Once upon a time there was a film called “Painful Roads” based on “The Tale of Malikmammad”, which is considered one of the most famous tales of Azerbaijan. The director of this film was Tofig Ismayilov, the screenwriter was Ogtay Mammadov. The fairy-tale film “Painful Roads” showed what happened to three brothers – Shahmammad, Khanmammad, Malikmammad. Usually, the three apples in the phrase “three apples fell from the sky” that we hear at the end of fairy tales, fell at the very beginning of the film. In this article, we will talk about the similarities and differences between the fairy tale and the script of the film, as well as the symbolic world created by the film.
In this tale, the narrator bestows these apples upon the king’s three sons for protection. Each of these young princes, however, possesses distinct weaknesses. One is inclined towards seeking pleasure, another is marked by laziness and greed, and the youngest is a dreamer with a romantic disposition. Remarkably, these apples serve as the very fount of life itself. Should these apples fall into the hands of the giants, calamity will befall the entire kingdom. Considering that the apple is given only as a trigger for the story in the fairy tale, the situation is different here. When Malikmammad pickes the apple, he becomes obsessed with the desire to follow the giant he wounded afterwards. The apples are considered the ultimate target.While apples often bear negative connotations in mythology and religion – often associated with lust and original sin, such as in the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from paradise – here, their role takes a different turn. These apples are imbued with the power to bestow abundance and blessings upon the land, and they serve as the ultimate safeguard for the entire nation.
After the theft of three apples, these three young boys unite in their determination to recover them. In the realm of fairy tales, embarking on a journey represents a transformative step, a departure from one’s comfort zone and established identity. Despite Malikmammad’s valiant efforts to safeguard the apple, he makes self-inflicted injury but he is unable to resist slumber, ultimately losing the precious fruit. These three apples, which mysteriously fall from the sky, evolve into coveted treasures that the three brothers feel compelled to retrieve. Unlike Malikmammad, the other two siblings are less enthusiastic about undertaking this adventure. In the traditional landscape of fairy tales, the youngest child often assumes a positive and heroic role. This often stems from the elder siblings seeking their own paths, acquiring individual properties, and moving away from their parents, while the youngest remains at home, caring for their parents. Remarkably, Malikmammad remains undeterred by his brothers’ criticism along the journey.
In those familiar with the story, it’s recalled that Malikmammad’s rope is maliciously cut by his own brothers, leaving him stranded in the well. His subsequent adventures are simply about what happened to him as an individual. However, the narrative takes a different turn in “Painful Roads” by emphasizing the significance of brotherhood. Despite Malikmammad’s commendable efforts in resolving pivotal challenges through his courage and intelligence, his brothers stand by him until the story’s conclusion. This thematic choice is not surprising within the context of the Soviet perspective. The Soviet mindset values the importance of unity, camaraderie, and collective action over rugged individualism. This emphasis on solidarity is poignantly illustrated in the theft of the three apples I mentioned earlier. Had a single apple been pilfered, it could have easily ignited conflicts among the brothers regarding rightful ownership once they reached their destination.
In the company of the brothers, we are introduced to their primary adversary, Garayel (Hashim Gadoyev) portrayed as a man but intriguingly voiced by Amina Yusifgizi. The choice of the name “Garayel” is linked to the destructive wind bearing the same name, notorious for rendering agricultural fields barren. The fact that a woman’s voice emanates from the outwardly male Garayel is a clear indication of the character’s eunuch status. This association with eunuchism has historical roots. During the Middle Ages, the use of female voices was forbidden in churches. To maintain high-pitched voices, young boys were often castrated at a very early age, preventing their voices from deepening. In our history, figures like Agha Muhammad Shah Qajar are noted for their soft voices due to eunuch status. Consequently, this eunuch figure symbolizes the opposite of fertility and procreation. Eunuch Garayel’s aim is to halt the world’s spring, to obstruct its innate self-renewal process.
