Of late, I’ve come to realise that every aspect of my life has revolved around a certain fragrance. And so has Cinema. As weird as it is to say that this audiovisual medium actually has the power to tease your olfactory senses, it is true! I can’t seem to put together the number of times that I’ve been transported to a certain memory cause I could see smells while watching a film. The first such film that I remember watching was Salt N’ Pepper. The smell of the hot Thattil kutti Dosa and Chammanthi as though Amma was preparing it right in front of me. It blew my mind how that movie left me hungry despite having watched it after a lavish lunch. Since then, I can only remember trying to capture the smell of every film I watch.
While watching Angamaly Diaries it wasn’t seeing the characters relish the food that made me hungry but the mere visual preparation of the dish that brought back the aromas from the past. The hot kappa being cooked with beef or just the onions being stir-fried with spicy masala to be blended with meat later. It fascinated me, the extent to which I started seeing these smells. I’ve never been to Thanjavur before. But I could smell the city when Ram asks Prabha “Epdi iruku yen ooru kaathu?'', after coaxing her to roll down her window on their way back.
Petrichor is one of the most fascinating smells in the world and its beauty lies in the fact that you cannot see it. However, a film like Vagai Sooda Vaa showed this smell to us when the monsoon showers visit the city. The earthy smell of the mud when the first drops of rain falls on it. The smell of happiness. These can also instigate a feeling of love and comfort in one. A recall of “Ippo Sooda oru Bread Omelette sapta eppadi irukkum?” after a long day will surely make anyone fall in love!
The aromas in Cinema try to bring in a connection with an emotion, conveying information way beyond what is shown to us on the screen. When Nandita Dass cooks rice and mango gravy outside her little hut in the movie Azhagi, you don’t just smell the food but also the poverty and hunger for a better life. In another instance, while the delicious biryani preparation in Ustad Hotel tickles your nose making you hungry, it also gives you a sense of the reality of the current situation of our society. The stark difference between the rich and the poor.
This connection comes in varying degrees in this medium. If you watch a film close enough then you’ll notice that you can see smells beyond the limits of merely an object, place or food to extend to a character. The concept of a mysterious lover has always fascinated me and so Charlie will remain one of my favourite characters of all time. He is spoken about with so much depth and conviction in the film, that I could assume what his fragrance would smell like. This aspect of the mystery of a character’s fragrance is explored in another classic film by the name of “Scent of a Woman”. In this film, a blind Al-Pacino bosses about his ability to recognize women by the perfume they wear. In a sense, we the audience are Pacino’s character trying to associate scents to our mysterious lovers - films.
The power of films lies in this very fact that it lets us experience a hundred different emotions and feelings while being seated in one place. The smell of the rain. The smell of gravy being cooked in an old mud pot. The smell of a hot cup of filter coffee. The smell of love and comfort. The next time you go to the movies, see if you can bottle up some of these aromas for yourself!