Subtexts - Cinema's Unspoken Language

How many times while seeing/ reading a film review, have you come across the word subtext? We hear Maniratnam's movies contain a ton of subtexts.Have you ever thought about what it means? What exactly is a subtext?

We at Celluloid Tales are of the understanding that a subtext is a hidden meaning, that which upon being discovered, makes the viewers perceive the scene/ movie in a wholly new light. Subtexts in general are visual but there is no hard and fast rule about it. One thing is for sure, the thrill you get on deciphering a subtext is unmatched.

Let's look at one such subtext from the Telugu movie, Gangleader, headlined by Natural Star Nani. Nani is a successful Telugu crime thriller author called Parthasarathi. One fine day, 5 women of varying ages come and ask him to help them to get even with a racing enthusiast and businessman. They feel that since he writes great crime stories he will be able to hatch the perfect plan to bring the villain to his knees. And that's what the movie is about.

Director Vikram K Kumar starts the subtexts right from the moment the ladies meet Parthasarathi.

But it takes a while before we even understand that he intends to convey something apart from being shown on the screen. Let's start at the interval and then work backwards. Because that's where I got what he was trying to convey all along.

The interval in this movie is a bang. No there is no mind numbing twist or a feat of superhuman strength. Hell, the protagonists and the antagonist don't even come face to face with each other till then. But it's a bang  because of the sheer brilliance of Vikram's vision and Anirudh's rousing score.

In the scene, Nani is standing a bit ahead of the ladies and they are looking angrily at the antagonist. The camera then zooms out and when it stops, you see them through the windows of an Omni van. And on the Omni van, there is a sticker of a chariot and the words : "Geetha Television".

That moment, you know Vikram is paying a hat tip to the epic Mahabharata with Parthasarathi being Krishna and the five ladies being the Pancha Pandavas. The reference is superb, no doubt. But dig a bit deeper, and you understand that it is not just a hat tip to the epic but in fact is based on the epic.

  • Let's start with Nani. As mentioned before, he is the Parthasarathi, the Krishna who the Pandavas come to in times of distress. In case you haven't got it yet, Parthasarathi is another name of Krishna's.

  • The eldest lady Saraswati (Lakshmi) is the one who brings the other ladies to Parthasarathi. She is the wise one and the one all ladies turn to for support. She is Yudhishthira.

  • Bhima is Varalakshmi (Saranya Ponvannan) who always fusses over the others and asks them if they have eaten. She too is fond of eating and cooking.

  • Priya (Priyanka Arul Mohan), the one Parthasarathi falls in love with is Arjuna. It is common knowledge that Arjuna and Krishna were best friends and we're always together. Age wise too, they are the closest.

  • Swathi the adolescent girl is very intelligent and signifies Nakula whereas the small girl Chinnu who hardly speaks is Sahadeva.

When this clicked to me, I was on top of the world. The feeling that I understood the hidden meaning made me feel great about myself. If at all I get to meet Vikram Kumar I would obviously mention this and I'm sure there would be a contented smile on his lips.

Now it's not that because I got this subtext, I'm a genius. Hell, I may actually be one ;). Here's the thing about subtexts. The more movies you watch and the more you ruminate on them, you will get what the director wants to say.

Now that you know about subtexts, here's a challenge for you. There is another subtext in the same movie. Let's see who gets it. Until the next movie then.

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