Hello Dear Readers! Please give a warm welcome to Greta, our guest writer for a lecture series on Neung Dao Fah Diew. We invite you to join this class as Greta presents the breakdown analysis of the story and historical figures in NDFD. If we’re lucky, this will be a series of lectures! I met Greta through her insightful comments on the blog and have always valued her input. Now we all get to spend some time picking her brains. So without further ado.. I give you Greta. ~Lovefia
Written By Greta (@gretutay)
I’ve always wanted to write a piece (read: gush) about Nueng Dao Fah Diew (“One Land, One Sky”) since it bears a special place in my heart (but that’s another story). I have the honor and the opportunity to join the English subbing team for this lakorn, and I was able to gain more insight about this piece, more than any other lakorn that I’ve watched.
I had some apprehension for this lakorn once news came out that it’ll be shown after the so-called “National Lakorn” Bhuppae Sanniwat (Love Destiny). In retrospect, although the two lakorns have a lot of similarities, it’s safe to say these two lakorns are completely different. Having said that however, the best way to start, is to pick up from where Bhuppae Sanniwat left off.
I just recently had the chance to watch Bhuppae Sanniwat so I actually watched it in reverse. I think it was Fia who said it, but Bhuppae Sanniwat comes at one of the golden ages of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, during the reign of King Narai, while NDFD begins at the end of it, and the start of King Taksin’s reign. The Kingdom that we’re faced with is so different. The budding richness and heritage – as seen by Bhuppae Sanniwat’s heroine is awesome, and like Kadesurang, we see Ayutthaya at its finest, when opportunities of international trade with Europe were just beginning. Starting from its setting at Por Date’s house, which is already affluent as it is, the visuals given to the audience grows as the majesty of the whole kingdom – with the palaces and the temples in their full glory, is shown. The reverse is given to us in NDFD, with the first scene being a war-torn town, where the locals are besieged by a foreign foe, namely, those of the Inwa, or the ancient imperial capital of Burma.
The story of NDFD then shifts to show the glitz and glamour of palace life, where instead of the male court serving the king, what we see now is predominantly the female court where the real drama, and drama queens (literally) are. Yet instead of the majesty and “greatness” of these royals, all we see are shallow, vapid (and sometimes perverted) characters who all hide under their superficial nobility. As the story progresses, we see more of the metaphoric rust, gnawing at the very core of what was thought to be precious steel that is the kingdom, which eventually crumbles and falls. All is not lost however, for a new kingdom is established, not in a walled palace of gold but a humble wooden house in the forest among the people of the land.
Another similarity between the two lakorns is that our heroes are essentially, “foreigners without being foreigners”. Kadesurang is not from Ayutthaya, having come from the far future, yet she is, essentially, Thai. Khanthong on the other hand is half-Turk, half-Thai, born to a father who is an outlaw, and who was thus raised outside the common “society”. To make matters worse, he had to charade as a Turkish eunuch for the most part of the story – but like Kadesurang, it was clear that Khanthong’s loyalty to the land runs deep. But while Kadesurang knows what is bound to happen, she stops herself for fear of inducing a time travel paradox. Khanthong on the other hand is able to and does take matters into his own hands and becomes a catalyst for change in order to help ferry the land from one kingdom to the next.
Third, in the core of the story of both Bhuppae Sanniwat and NDFD are foreigners and how the locals relate to them. In Bhuppae Sanniwat we have Constantine Faulkon, and his wife Marie, and the ominous western traders, as well as the menacing French King. All throughout, there was suspicion and wariness on the part of the court officials, and the need to protect the land and shield the locals from foreign influence. The reverse is shown in NDFD. The officials, for the most part, are indifferent with the looming invasion of the Inwa, with some of them even going through the lengths of betraying the land for their own security and benefit. Who is the real threat in these two lakorns – the foreign invaders or the local rulers?
So now we come to the nitty gritty of things (What? Earlier, that was just the intro :D). We come to the title “One Land, One Sky”. I was once asked why that is the title of the whole lakorn, but unlike romance novels of the 80’s, they didn’t have a scene where the lines “One Land, One sky” was said by the main character. But actually, if you think about it, the very core of the story can be explained by the title. First, one land – it goes horizontal – the people in it, from the Palace people, the common people, the slaves, the people from Tak, everyone, they all co-exist in this one land which they don’t really have a name for… yet. There is Ayutthaya and there’s the land outside where everyone else lives. Yet whether inside or outside the palace walls, or within or without the kingdom of Ayutthaya, they all go through the same troubles, they all get their blessings from the same land. They are divided and yet Khanthong quips later on that he wishes for someone to finally come and unify the whole land, turning it into just “One land”.
