Akasa Kusum – The Film that Recounts the Destructive Nature of Maternal Deprivation
Posted on September 13th, 2010

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D.

“Mother love in infancy and childhood is as important for mental health as are vitamins and proteins for physical health.” –John Bowlby  

The Sri Lankan film director Prasanna Vitanage’s touchy movie Akasa Kusum could be a turning point in the Sinhala film industry that recounts the destructive nature of maternal deprivation. The movie Akasa Kusum or the   Flowers of the Sky deeply touches the sensational and innate feelings of a young woman who endured maternal deprivation as a child and how her adult life viciously affected by the reflective childhood neurotic elements.

 Sandhya Rani once a popular actress of the silver screen was compelled to abandon her child when she launched her elongated artistic journey for glory.  When she was in the pinnacle of her professional success Sandya Rani takes deliberate measures to conceal her darkest secret – the discarded girl child and the ex husband. Her grandeur was short lived.  With the natural aging process, Sandya Rani falls from glory and leads an insignificant life. Her ruminations and nostalgic feelings of the past make her emotionally distressed and she begins to search for her empty space “”…” the abandoned child.

 Her daughter, Priya now a grown woman still suffering from the shock of maternal abandonment lives a self-punishing and disparaging life as a dancer in a Karaoke bar. In Akasa Kusum , Prasanna Vitanage profoundly explores  the  inner anxieties and unresolved mental conflicts of Priya.  

  Maternal Deprivation and Neurotic Behavior  

 According to the British Psychiatrist John Bowlby maternal deprivation in the early childhood could cause neurotic behavior in the later years. Bowlby’s evolutionary theory of attachment suggests that infants are   biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with their caregivers especially with the biological mother. As  Bowlby views maladaptive behavior of some children was a result of their primary care-givers having abandoned them and their socio-emotional problems originate in a lack of consistent parental love.  Bowlby hypothesized that both infants and mothers have evolved a biological need to stay in contact with each other. When the attachment is broken the result could be the genesis of primeval neurosis. 

  When Priya s attachment figure (mother) left her during the critical period, Priya suffered irreversible long-term consequences of this maternal deprivation.  (Bowlby points out that following the   long-term consequences of maternal deprivation   delinquency, reduced intelligence, increased aggression, depression, and emotional numbing are prominent in the sufferer). Prya’s anxiety and depression become the core issues of her life. Her entire life was based on past trauma and its repercussions. She uses plentiful defense mechanisms including avoidance when she is confronted with the neurotic feelings of maternal abandonment. Instead of going back to her mother Priya avoids her but keep a constant guard on her whereabouts.

  Imprinting of the Parental Object of Priya

 The bond between the mother and a child is innate and could be genetically linked. The Ethological analysis of maternal deprivation has been discussed by various scholars. Konrad Lorenz was one of the pioneers who meticulously dealt with the ethological view. Konrad Lorenz”ƒ”¹…”s ethological view narrates the effects of imprinting that involves visual and auditory stimuli from the parent object; these elicit an innate following response in the young that affects their subsequent adult behavior. A child has an innate need to attach to one main attachment figure in most instances the maternal figure.

 When Priya lost her mother’s warmth, her imprinting became erroneous and that affected her entire life. Priya collects the photos of her mother that signifies the pursue of maternal footsteps -the broken imprints. When she writes to her mother there was no emotional bond left. She addresses her mother as an unknown emotionally distant person.

 Object Relations

 Object relationships are initially formed during early interactions with the primary care givers. For the development of individual identity mother-infant affiliation play a key role. These primary intra psychic and interpersonal experiences lay the foundation for the development of individual identity.   Melanie Kline argued that the individual’s interpretation of these relationships- both conscious and unconscious- becomes the basis for later relations with others, in friendship, marriage, and raising a family.

 Priya was barest fed by her mother and her primary objects would have been the mother’s eye and the breast.  She desperately seeks her mother and the objects that gave her physical and emotional content. In the absence of these objects she becomes distressed. Priya shifts from good object to bad object “”…” bad mother compound.

 Dead Mother Complex

 AndrƒÆ’†’© Green described the psychological phenomenon – Dead Mother Complex in 1980. He broadly used the term

“transference depression,” that occurs in the presence of an object that itself is absorbed in mourning. In this psychodynamic process multifaceted defenses come in to action and those associate with   mirror-representation of the disinvestment in the maternal object with an unconscious identification with the dead mother. As AndrƒÆ’†’© Green elucidates the maternal affliction prohibits any aggressive expression, which would risk augmenting the maternal detachment. He further argues that the important measures of infantile depression are the loss of meaning, and the feeling of inability to repair the mourned object, to awaken the lost desire.

 In the dead mother complex the child often blames a failure of subjective omnipotence in relationships, leading, by compensation, to a reinforcement of omnipotence in areas less directly connected with the primary object. Repression has erased the memory trace of her touch, of contact with her, and of the child’s catharsis with her before the occurrence of child’s mourning for her, which put a sudden end to this forgotten relation.

