Shadow Kill - Nizhalkuthu
Nizhalkuthu is a brilliant movie portraying the highest spiritual message through the story of a mentally traumatized hangman who feels guilty of hanging innocent convicts. Though the royal tradition, patronized the family of the hangman by giving him a piece of land, an annual income and some reward after each execution, he stabs his every "present-moments" of his life with the haunting "past" professional actions.
He tries to dissolve his "karmic" deeds through self-destroying alcohol and not through Self Realization , in spite of his studious prayers to Kali, the goddess of destruction. The hangman merely repeats ritualistically the kali prayers instead of living the prayer "Oh divine mother kali, it is all your acts...I am just your tool". The Vedic message is that we are just shadows of one great Reality, which we call as God, or supreme Consciousness.
Most of us are like the hangman, merely chanting prayers without living it and so we undergo mental trauma performing actions (karma). According to Indian spiritual tradition, suffering in life is due to our inability to distinguish real from unreal. This is the illusion of mind which projects unreal for the real. This is magnificently depicted in the climax of the movie, when the warden tells a story of a love, rape and murder, the hangman projects the story in the context of his own family and confuses facts with fiction.
To take the "heard-story" as his own family story is the illusion the hangman created similar to the illusion of taking responsibility for the hanging-act which he is not responsible. Our mind is exactly like the fictionizing mind of the hangman and so we undergo repeated birth and death.
The director mirrors our own acts like the hangman who cannot bear the idea of him in the shoes of the father who punishes his son-in-law and thus condemns his surviving daughter to widowhood. Kaliyappan dies leaving his son to carry out the unfinished task.
The son taking up the father's profession as hereditary represent rebirth. Vedic tradition says that when we are born several lives to complete the "unfinished task". Only when we have "Self Realization" we attain freedom , otherwise we are fated like the hangman's rebellious son condemned to give up his revolutionary ideas but forcefully continue his father's profession.
If the hangman had not brought his own agonized death with this illusion of projecting another story as his own, his son muthu would have taken up the "freedom" profession rather than the excutioner's job and undergoing the same trauma. The movie ends with the note that short after the son performed the hang, the king's pardon letter followed. Now the son will end up with the same fate of the father -death, birth, rebirth cycle.
The genius director Adoor Gopalakrishnan symbolically ends the movie showing "shadows" of men going in a line depicting birth after birth. The core of the movie is woven like the threads that make rope for the death in the prison or that made by "Charka" (the wheel like tool to make cotton threads) which is a symbol of freedom. The director brings the contrasts in life in every frame with these symbols. he shows the very same rope that kills a man , gives life to a diseases man. There is the father executing state orders while the son is busy working against the state order. In the classroom the teacher talks about death, while the student bleeds blood which is the first step creating ground for birth.
These contrasts of life, continues like the hangman rope in his prayer room. The shortening of hang man rope represents passage of time which never ends but continues through new executionary acts.
Kali is also hailed as the "Sarva-sakshini" or the great witnessor. The palm tree which the cameraman focuses often in the film represent the witnessor the "Sakshi". The tree witnessess the plight of the hangman who knowing the truth still suffers by attributing the karmic deeds as his own. The movie reminds Krishna's words in Bhagavad Gita, "Oh Arjuna, all are my acts and you are merely a tool. If you witness this truth you become one with me, freedom from your samsara of rebrith and death