Vaikom Muhammed Basheer’s short novella Neelavelicham, or The Blue Radiance, which served as the basis for his writing for the 1964 horror classic Bhargavi Nilayam, is barely 12 pages long. Nevertheless, because it was written by Basheer, one of Malayalam’s best-known authors, it was widely read, cherished, and passed down through the generations. For starters, it inspired the legendary movie, the first of its type in Malayalam, which delicately blended a love narrative with terror. Another reason is that it embodies all that people admire about Basheer.
In Neelavelicham, he writes about himself in the first person, yet in the movie, we see a reflection of the author. The language is also distinctly Basheer’s, complete with endearing expressions and ageless humour. Let’s review the pages Basheer wrote (just like the author revisiting Bhargavi’s story in the film) now that the tale is being adapted into a movie again, this time under the name Neelavelicham, over 60 years after it was first told.
Neelavelicham is opened by Basheer claiming an albhutha sambhavam, an extraordinary occurrence that he makes seem like it actually took place in his life. He challenges the reader to attempt to explain it because he has already tried and failed rationally. No, there isn’t a ghost here that you can see or hear. The woman whose home the narrator moves into, Bhargavi, is rumoured to have passed away years ago. However, the atmosphere makes you fear that she will suddenly materialise behind the writer as he writes. While the brief story ends with Basheer’s “albhutha sambhavam,” it is unaware of her bodily existence.
The movie’s plot is untrue. Neelavelicham only partially forms Bhargavi Nilayam. Bhargavi is described in the short story based on what the author has heard about her. The writer is warned that she will slam the doors of the house, turn on the faucets, and strangle anyone who resides there. The author thinks, “Oh great, I have already paid the rent two months in advance.” But he tells everyone who asks him to move, Bhargavi won’t hurt me.
When he learns that the ghost in the house is a woman, half of his concerns vanish. Even more so when he learns that she was a 21-year-old graduate who committed suicide when her lover married someone else. After that, he calls Bhargavi by her pet name, Bhargavi Kutty, and continues to speak to her when he gets home. In good spirits, he says, “We don’t know each other, but in my opinion, I am a very nice man.” She is welcome to read his books, listen to his music on the gramophone, and ride the bicycle whenever she wants in the front yard, but he cautions her against taking it inside the home.
As their acquaintanceship develops, the writer consistently extends a cordial greeting and carries on a conversation with her even when he receives no response. Once he has overcome his first concerns, he starts to invite people around, but not before saying to Bhargavi, “Please don’t strangle any of them, the police will blame me!” “Please take care of the house,” he says as he walks out the door. You can kill any intruders who come, but take their bodies a few miles elsewhere instead of leaving them here.
Basheer manages to make you giggle while also making you shiver at the thought of the horrors inside the mansion. As a result of his close friendship with his invisible ghost, the author once reprimanded her for choosing to die for the love of a single guy who had wronged her when there would have been many more people who would have loved her dearly if she had survived. Given that he refers to her as Princess and seems to be so in love with her, one wonders if the author is referring to himself. Basheer is well renowned for his affectionate compliments.
The way a relationship can affect you so deeply, even when there is only one person, is extraordinary. You almost start to wish she would make an appearance after a while. And just when the writer starts to forget about her, you receive a small reward.
Only Neelavelicham, though, terminates there. More information is available at Bhargavi Nilayam. The only time the writer is referred to in the script as “Sahithyakaran” is at the beginning and end. There are no names. He converses with Bhargavi Kutty as if it were a story. Bhargavi does not, however, keep mute in the writing. This does not deter the author. Instead, he chooses to pen her tale.
Due to Basheer’s script, this is a two-way exchange. Bhargavi performs her story without speaking so that the writer can pick up the pieces and provide the missing details. She destroys the pages on which he makes a mistake. The author seems to understand all the hints and is unaffected by what she does. By beating him from behind with the bicycle and dancing on his stomach while he is sleeping, she continues to rag on the man the writer rescues and hires to help him around the house. When the man refers to some of these incidents as Kochamma’s (the mistress of the house) “childish pranks,” they become amusing. He doesn’t know Bhargavi is a ghost, but he thinks she’s the author’s wife.
The use of colour is prominent in Basheer’s script. The script consistently refers to the writer, Bhargavi, or her former lover’s appearances as having all-white clothing. In contrast, it is claimed that the adversary always appears to be sporting a black shirt. Every time, the focus is particularly on his emerald eyes. One may claim that Basheer purposefully manipulated the two colours to give his figures more depth because black and white movies were still popular at the time. Unfortunately, they adopted the harmful prejudice that associates black people with evil and white people with goodness.
The author reads the story he has written about Bhargavi around halfway through the script. The scenes that follow transport you to her earlier years, when she was still young, vibrant, and in love. We’ve been informed numerous times that she is a dancer. She can giggle with her pals. And Sasikumar, a musician who creates and composes music for dances, has moved in next door.
She is only 19 in the screenplay, while the singer is just 25. You might be reminded of Mathilukal, another one of Basheer’s stories, in which two young people cross a fence and fall in love. You swoon over Basheer’s renowned romantic writing style:
“Did you throw away the flower I gave you?” quips the man.
“What if I did?” says the woman.
“Nothing, it was my heart,” the man says.
Simply put, it doesn’t appear corny. Despite being stagy, the exchanges of love sound amusing when spoken by Basheer’s characters. And it breaks your heart to see Bhargavi’s sarcastic remarks and jokes, making light-hearted jokes with her girlfriends and domestic helper Pappu, who also happens to be a playwright.
The villain in the plot isn’t really noteworthy. The jealous cousin who is in love with Bhargavi and will do anything to win her over is all too typical of the tales that were penned back then. The way the ghost is portrayed in Bhargavi Nilayam—as cheeky, amiable, and eager to share her tale with the world—makes it different from other ghost stories. And how the new resident of her home becomes friends with her. Not that it’s not terrifying. However, it’s also endearing in a way that only Basheer could pull off.
You can watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOOO00WJRWw