Growing up, my mother who had a love for horror movies used to sing a song from the seminal classic Malayalam movie Bhargavi Nilayam. It was a tune that signified the ghost’s lament about a life that ended too soon and all her broken dreams. While I didn’t understand the meaning of the song, I did know that it was a beautiful song that was closely associated with her childhood, after having seen the movie in the theatre when she was 5 years or so. Recently, when I realised that the movie was being rebooted, I knew I had to watch it with her. She remembered scenes from it and talked about how seeing this movie as a young child is what made her fall in love with horror and movies. She had insights and reflections after watching the movie that I could never fathom. The way my mother has retained her memories of the movie and the songs is not just reflective of her personal association with the movie though. It alludes to how the movie is inextricably connected to the modern Malayali identity - even the clause ‘Bhargavi Nilayam’ has become synonymous with abandoned houses since the release of the movie.
59 years later, Bhargavi Nilayam which is considered to be the first horror movie in Malayalam has been rebooted. Retaining the old world charm and featuring some of the best talents that the industry today has to offer, Neelavelicham (The Blue Light) is an inspired tribute to the seminal movie and the short story it was based on. Written by one of the greats of s literary world Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, this short story talks about a writer who moves into a dilapidated mansion that the village folk claim to be haunted. The story unfurls as the lonely writer starts talking to the ‘ghost’, despite not taking the idea of the haunting seriously. It sends one down a story of intrigue, innocent love, grief and loneliness.
The emotional motifs of the original story are poignantly depicted in the new rendition of the story by director Ashiq Abu. The 1964 movie was suffused with winding dialogues and exaggerated actions that were typical, and even necessary for its time. Utilising the best talent and technical prowess that the had to offer, A.Vincent created a beautiful portrayal of the story and the iconic moments from the old movie that made it a classic for its time - from the sudden jump scares to Basheer’s original dialogues are retained with reverence in the new version. While the minor nuances of quiet moments might not have been effectively captured in Bhargavi Nilayam, Neelavelicham makes the most of soundscapes and even VFX to create a soulful and befittingly nostalgic take on the plot. In retaining the songs from the old movie that was penned by P. Bhaskaran and composed by M.S.Baburaj, some of the classic tunes of yesteryears have been brought into the current times, without straying too far away from the original vision of the creators. The portrayal of the characters by Tovino Thomas, Roshan Mathews and Reema Kallingal is a worthy tribute to the characters from the short story and the classic movie.
But on the flip side, the exactness of the remake, the retention of the old songs and the sense of melancholy in the new movie are something that many viewers seem to dislike about Neelavelicham. While the original movie was peppered with humour and jovial moments of idealistic love as well as stark moments of horror and mystery, the newer version features a sense of wistfulness and loneliness. It is a slower journey, but for those who like the slow build of a story, it might be acceptable. After all, the experience and interpretation of movies are a personal affair. For those who hold a love of, have even grown up hearing of ‘Bhargavi Nilayam’ and know the indelible mark it has left on the Malayali movie industry —Neelavelicham is a movie that would be worth your time.
You can watch the old movie on Youtube here.
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