Second is “One Sky” which now goes vertical. There are many social divides in the story, from the strict hierarchy in the palace, from the eunuchs, to the concubines, to the court officials. Even with the common folk, from the working class, to the Set-thee or rich commoners (to which Mangmao’s family belongs) with the slaves, their masters, and most importantly, even the wives and the prostitutes. No matter what it is, all of them are still under one sky, and they are equals in that sense. No matter how high you are, when trouble comes knocking at the door, you fall when you fall. The once great Kingdom of Ayutthaya was crushed by the Inwa and the prince and the royal consorts were reduced to slaves. Conversely, those who are honorable, no matter how lowborn they may be, raised their status and were able to prove that they can love as purely or can serve the land just as much as those who are born in a higher stature as they are – for example, Soon (the prostitute) and Inn (the wife), Khunthong (the thief) versus the high official Thank Khun Phollathep.
More than a political or historical drama, NDFD is a human drama, showing challenges and victories of people from all walks of life. Yet, just like any other lakorn, the whole story unfolds as it follows the life (and love) of its main pairing, Khanthong and Mangmao.
Finally here we are. Whew! If you made it to this point, then congratulations, this is the part I start gushing about JiTaew… *ehem* I mean, discuss the two main characters of the story, Khanthong and Mangmao.
What makes these two characters so engaging is that they work within the framework of the story, but at the same time, they’re the oddballs, the renegades of their time.
First we have Mangmao, who is introduced in the story as a helpless, but brave young girl who survives the Inwa invasion.
Yet instead of being a meek, overprotected Mae Ying, she grows up with a rebellious spirit, choosing to use her wit (and charm) to have her way, even when her father is busy trying to marry her off for her protection, as was the custom in their time.
Yet, despite her stubbornness, lack of gracefulness and refinement, Mangmao is what you can call a “modern woman”. First, she believes in the goodness of people. Despite being naughty, Mangmao is shown to put value in justice and fair play. She stands with the people, and treats others, including her servants, well. Though raised rich, she isn’t a brat, per se. Though she wants to have her way, her way is usually the right path that is less travelled. She isn’t being stubborn just for the sake of making mischief. She just wants to do what is right. Second, she’s not just beauty, but she’s got the brains too. She reads and makes full use of their family’s business, which has to do with the paper industry. She also is known for her skill in playing word games, or the central plot element in NDFD, the “Kollabot”. It was hard to find a translation for this term, as it is something well within the Thai Culture that it was better to just call it as it is. The closest translation I can think of is that it’s a riddle, yet it’s so much more than that, that not even the Thai Subbers can think of how to explain it for me to understand. In any case, later on in the story, you’ll find Mangmao wisely solving more than word riddles. Things aren’t always what they seem in the world of NDFD, and Mangmao dangerously treads the delicate road of politics, men and love! Perhaps the greatest riddle she manages to solve in the end is… you guessed it, our man (yes, he is a man!) Khanthong!
Our hero is introduced in a more somber light, where he unflappably chants a prayer alone in the darkness, impliedly, for the invulnerable thief, the same thief that was Mangmao’s hero. Later on, we find out that the Thief Khunthong is none other than his own father, and the war with Inwa just made another orphan. Right away we see sadness in this character, in contrast to Mangmao’s light.
Yet just the same, although filled with thoughts of revenge, Khanthong’s heart remains pure and steadfast – so pure and steadfast that he actually comes up with the idea of disguising as a eunuch to enter the palace, despite the temptation and danger that lurks ahead.
Yet even the director was saying in the making-of clips, how can a eunuch possibly be a hero in a lakorn? Well, that’s the thing. Despite Aok Pra Sri Khanthin’s “softness” and “gentleness”, and of course his very obviously pretty face, he is a man, an honorable one at that, who has the balls (both figuratively and literally, as Yuern confirms later on) to get the job done. As someone who is in a suicide mission, he’s got nothing to lose and he plunges into the task head on. Yet despite that, he maintains the precepts of monkhood and acts with grace and kindness, both to his superiors, his colleagues and to slaves.
So there you have it, the first step in our love story. We have the curious troublemaker who is faced with the greatest riddle – this eunuch who is actually a manly man who’s going to eventually make this man-hater get swept off her feet. But since this is just the first episode, things are expectedly, supposed to start roughly. The first episode was all about Mangmao brushing Aok Pra Sri Khanthin off and stepping down on his male ego (innocently of course, she was just being honest!) yet conversely, she is also the one who throws a curveball at Khanthong’s game. She riles him up and perturbs his usual calm. Of course, he doesn’t know it yet, but Mangmao gives the emotionless Khanthong a reason to feel – and eventually, even a reason to live.
If there’s one thing I appreciate about NDFD, it’s that the love story between these two progresses in just about the same pace as the political trouble brewing in the background. The fake pleasantries between and among the people in the women’s court, with the concubines and eunuchs, seem so delicate in the first episode, but there are already hints of how all hell will break loose at some point. It’s just the same with the simple banter between Khanthin and Mangmao, which we all know will likewise progress later on (but not to the point of slap-kiss – save that for Game Sanaeha.)
So that’s it for now. I’m sure I’ve well exceeded the 30 minute lecture, and we’re just in episode 1. We haven’t even talked about the big player that is Mangmao’s big brother, the crazy evil warlock and of course Aokya Wang.
See you on the next lecture! (There is a next one, I hope!)
Written by @gretutay, Pictures credit to Ch3 Thailand