Classical arts, particularly Carnatic music, are something I generally value very highly. So coming across a film which is either based or revolving heavily around classical arts can either be a real gift or an embarrassment, depending on its implementation. However, considering the esteem with which Bharatham is held, I went into it with great expectation, and was not disappointed in the slightest. The movie as a whole is of very high caliber in scripting, direction, and acting. Right from the very opening credits sequence, which superbly provides both a visual and musical prelude to the story while also introducing its characters, it is very clear that this is a film made with care and purpose. It is ostensibly a mixture of a family and musical drama, with the second half leaning more towards the former, and manages to deliver a familiar idea in an exceptional way with only a few, subjective missteps.
The familiar idea I’m referring to is a rivalry between brothers, a universally identifiable and age-old premise. The storyline of Bharatham revolves around two brothers in a respected family of musicians: the older brother Ramanathan (Nedumudi Venu), an accomplished Carnatic singer, and the younger brother Gopinathan (Mohanlal), who has been his brother’s pupil since a young age. The film’s conflict stems from his older brother’s increasing foray into alcohol addiction. Despite attempts at intervention, the habit ends up severely disrupting one of his concerts, and faced with an angry crowd, Gopi takes over at the mic – and ends up dazzling the audience and unintentionally humiliating his brother. From here the film explores the results of this single event on both the main characters and their family.
Apart from sibling rivalry, there is another angle on which we can look at the story, and that is the perspective of a Guru and his talented student. Though on the surface, one might interpret Ramanathan as having caused his own downfall due to weakness to alcohol, what is the source of that weakness? Perhaps it also subconsciously could have been an underlying jealousy at the recognition of his younger brother’s – and student’s – talent. Setting aside the family relationship, the idea of a Guru’s mind, and perhaps ego, when faced with student who he perceives as having greater natural talent, or a higher level of ambition, has always been a fascinating one for me. The ideal reaction to such a situation, of course, is for the Guru to recognize that devotion to art exceeds human ego, and set his priorities accordingly. Yet reality does not always work in the way that we idealize, and human weaknesses – ego, jealousy – will come into play.
These sorts of perspectives on the film might simply be my interpretations, and Bharatham works equally as well taken as a family drama. What it does exceptionally well is communicating the tensions and misunderstandings of the characters realistically, while avoiding over-dramatization that often occurs in the genre. The taut script conveys a great deal of suspense through dialogues alone, and the characterization of the central characters is excellent. If I was to express any misgivings, they would target the third act of the film, which occurs after a significant revelation and which I felt tended to drag a little too long before reaching its resolution (however, the final resolution and closing shot is excellent).
The film’s soundtrack is also very suitable for such a musically-influenced storyline as this. The songs are all Carnatic or Carnatic-based, completely situational, and very enjoyable, with my personal favourite being “Gopangane Athmavile”. The picturization of the Carnatic performances was also well done. Unlike a fair share of films which feature such scenes, effort was clearly put into making them as realistic as possible. Sometimes I find that directors seem to think its okay to obviously fake, say, Mridangam playing, because they assume that most of the audience won’t be able to tell the difference. I’m glad that no shortcuts were taken here.