INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
OF INDIA 2003
Malayalam/90 minutes/35 mm
The story is set in pre-Independence
India of the 1940s. In the southern princely state of Travancore
(a constituent of present-day Kerala), as elsewhere in the country,
death by hanging was a prevalent penal practice. The State had
its own professional executioner, traditionally the head of a
designated family. Settled way out in a border village, he was
not to have any direct links or dealings with the mainstream society.
In return for the practice
of the dreaded profession, the Hangman used to enjoy a few privileges
from the royalty – housing, agricultural lands, a yearly allowance
and special monetary benefits and gifts for each job done.
With each hanging, the villagers
believed the hangman came to possess divine powers derived from
the Goddess Kali herself and the ash made from the hangman’s rope
was a miracle healer. All the same, nothing could compensate for
the guilt that keeps haunting him from the realization that the
last man he hanged was innocent.
It is after a long interval
– even as the hangman believed that he had put his ghastly vocation
behind him – that a royal messenger arrives to order an execution
afresh… A reluctant Kaliyappan prepares himself with prayers and
penance. His sick and worn out physique finds the rigour of it
all too difficult to endure.
Finally the appointed day
closes in and he is taken to the capital town under police escort
and high security. All the tests and trials are completed at the
gallows and the jail administration is satisfied with the preparations.
The actual execution will take place early next morning.
At the rest house, in a mute
attempt to kill his sense of guilt and fear, the hangman starts
drinking encouraged by the jail warders. The night is long and
a tired and drunk Kaliyappan cannot help feeling sleepy. But then
that is scandalous. The condemned prisoner awaiting execution
in the morning cannot sleep, so the hangman shouldn’t sleep either:
they are in a way alike being positioned at the ends of the rope,
one of the warders reasons.
In order to keep the hangman
awake, the jail warders start narrating stories. Bored with the
righteous tone of it Kaliyappan longs for something that would
fight his sleep. A second warder takes over and there develops
before Kaliyappan a story that takes him in completely. He starts
transposing people and places into the roles and locales in the
story that the warder narrates.
The 13-year-old girl, whose
brutal rape and murder is described in the jail warder’s story,
becomes fused in Kaliyappan’s alcohol-hazed mind with his own
young daughter. In a close examination, the jail warder’s story
is a replay of the execution of the innocent boy the memory of
which has been haunting Kaliyappan for life.
Producer: Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Director: Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Screenplay: Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Camera: Ravi Varma & Sunny
Editor: Ajithkumar B.
Art: Rateesh Babu
Sound: Hari Kumar