Lijo Jose Pellissery never misses out on telling a humane story amongst all the chaos that he unleashes. “Jallikattu,” “Churuli,” and “Angamaly Diaries;” chaos was at the center of all the stories by him, but the human story remained the central character of his films. The same can be said about “Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam,” which means a beautiful nap in the afternoon. This is the story of a man who goes through a transformational change in a few hours, making people who know him wonder if this is true. Starring the legendary Mammootty, Ramya Suvi, Ashokan, and Ramya Pandian; the film released on the big screen on 19th January 2023.
James’s Trip Back Home
“Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam” begins in Velankanni, in Tamil Nadu, which is a pilgrimage spot for many Christians residing in the south of India. Christians from Kerala make sure to visit this pilgrimage spot as often because of the proximity factor. As the day begins, a group of Malayali families are all ready to head back to their hometown after a successful trip to this holy town. It is going to be a long trip which is traveling from the southern tip of Tamil Nādu to Kerala. The leader of the tourist group is asking everyone to get up early in the morning as they have a strict schedule to follow, and he intends to reach his town on time. James, his wife Sally, his father-in-law, and his son were the last people to get on the bus. Most of them were ready to leave quite early in the morning. It was James and his family that took time to gather themselves for the long trip. James is a typical patriarchal man who likes to be the alpha male in the group and be the one everyone listens to. James always believes he is the final decision maker everywhere; here, that would include his family and the tourist group, which is full of his friends, relatives, and acquaintances. James, as a person, does not like anything that a normal person would do. A normal person would aim to be a sociable, likable person, tries to fit in, and generally loves merriment. James is a different person altogether. He doesn’t enjoy popular stuff around him, things like songs that everyone likes, movies that everyone likes, and this is evident in the fact that he nitpicks on things that are not even necessary to nitpick on.
The group on the way back home starts singing songs to just keep the general vibe on the bus positive and happy, but James forces them to stop singing for it starts bothering him rather quickly. Why is James this way? No one knows. His wife, Sally, and his son have also gotten used to the way he behaves. Be it with them or being amongst a group of people who are just trying to have some fun while they are aging gloriously. James is like any other man hitting his 50s who would rather be grumpy and always appreciate things from the past as being memorable. He will never embrace anything new that comes his way, and James has his justification for the way he acts, which his family and friends have gotten used to. As the trip is halfway through, things seem quite normal, and all of it comes across as a mundane journey. A bus filled with old songs, old movies, and people just mingling and being normal, not expecting anything to go wrong from this point on.
‘Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam’ Ending Explained – Does James Come Out Of His Possession State? Was James Dreaming Of The Entire Scenario?
The group decides to stop at a place for lunch. This will be the last stop they would make before entering Kerala, and everyone is asked to have a heavy lunch. James also is a miser of a man, so he makes it very clear to people to eat well but not make a dent in his pocket. James is also a teetotaler. James does not join the men on the bus to have a drink before catching up on lunch. As all of them finish lunch, the driver makes it clear that he paid for his food and the rest of the group’s money was paid by James himself. James is a pseudo-leader here who many look up to and consider listening to. They always turn to him in case of trouble and want to know his solutions. As people sitting on the bus after a heavy lunch slip into sleep mode, a coma of sorts, James is also one of them who gets a good afternoon nap, just enough to make sure he feels refreshed once he is up.
James wakes up from his nap, and the bus passes through an unknown village that is surrounded by unending farmlands. James asks the bus driver to stop, and says he needs to get off. No one is woken up by this random stop requested by James. He suddenly gets off the bus and starts walking. He enters a deserted, sleepy village, where villagers themselves are enjoying their afternoon nap. As James keeps walking, not one person notices the fact that a strange man is walking into their village, not necessarily wearing something a local from their town would wear. James so far has no agenda about why he is walking around the town, and he doesn’t know which place is his endpoint. James keeps walking, and he reaches a home where an elderly blind lady is listening to an old Tamil movie that goes on nonstop, while James makes himself comfortable as if it were his home. James changes his clothes into something that belonged to the man of the house. Meanwhile, the lady of the house, Puvally, wakes up from her nap to see a man pretending to be the man of the house and asking her to do things at home. Puvally and her father-in-law are shocked to see a random man walking into their home, speaking to them in their language, and behaving as if the home belongs to him. James starts talking in Tamil, and he isn’t aware of what has happened to him, how he is behaving, or why he is behaving in this manner. James is in a completely different state of mind as he takes up the Luna scooter parked outside this home and starts traveling across the village. There is no specific reason why James’s nature has suddenly changed. He is now talkative, drinks alcohol, and is religious.
