Bharatham is a deceptively simple film: ostensibly packaged as a sentimental and conformist tale about filial obligation set in a Namboodiri family of classical musicians where the deceased father's musical legacy is being carried on by his sons, the elder and more established of whom has taken to drink and is in danger of being surpassed by his younger brother (played by Mohanlal), by the time the film ends one realizes that one has been enmeshed in a moving meditation on art, specifically on an artistic tradition that rests upon continuity, inheritance, and the upholding of what has been passed on to one, yet which simultaneously must account for (and be accounted for by) the individual "difference", the singularity (such as the sort of talent the younger brother is depicted as possessing in the film) that itself enriches the tradition, and enables its handing down to successors. At the... ... same time, the singularity that is individual talent (and ambition?) immensely complicates notions of a harmonious tradition unsullied by personal achievement. The point isn't that there is a dichotomy between the two, but that the presence of both creates and sustains a creative tension, "tension" because neither mode is necessarily opposed to the other, but neither is entirely "at home" with or reducible to the other. Put differently, perhaps the central question in the film is whether Mohanlal's brother loses his musical touch vis-a-vis his brother because his addiction to liquor has sullied his art, or whether his addiction to liquor is a consequence of his suspicion that he might be a lesser talent than his brother. In any event, the film stresses that this is not a question of one being superseded by the other: the prodigy has been trained by his elder brother, who transmits the paternal legacy onward. The prodigy, in short, owes a debt that may never be repaid.
On a different note, the film shares this in common with Vanaprastham (though not much else) that it lovingly represents a way of life where the sacred shades into the artistic so seamlessly that to speak of "sacred" and "artistic" using two different terms betrays nothing except for one's own education and grounding in a certain Western tradition. Perhaps the word to use is "culture", not in the imbecilic and cramped way that the cultural nationalists of all hues and stripes are busy hawking all over these days, but in the sense of a way of life that cannot be said to be other than art, and an art that cannot be said to be other than religion. Other worlds press upon one nonetheless, and are represented in the film by the difficulties faced by the family in getting their mute daughter married, or by Mohanlal's humdrum grind at a government office.
What to say about Mohanlal that hasn't been said before? Certainly my cinematic vocabulary is in danger of being exhausted! Strangely I was most impressed by the scenes where he is shown performing, and thus has no dialogue. His stillness, his concentration, his quiet joy are almost palpable: if one didn't know better, one would think he were a musician rather than an actor.
Last but not least, a word about the director, Sibi Malayil. The only other film of his I have seen (though I wish I could see "His Highness Abdullah", the premise of which appears to be a laughriot, particularly to one who has grown up in Dubai) is "August 1?", an adaptation of Fredrick Forsyth's "Day of the Jackal", but these two are enough to raise the question: "Just how versatile is this guy?!" Talk about trying different genres...