Adieu, P. Ramadas “It was a baby that was born prematurely, faintly breathing cinematic life. But in our country there were no incubators at that time to look after and nurture it..” this is how T.M.P. Nedungadi, film critic, described the fate of P. Ramadas’ Newspaper Boy, the first neorealist film in Malayalam. Ramadas was indeed creating history by making Newspaper Boy at the age of 22 when he was a college student. But history is replete with such instances and heroic acts that blaze a trail, but go unacknowledged at that time, and are later accorded ‘classic’ status. What Ramadas did for Malayalam cinema was one such act. He was not merely creating a record of sorts by becoming the youngest filmmaker, but his work too was totally fresh and path breaking in its thematic choice and cinematic vision. Even though it was made and released (on May 13, 1955) a few months before Pather Panchali (released on August 26 the same year), Newspaper Boy could not create the same impact, nor could Ramadas, like Satyajit Ray continue in his film career.
Thursday, April 03, 2014
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Sudevan – Filmmaker in Our Attic
Sudevan, whose film ‘Thattumpurathappan’ (Lord of the Attic) was in the competition section for short films in the recently concluded International Short and Documentary Film Festival of Kerala, is the most unconventional of filmmakers to emerge in the video scene in Kerala. He is from a remote village in Palakkad district, and never had any exposure to film ‘classics’, film societies or film festivals. The first film festival he attended was the one which showed his first video! He has been making small video films at regular intervals for the last six years, all of which were noted for their deceptively simple visual treatment and sharp thematic focus. In a way, he is one of those rare organic filmmakers who is firmly rooted in his milieu and surroundings, and weaves his narratives from them. Shorn of all technical fineries, his films are very much visceral and have a captivating intimacy to them. More importantly, he believes in ‘real audience’: he would like to know and converse with them all at a personal level. For instance, more than 1000 DVD copies of his last film – Thattumporathappan - have been sold during the course of one year, which is an indicator of the success of the film. It is also the natural outcome of Sudevan’s relentless commitment to marketing his film, most of which has happened through word of mouth of his own audience.
Till date he has only made four films, all of which were made in association with Achuthanandan, his actor and alter ego, neighbour and producer, all rolled into one. He works with a very limited crew, and uses only the most essential low-end equipments, for want of money and fear of paraphernalia. But he makes elaborate preparations before each film: he develops the story line discussing the film threadbare with Achuthanandan, charts out camera angles and movements, and identifies all the locations. Finally, they garner all the local support and infrastructure for productioon, and do detailed and repeated rehearsals before the actual shooting. ‘I would place my camera and plan its movements in such a way that I perfectly know how it will look at the editing table’. Their post-production work does not end with editing and mixing, but with a detailed plan as to where to show the films and how to reach their target audience.
His first video ‘Varoo’ (2004) is a Kafkaesque take on the theme of ‘finding one’s own way’. Shot with an ordinary videocam by an amateur girl, who was the only person they knew who happened to possess a camera, it charmingly captures the winding country paths and the verdant terrain in all its seeming simplicity and labyrinthine dimensions. In his next film ‘Planning’ (2006), he looks at the flip side of Malayalee middle class family from the point of view of two thieves, who make detailed plans to rob a house when its occupants are away. Eventually, when they sneak their way into the house, they only find a letter which announces the decision of the house owner to put an end to his life and lists out his mounting woes and debts. ‘Randu’ (2008, Two) deals with a very fundamental theme of selfishness, and how it can crop up even in the most unlikely of circumstances. It is about two labourers who are digging a well; one among them chances upon a treasure, which turns out to be the fatal moment where they, who were one in their labour and life, become ‘two’ – each monstrously following his own greedy dream.
His latest film Lord of Attic (2010) takes a bleak but hilarious look at the whole phenomenon of spirituality business that is thriving in India today. Here is a young man, who while running away from the police, takes refuge in the attic of a house, and gradually works his way out by assuming the role of god and using the gullible devotee living below. In the end, we find that the same house turns out to be the hottest spiritual destination in the locality. What makes the film interesting is the way in which Sudevan works through the tenuous and almost uncanny relationship between god and devotee, both dependent on each other, and yearning for ‘liberation’.
Interestingly, in all his film till date, Sudevan has worked with a duo at the centre – seeker of the path and the one who shows it (Varoo), the two thieves (Planning), the manual labourers (Two), and the ‘god’ and devotee (Thattumporathappan). Having gained enough experience and confidence, he is planning to venture out to work on a larger canvas and format.
Taking around and showing his films in all possible venues, Sudevan has already assiduously built a network of Malayalee audiences across the world. But he would like to avoid the mistake of the hero of his first film and would like to find a way of his own, without falling for the lure of empty offers and trodden paths.
Mullanezhi – The Lyrical Rebel
‘The verdant dream land of ours
Where did it fade away,
That promised land?’ asked Mullanezhi in a song in the film Lakshmivijayam by K P Kumaran. For, his was a lifelong romance with lyricism and radicalism, despair and optimism, his deep love for nature and the awareness about the inevitability of change. One can see all these conflicts and themes providing the form and flesh to his plays, poems and songs. So too, was his commitment to hope. For instance, one of his last poems goes like this: It is dawn, and opening their eyes/ here comes fresh blossoms, / Leaving the brow of the blue sky /The little crescent is fading away.. Throughout his life Mullanezhi wrote poems in which he was able to create a curious and fascinating blend of traditions: he belonged to the ‘old school’ and had a firm grounding in the Sanskrit and the folk traditions in music and literature. In his writings, this rootedness comes into vibrant contact with the new and the radical. He didn’t deride his past or tradition in order to embrace the best of modern currents.