As James goes from one end of the town to the other on the same scooter, the group in the bus is now on the lookout for him, as the driver claims he walked into the field and has not been spotted ever since. Knowing this isn’t a forest, people conclude it is not a dangerous place. The group on the bus knows James is probably just lost and not hurt. As they start the lookout, they are unable to communicate with the locals because none of them can speak Tamil and neither can the locals speak Malayalam. They spot James on a tiny scooter and ask the villagers to help them locate him so that they can take him back to his town. People traveling with James, especially his wife and son, are shocked to see James riding past them and failing to recognize both his wife and child. Sally has no idea what is making James behave this way. All she knows is James is going through a reaction due to stress. James’s acquaintances from the bus and the locals go around the town looking for James, but they always miss him by a second as James is busy running and driving around the town on his own. As James reaches the home he is supposedly now staying at, he is manhandled by his friends. James informs them that he is Sundaram and not James, and he is unable to recognize any of them. James, who is now Sundaram, acts as the man of the family, husband to Puvally, and a father to a teenage daughter. Sally is devastated to see James behaving in this manner, and she is unable to decipher what led to this major change. They start wondering if he had any psychological issues in the past that are resurfacing again. Sally has no clue how to handle the situation. Puvally refuses to let James/ Sundaram get close to her.
As it turns out, Sundaram, Puvally’s husband had gone to Pazhani a few years back on a pilgrimage trip, but he never returned from that journey. That’s why Puvally, her daughter, and Sundaram’s father are shocked to see him behave like Sundaram. The emotional baggage attached to Sundaram is difficult for them to let go of, but nevertheless, they know and understand the fact that this is not Sundaram. James is just going through a psychological episode, which they know will come out of it sooner rather than later. James’s people wait for him to show some indication that he recognizes them, but James as Sundaram is unable to recognize his wife and kid as well. He refers to Puvally and the daughter as his own. The blind mother at home is unable to figure out the fact that this is not Sundaram. Meanwhile, Sundaram’s father is happy to see his son in another version altogether. He concludes that since they were returning from the pilgrimage, there is a possibility that it is an after-effect of that journey. One never knows how a spiritual journey strangely affects people. The next day, James is still not himself and is in a possession state, much to Sally’s horror. She is in no mood to leave her husband and asks the rest of the group to leave while she stays behind.
One of them in the group is a nurse who manages to get hold of a low-level dose of sleeping pills which will put James in deep sleep. While he is in that state, he will be taken back to Kerala. Sundaram’s family is initially skeptical. James’s behavior is reminiscent of Sundaram, this is making them want him to stay back, especially for Puvally and Sundaram’s father. The plan to mix the sleeping pill with food is rejected for it has to be consumed with some liquid. Sundaram’s father decides to give him the pill when he is served coffee after his nap. They agree to go ahead with the plan, for they know this man is not Sundaram and he will never be Sundaram. James eats the lunch provided by Puvally, and he insists on eating lunch with his daughter. James as Sundaram believes he has missed out on spending time with his daughter, and now he wants to make up for that time. James as Sundaram, is astonished to know his regular barber is no more, there is also a new temple being constructed. At the barber shop as well, James as Sundaram takes a look at himself in the mirror, only to come to a realization that things are different and have changed enough for him to go through a crisis in his mind. He questions his existence while having lunch with his family. After his lunch, James goes off to a deep sleep where he dreams of Sundaram, although he cannot place the actual image of this man he is trying to focus on in his dream. It can be of an indication that Sundaram has probably possessed James, and he is understanding why it is necessary for him to leave the body and town for good, so that people in his family and James’s family move on. Sundaram in his dream shows up at spots James visited, and suddenly James wakes up in a manner as if something left his physical body. He walks up to Sally and tells her and their son that it’s time to leave. Puvally and her father-in-law had expected this to happen, and they willingly let him go with his real family. James’s father-in-law and the rest of the group, though, have not gotten any answers to why James was behaving in this manner. James is also not aware of the fact he went through an episode of possession where he behaved like someone else for more than 24 hours. James just knows that he is now back with this family, and probably they will talk about this episode as an anecdote sometime down the line years later. The film ends with James looking upon the vast field through which he walked into the village and then walked out of it, and the bus starts heading towards their home.
“Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam” ended in a rather ambiguous way. That’s the reason we present to you with theories that emerged to explain what exactly happened. The first theory could be, “the Ghost Theory” where in Sundaram possessed James’s mind and body to give Sundaram’s family some closure, and see them one last time. Sundaram probably, by possessing James, lived vicariously through him the life he wanted to live in his town, and that’s why he was surprised to see new temples being built in his town. The fact that James, as Sundaram, is unsettled to see his face in the mirror while at the barbershop is proof of the fact that Sundaram cannot live forever in his body. This is probably also the reason why he wanted to eat one last time with his daughter before he went away. The barber shop revelation of James as Sundaram puts him in an existential state of mind. James’s dream of a cloud in his mind clearing up along with placing of a blurred image of this man, possibly Sundaram. This is a manifestation of the fact that Sundaram’s ghost had possessed James, and since there were so many changes he saw in his village, Sundaram finds it imperative to leave James’s so that he can join his real family. The manner in which James wakes up after the afternoon siesta, as if a soul left his body.
James waking up and requesting his wife and son to leave together makes way for the fact that maybe James was aware of the fact that someone had possessed him. The look he had on his face when he looked at the field before leaving was probably him finally letting go of Sundaram.
Another theory could be “the dream theory.” James had a dream while journeying on the bus. James’s coma induced sleep after their lunch would have led to him coming across this dream where James became someone else for a whole day and a half. It is implied from the beginning that James was part of a theater group, and the last shot of the bus’s name in the end is an indication of the fact that they are a theater group. James also mentions in the beginning of the movie that Thirukural can be the name of a play. This dream can be his way of coming out to get genuine inspiration for a new play. A play in which James can be not so religious himself and as Sundaram he is the religious, talkative man. “The dream theory” is a possibility because all the above circumstances of James behaving like a different person would happen only while one is dreaming. The dream theory comes across as plausible theory for James being a supposed playwright and an actor, in a lookout for expressing ingenuity comes across a dream inadvertently. Which is why he is looking out of the bus wondering if this can be recreated.
“Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam” is a film that relies heavily on visuals rather than on a screenplay. There are layers to the single character James here, but most of the layering is done through visually stunning cinematography and plenty of wide-angle shots. Most of the storytelling is done through exquisite camerawork by Theni Eswar. Most of the direction by Lijo Jose relied on background score, which was mostly old Tamil songs and dialogues from old Tamil films, which would be hard to understand for those who don’t understand the cultural impact those films and songs have had on Tamil culture per se. Even though the film’s running time is 105 minutes, the pacing was too slow, and it took forever for the director to establish the fact that there is something wrong with the lead character and the way he is behaving.
The screenplay could have been tight so that the narrative did not have to feel like a long haul that becomes hard to just sit through after a point. Lijo Jose’s film amidst this chaos has a sense of calm, though, as mentioned above. Nothing can top Mammootty’s performance as someone who switches from being a highly unlikeable man to an affable man. It is easy to say Mammootty is still at this age where he still takes up challenging roles with finesse written by offbeat directors like Lijo Jose. Ramya Suvi as Sally and Ramya Pandian as Puvally stole the show, in my opinion; they gave out plenty of emotions just through their eyes. One is desperate to get her husband back, while the other is shocked to see a man behaving like her husband, who everyone presumed to be dead. Not one of the best Lijo Jose films but it was a good attempt at magical realism drama. (If this can be a genre.)
See More: ‘Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam’ Character: James Or Sundaram, Explained – Was He Dreaming The Entire Film?