Eldaniz Zeynalov, Sayavush Aslan, and Yashar Nuri take on the roles of Garayel’s giants, and they bring some of the most distinctive characters to life in the film. Under Garayel’s command, they sing songs and revel together. The lyrics of these songs carry a satirical edge, serving as a commentary on the society of the era. In unison, they proclaim, “People are hungry, and there’s a scarcity of food,” shedding light on social issues even within the framework of a fairy tale.
When Garayel’s henchmen began pillaging the towns along their journey, Malikmammad stepped up without hesitation, and his other brothers were compelled to follow his lead. This act of heroism not only saved the townsfolk but also sowed the initial seeds of their unity and solidarity. The incident involving the giants sneaking in while they slept, robbing them of their horses and weapons, serves as another illustration of the perils associated with slumber. In the broader context of fairy tales, the motif of dreams represents one of the most formidable obstacles for individuals when viewed from a psychoanalytic perspective. Sleep can be seen as a protective mechanism, a shield from facing one’s subconscious. Had they been awake, they might have confronted their fears, but alas, they were asleep and vulnerable to such unexpected adversity.
Upon waking, their journey takes them up a mountain and down into the unforgiving desert, where they become overwhelmed by thirst. Finally, they chance upon a well, which, intriguingly, turns out to be the very same well where, in the story, Malikmammad’s brothers had severed his rope and abandoned him. As they attempted to lift the well’s stone cover individually, their efforts proved futile. It is Malik Muhammad who offers a rather simple yet profound solution: “Let us each take one side and lift the stone together.” The entire essence of the film is encapsulated within this pivotal moment: without unity, true strength remains elusive.
The well itself holds a significant place in the tapestry of folklore and myths. It serves as the gateway from the realm of light to the dark world, where the central conflict unfolds. Once they descend into this abyss, there’s no turning back. All conflicts must find resolution; they must earn the right to return to the world of light. In this dark world, they encounter the need to confront and defeat the giants in order to save the sisters they come across. Here, three motifs emerge: the snake, the glass, and the white dove. The snake has long been a symbol associated with the devil in ancient times, while the glass represents the vessel containing the giant’s soul in the fairy tale. A distinct motif arises with the presence of the white dove, typically a symbol of peace and joy. Malikmammad’s decision not to harm the dove underscores a powerful message: a loving heart should never harbor hatred. In this narrative, the stark theme of absolute destruction gives way to love and compassion.
Leaving the sisters behind, Malikmammad not only demonstrates his ability to resist the temptations of lust and passion but also heads to Garayel’s palace. His brothers, recognizing the importance of solidarity, decide not to leave him alone and follow suit. What’s particularly intriguing in this narrative is that after the three brothers are captured, it’s the sisters who come to their rescue. In a departure from the norm, where women often have limited roles in our stories, here they emerge as the saviors. This shift in the traditional roles of characters is quite understandable given the setting of the tale in the 1980s. The narrative reflects the evolving recognition that the world is no longer exclusively a man’s domain, and there’s a rightful place for women.
In the finale, Garayel finally confronts the three brothers. Through their unwavering unity and equality, they’ve surmounted all the challenges thrown their way. In this crucial moment, Garayel presents them with the ultimate test: anyone who touches the apple will be transformed into stone.
Remarkably, each of the brothers, who have successfully weathered all previous trials, willingly agrees to touch the apple, even if it means succumbing to the petrifying fate. From the outset of their journey, they were bound by blood, but now, they have evolved into true companions and friends, willing to go to any lengths for one another on this transformative quest.
With the apples securely in their grasp, Garayel meets his demise, and the brothers, along with the rescued sisters, make their triumphant return to their homeland. From this point forward, their lives will be adorned with unity, spent amidst the blossoms of solidarity. Those three apples that fell from the sky bear a symbolic significance: one for the valiant heroes of the tale, one for those who played a role in crafting the film, and the third for those who have delved into the pages of this article.