Directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery, “Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam” tells us the story of a person who takes the identity of a different man and whose sense of self dissipates quite abruptly. It was quite surprising for everybody when James decided to come to Velankanni with them, as they never thought of him as a religious man. James didn’t go to church that often, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have faith in God. There are a few things that are established about James in the first few minutes of the film, “Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam”: He does not enjoy drinking; he likes his beverages with little to no sugar; he hates Tamil cuisine; and most importantly, he likes to be in charge of things. James dozed off for a while on the bus before waking up perplexed. He asked the bus driver to stop the bus, and he got off and started walking towards a nearby village. The bus driver, the tourists, and even his own wife and son had no clue where he was going. They believed that he might have wanted to go to the washroom, but when he didn’t return for quite some time, they started getting suspicious about what could have happened to him.
Now, if we see the way James is walking, it feels as if he knows exactly where he wants to go. He wasn’t aimlessly wandering, not knowing where his destination was. James walked as if he was not conscious of his physical reality, and his subconscious mind was leading him to his destination. James entered a house in the village and sat beside a blind lady. The blind lady did not get startled by the presence of this stranger but instead, seemed to recognize his touch. Before entering the house, James casually fed the cattle as if he lived in the house itself, and even the dog sitting outside didn’t bark at him. At this juncture, even the audience is confused as to what is happening and why James suddenly got off the bus and trespassed on somebody else’s property.
James went inside one of the rooms where Poonkuzhali, the daughter-in-law of the blind lady, was sleeping. She woke up and was startled on seeing an unknown man in her bedroom, but surprisingly, she didn’t shout or ask him to leave. She stared at him, not being able to decipher whether she was in a dream or if this was happening in reality. Basically, the way James spoke and behaved made her feel that her husband, Sundaram, who had vanished a few years ago, had returned. Nobody knew what had happened to Sundaram, so his sudden disappearance was shrouded in mystery. Even Sundaram’s father and brother got a bit confused as to who this intruder was, who was pretending as if he belonged there. Sundaram’s brother asked when he came back because he was confused and thought that his brother had returned. There could be many theories as to what happened to James to cause him to behave in that manner, as Lijo Jose Pellissery did not provide us with any concrete answer.
It might be possible that James had a dissociative personality disorder because there was a notable change in his sense of self. James was an agnostic person, but after becoming Sundaram, he became an ardent devotee. James always used to limit the number of artificial sweeteners in his tea or coffee, but after he took the identity of Sundaram, he started having them in excess.
If we try to look at James’ condition in a more metaphysical or philosophical way, it could be said that he was experiencing dualism, where his physical reality was different from the spiritual one. Whenever we talk about the spiritual realm or the mental state, we always notice that things are not so objective there, and it might not be possible to ascertain what led him to behave in such a manner. However, based on the theory of dualism, we can safely say that the body and mind can be two distinct entities with no unified perspective or outlook on life. It could be said that mentally, James had started believing that he was Sundaram, unable to perceive his physical reality, which was constantly giving him proof of the fact that he belonged to a very different world and had no business being there. What was perceived by his mind clearly suppressed his physical reality, and that is why he was not able to recognize his son and his wife.
Aside from philosophical and metaphysical speculations, there could also be a supernatural explanation. It could be possible that James was possessed by the spirit of Sundaram. Sundaram might not have been free from the cycle of birth and death even after he died. Maybe he longed to be around his family and needed another day to accept the fact that he could no longer be with them. When James, who believed himself to be Sundaram, realized that his barber had died months earlier, it broke his illusion. Additionally, he looked in the mirror and realized that he was not who he thought he was. There were constructions happening in the village of which he had no recollection, and that’s when he reached his tipping point and realized that something wasn’t right with him. He broke down in front of Sundaram’s family and told them that there was something profoundly wrong with the way he was seeing things.
James took a nap, and when he woke up, he was once again a different man who for a moment couldn’t recollect what he had done. He saw a blurred image of a man while he was asleep, and it could probably be the real Sundaram. James also couldn’t see his real face which could symbolize the fact that he also had no clue who this person was but somehow, he had managed to transform into him and erase his own existence from the metaphysical world for that short tenure of time. James knew that he had done something absurd, but he didn’t know why it had happened to him. He didn’t know how he knew those people whom he hadn’t ever met and what triggered him when he was on the bus to suddenly escape and come to Sundaram’s village. He recognized his wife and his son and quietly got on his bus to Kerala and if he had had enough and just wanted to escape the situation altogether.
James most likely broke the wall because he realized he couldn’t paint it. Maybe it was all a dream, and nothing happened in reality. Maybe Sundaram’s spirit could finally depart for heaven. There could be many speculations and theories, though none of us can say for sure which of them is true. Well, that’s the beauty of “Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam,” as it leaves you with a myriad of thoughts and allows you to entertain infinite possibilities as to what happened with James. What we can say for certain is that a family grieving the loss of a man was given the opportunity to find closure, and the experience most likely changed James forever, though how much of it he remembers is unknown.