IFFK 2023: Prasanth Vijay’s Daayam explores grief and the coming to terms with it

Grief does not always arrive as a torrent. Sometimes, it seeps in ever so slowly, evoked by things which used to be mundane till a few days ago. In Prasanth Vijay’s film Daayam (Inheritance), being screened in the Malayalam Cinema Today section of the 28th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), an old voice note from her deceased mother about some daily chores brings 17-year old Kalyani (Aathira Rajeev) to tears.

Maybe it was something which elicited nothing more than passive attention from her when her mother was alive. In another scene, back from school, she stumbles upon a lizard and out of habit, calls out to her mother only to come to a painful realisation a moment later of her mother’s absence. In yet another scene, which is a more conventional cinematic representation of grief, she plays an old video clip of her with her parents, all of them joyously singing aloud lines from Tagore’s Gitanjali, in multiple languages.

In Prasanth’s filmography, grief and the coming to terms with it seems to be a continuum, with his 2017 debut Athishayangalude Venal also having a 8-year old child trying various ways to become invisible believing that his father, who has gone missing, has found a way to be invisible too. But, when it comes to Daayam, written by Indu Lakshmi, we are dealing with someone who is aware of reality, but still has some innocence left in her about the ways of the world.

She coyly nods her head when a regressive relative tries to impose her codes on her, even though she knows that they are meaningless, a fact she learned from her parents. In a house where the daughter is hanging on to every little thing that evokes her mother’s memory, the relative sets to fire every article that the woman has used, believing that these would bring bad luck. Except, a recipe book that the girl salvages, the most loved recipe out of it being ‘Neypayasam’ , in a possible reference to Madhavikutty’s memorable story that also deals with grief in a family following the passing away of the mother.

But, as Kalyani would say, her mother never wrote everything down on paper, with some of the ingredients remaining a secret. The people around her too never got the full measure of her, it would seem. Especially her husband Raghu (Pradeep Geedha), a seemingly progressive man. There are also lingering doubts about the frictions in their marriage, which cause her relatives to suspect Raghu after his wife’s death.

For Kalyani too, the journey of dealing with grief goes parallel with gaining a more accurate picture of her father, whom she seems to idolise initially. Even when she sees through hypocrisy, her rebellion is silent and even sweet, nevertheless coldly biting.

Prasanth captures the mood of the house, making us feel the presence of the absent mother. He handles the subject almost the same way as Kalyani deals with grief, in a gentle, almost unnoticeable manner, punctuated by a few emotional bursts that never go overboard. One can almost imagine this subject turning into a cheesy melodrama, if it were handled by a different director. It is probably the things that he chose not to show that becomes the secret ingredient making the film what it is now. With his sophomore film, Prasanth, one of the exciting homegrown talents, has shown that he is here to stay.

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