VANAPRASTHAM, THE LAST DANCE Image

This is a leisurely-paced but fascinating film about an unusual and beautiful form of South Indian performance, the Keralan theater of Kathakalini, which combines dance, music, sung dialogue, and pantomime. The film’s main character is a Kathakali performer named Kunhikuttan, who although a revered master of his art has little wealth. He endures a loveless marriage, mostly for the sake of his beloved daughter, performs his art for weddings and festivals throughout the year, and is often on the road with his troupe of musicians. When he meets a wealthy member of royalty, a beautiful woman named Subhadra, her love for the theater, and especially her obsession for the character he plays so masterfully, leads to a romantic union doomed to fail. One of the most riveting elements of this film is certainly the theater performances, which are sublimely expressive nuggets of traditional South Indian culture. South Indian superstar Mohanlal learned his movements to perfection, and is so immersed in his performance, that he is completely believable as the master artist he plays. Even when his enormous frame is dressed in the spectacularly garish drag of a female role, his deep immersion in his roles and the fact that the characters he plays are larger-than-life mythical figures, inexorably draws you into total suspension of disbelief; he literally becomes those Indian gods and heroes. Lush cinematography tops off this gorgeous film, with scenes so rich in color you can smell the fertile damp of the Indian jungle and the taste sweat on Kunhikuttan’s brow as he works himself into the rhythmic fever-dream his roles demand.

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