ends when Gopi absconds from the asylum and later returns to his home. Soon he takes his motorcycle and drives. The title accompanies the sundown at the courtesy of the beach. The journey is indefinite.
Through Swapnadanam KG George introduces a film language that’s psychological and sensual, to Malayalam Cinema. This might also be the inception of a middle stream cinema which is popularly mastered by Padmarajan and Bharathan in the latter half of 80’s. George was an unsung legend. In Swapnadanam, he also enacts fantastic performances from the lead cast. But the stand out was a smashingly effective performance of Rani Chandra, a performance that’s so organic, the effortlessness is palpably optical when comparing another female act from the same film, of Prema Menon, which was too theatrical. Swapnadanam will continue to remain as the textbook for psychological narratives in Malayalam Cinema. It will also be remembered for George’s inimitable craft.