 This is a repression that returns to bury her alive, even demolishing everything, including a tomb, that would mark her past existence. The dead mother complex, as a powerful and intense element, naturally draws to it other components of psychic life

 In Priya “ƒ”¹…”s  example the dead mother complex is highly evident.  She lost her mother in the very early days of her childhood. What was left for her was only the maternal memory that turned in to painful reminiscences.  Her obsessive recurrent thoughts about the mother became so overwhelming and she frequently had numerous fantasies. She buried her mother and denied her existence. The denial turned to a stern resentment.

 Priya and her Hidden Artistic Talents

 In 1924, Otto Rank pronounced that the mother-child relationship is the central focus in human development. His thesis on   separation and individuation further discussed the effects on personality development when facing the maternal separation. Otto Rank”ƒ”¹…”s well-known publication The Trauma of Birth discusses the extent of artistic creativity illuminated by the separation anxiety.

 In the film Akasa Kusum Priya’s talents as an exotic dancer were less decorated may be due to the cultural views.  If Priya lived in a Western country her artistic talents would have valued greatly giving her an immense self worth. Her artistic talents and separation anxiety may have had a close link.

 She knew that her mother was a great artist who was adored by the public. She collected every article she could find about her mother Sandya Rani. Maternal separation gave her motivation to follow her mother’s footsteps to inspire the audiences. In the artistic context the method that was chosen by Priya to inspire the spectators was somewhat similar to her mother.

 Self Destructive Behavior of Priya

 As a result of maternal deprivation Priya underwent separation anxiety that affected her entire life. Her risk taking behavior (becoming a sex worker and exposing herself to the HIV) , self hate, emotional anesthesia, alienation, resentment towards her biological mother became self destructive.

 Priya’s life was closely identical to the life of Marilyn Monroe

who was an authentic character and a shining star of the Hollywood. Norma Jean alias Marilyn Monroe was separated from her mother who suffered from a mental illness and forced to be institutionalized.  As a child she was raised in foster homes.

 Recently a group of psychiatrists assessed the clinical records of Marilyn Monroe that was written by her Psychoanalyst Dr John Minor. In these clinical records her self destructive behavior was profoundly marked.

 As Dr John Minor writes, Marilyn frequently provoked people to ill treat her. She may have derived masochistic gratification following the ill treatments. When emotionally overwhelmed she used to go in to regression “”…” some form of child acts. Marilyn often had vivid fantasies about her mother that she narrated to her friends. (In the movie Akasa Kusum at the Karaoke bar  Priya mentions to a man   how she is looking  after her mother “”…” feeding and giving showers , doing a complete personal care for the mother. When she was taken to the Police station her fear grows and she needs a mother figure as a shield. She tells the Police officer that her mother is famous actress -Sandya Rani)  

 Like Marilyn Monroe,  Priya too had promiscuous behavior, feelings of detachment and confused with her image. Both walked towards the emptiness.

 Modern Research on Maternal Deprivation

 Those who reject psychoanalytic explanation of the maternal deprivation might accept the scientific research that concur early maternal deprivation and ill effects on mental health.

Early trauma has been shown to result in lasting consequences and an increased risk for a number of diseases, including psychiatric disorders (Chapman et al., 2004; Dong et al., 2004; Heim et al., 2008).

To study the underlying molecular mechanisms that lead to disease, animal models as maternal separation have been used to model early traumatic events. Numerous groups have shown that the paradigm of maternal separation results in long-lasting neuroendocrine and behavioral consequences, thereby mimicking the human situation of early trauma ( Ladd et al., 1996; Macri and  Laviola, 2004; Oitzl et al., 2000; Rots et al., 1996; Suchecki et al., 2000; Sutanto et al., 1996; Workel et al., 2001 ).

 The research done by Delia M VƒÆ’†’¡zquez Ramin Eskandari , Andrew Phelka  and Juan F LƒÆ’†’³pez of the  Department of Pediatrics, Endocrine Division, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA / Mental Health Research Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA, ( Impact of Maternal Deprivation on Brain Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone Circuits: Prevention of CRH Receptor-2 mRNA Changes by Desipramine Treatment 2002 ) shows that there are drastic changes in brain chemistry following maternal deprivation. The researchers hypothesized that maternal deprivation would also affect CRH brain circuits.

 Conclusion

 The movie Akasa Kusum discusses the tragic life of an individual who underwent maternal deprivation. The director Prasanna Vitanage profoundly analyses her life   reveling the self punishing as well as destructive nature of the sufferer. The lost object (Sandya Rani the Mother) too experiences nostalgic feelings and her self guilt makes her to search for the abandoned child.  Although she found her at the end there was no reconciliation. The HIV infected daughter succumbed to her illness during the childbirth and passes her offspring to the lost object. The wounds were never healed.

 On her death bed Priya may have had wistful feelings about her mother that was sung by John Lennon.

 Mother you had me , but I never had you

I wanted you , but you didn’t want me

So I got to tell you goodbye , goodbye

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