I heard a story once. It was the ultimate revenge story. I’m sure you have heard it too; the eldest among three princesses in love with a vassal lord; Everything going well until a great warrior comes in search of brides for his king and tragically ends the love story. Enraged by this, the princess goes into exile and longs to kill the warrior – if not in this birth, then in her next birth, assuming whichever form she can.
You recollect who the warrior was and how he was killed, don’t you?
Jettisoning for some time my own beliefs on rebirth, I can appreciate that the idea was of immense interest to our forefathers. It also made for many afternoons spent listening to stories in the delicate voices of our grandmothers, who, it seemed, never ran out of material for these yarns. Whether or not our filmmakers heard such tales from their grandmother, they have been making films with this theme for long.
My first tryst with a re-birth story was the Kamal Hassan vehicle Enakul Oruvan (The One Inside Me) which itself was the southern twin of the popular Karz; a pop singer’s life takes a turn when the sight of a new locale brings back not only memories, but also a not-yet-dead mother, a lost wife, and the skill of a martial art.
I watched other films that were quite similar in structure, using re-incarnation to reunite dead lovers and extract the blood of those responsible for their separation in the first place; they were love stories with a historical twist.
Right from the chilling Nenjam Marappadillai (The heart does not forget) where a hundred year old villain played by Nambiar waits to kill even the reborn lovers, to the recent Magadheera which went back four centuries to find love. There was even the comedic take on it all, Rajnikanth trying to find a body to be born back into after his untimely death in director SP Muthuraman’s Adhisiya Piravi (Wondrous Birth), using this chance to joyfully make references to the Superstar’s previous films; he finally finds one suitable body with the help of Lord Yama, and on it goes.
SS Rajamouli whose Magadheera was referenced earlier, went one step further; perhaps the most inventive proponent of this mystical sub-genre came out with this year’s most loved film, in a world where it is not necessary to be reborn as a human being to seek revenge, but as a lowly fly.
The inventiveness in Eega/ Naan E lies in breaking the format. Rajamouli did not succumb to the industry pressure to show an extraordinary fly; rather, he shows us an ordinary fly with no special powers, and no ability to talk. With some characteristic fly-traits brought to life by technology, the hero of the film, for the most part, is this tiny creature.
Rajamouli’s film is on the lines of movies by the holy trinity of Chinnappa Devar, Vittalacharya and Ramanarayanan, who endlessly used animals to move plots forward and finish off villains, but Eega/Naan E is updated and benefits from a threatening performance by Sudeep and successfully hides the silliness inherent in the genre.
Although a re-birth epic is seen as interesting storytelling, it also provides the much needed space for our larger than life heroes to prove that they are immortal; or, in a popular phrase “even death can’t touch him”, adding to the ever increasing aura of a hero.
For the cynics, there is even the medical treatment of reincarnation, used as one of the many hilarious subplots in Uttarvuindri Ulle Vaa( Come in without permission). Nagesh meets a mentally unstable lady claiming to be a princess and that he was her would-be; a sneering dig on the historical films of the past is in the use of ‘Naadha’ (“Lord”) by women to address their beloved.
The 1991 film Guna features a protagonist who has no ability to differentiate between reality and mythology, convinced that he is Shiva reborn into this filthy world, in search of Abirami, his other half – literally.
Hollywood is also fascinated by the concept of life after life; this year’s big Indie, Cloud Atlas will feature multiple storylines stretching across timelines where characters’ souls go body hopping from one life to another.
The idea of rebirth contradicts the zeitgeist – “There is only one life, live it hard”. But it also gives hope, seducing us mere mortals with dreams of a second chance – if not this time, then maybe later, in another lifetime…
Until we receive a verdict about the truth in rebirth, there will always be movies to keep the dream alive.
P.S: The Hindi version of Naan Ee/Eega called Makkhi will release in October and add to the massive re-incarnation collection of Bollywood.