Mullanezhi Neelakantan was born in 1948 in a traditional Nambudiri family in Trichur. Though he began to write poems from his childhood, it was Vyloppilly, who discovered the poet in him and guided him in his life and career. Vyloppilly was also instrumental in prompting him join for Vidwan course, and thus to become a school teacher.
He became a film lyricist in 1976, by penning songs for Njavalpazhangal by Azeez (Karukaruthoru pennane..) and Lakshivijayam by K P Kumaran’s (four songs: Pakalinte Virimaril, Ravurangi thazhe, Manathu tharangal punchirichu, Nayaka manuja snehagayaka). If one looks at his oeuvre, both as a lyricist and actor, one can see that from the beginning, Mullanezhi was more comfortable with offbeat films and filmmakers like Azeez, KP Kumaran, Pavithran, Shaji N Karun, MP Sukumaran Nair, Priyanandanan, and Madhu Kaithapram. The mainstream filmmakers, barring a few, were uneasy with his unconventional ways. Yet, whenever he penned for the mainstream, he consistently produced memorable lines, like ‘Pavizhamalli poothulanja neelavanam’ and ‘Kanninu pon kani, kathinu then kani’ in Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam by Sathyan Anthikkad, 'Manasoru Manthrika Kuthirayayi’ in Mela, ‘Swapanam kondu thulabharam’ in Veenapoovu by Ambili and in films like Vellam, Chora chuvanna chora, Ayanam, Kayyum thalayum purathidaruthu, and lastly, in Indian Rupee (‘Ee Puzhayum’). More than film songs, Mullanezhi’s forte was writing of songs for albums: his songs in Grameena ganangal by Vidyadharan (Thiru Thakruthi Thirumuttam, Thekkunnu Vannalum, Punchavayal Cherayurakkana Thottampattu) and K Raghavan’s Thoranam ( Punchavayal Punchirikkana Nerathu, Panchara Kunnathu, Thrikkakkarappante) are both very popular and memorable and they freely mix folk, traditional and lyrical-modern themes, tunes and imageries
He was also a theatre activist, leading the Agragami Theatres and wrote many plays, some of which have been collected in the anthology, Samathalam. In theatre, he was inspired by the social reformist movement inaugurated by the likes of VT, MR Bhattathiripad, and Premji. He came to cinema late in his life, but essayed some very striking roles in films like Piravi, Uppu, Kazhakam, Swam, Garshom, Neythukaran and Neelathamara.
An active political worker before he became a teacher, his passion for arts and progressive politics never left him; he was part of all the progressive initiatives that took shape in Kerala in politics and arts, like Peoples’ Science Movement, Literacy Movement, Progressive Writers’ Movement etc. The songs he wrote for the Kalajathas of Sastra Sahitya Parishad and his translation of Brecht poems (Enthinnadheeratha.. ippol thudanganam... ellam nammal patikenam.../ Pattiniyaya manushya nee/ pusthakam kayyiledutholoo etc) were very popular with the activists and one would rarely find a sensitive youth in Kerala who has not sung a line of his. In that sense, Mullanezhi was a true ‘midnight’s child’, someone who lived and voiced the angst and concerns of our land, relentlessly upholding progressive and democratic values throughout his life.
One can never forget his disarming smile and the glint in his eyes. With his departure, we lost a very warm and kind human being who celebrated his life, and always quarreled and engaged with the world with the creative resources at hand. As he himself wrote,
Only a wee bit of time
Do we have, here
But the life that mother gave us
We ought to nurture with goodness.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Ravindran aka Chinta Ravi
Departure of a Radical Pilgrim
If one were to identify Raveendran a.k.a. Chinta Ravi (1946-2011) with any single characteristic, it would be that of a traveller. Throughout his life, he was fond of journeys – both inward and outward. Shunning all bonds and boundaries, he journeyed across various spaces – all along Kerala, the tribal belt of India and abroad, across genres – journalism, art criticism, film review, cultural studies, travelogue, stories, narration and commentary, and across media – print, film and television. And the ideal traveller that he was, he travelled light: with his commitment to Marxian ideals, concern for the downtrodden, and passion for art .
A typical ‘Midnight's Child' of Kerala, born in Kozhikode, Ravi was part of progressive movements and made his mark as a writer by publishing a novelette ‘Athiranipookkal' when he was a student. After completing a journalism course in Mumbai, he came back to Kerala and began penning political articles and features on art and cinema in publications such as Searchlight , Chinta (the ideological mouthpiece of the Marxist party), and Kalakaumudi .
Ravi catalysed critical writing in Malayalam by introducing New Left ideas and ideological criticism. Both in life and writing, Ravi followed the struggles and crises in Marxian ideology and aesthetics, globally and locally. ‘Kalavimarsham: Marxist Manadhandam' (1983), the path-breaking anthology he edited, was a qualitative leap in critical thinking in Malayalam that brought together an array of eminent thinkers to address vital issues relating to politics, art, literature, film, and spirituality. He was always adept at developing apt theoretical terms and concepts in Malayalam, he imaginatively drew words, phrases and usages from local dialects, everyday speech, and Sanskrit, freely mixing them to create a fresh idiom that was simple yet intense.
His travelogues opened up the sensualities of alien lands, evoking our senses through minute descriptions of sights, noises, scents, people, places, and events around him, peppered with a keen sense of history. And all his journeys were to the margins. His best writings are undoubtedly about the tribal people of India from Andhra Pradesh to the North-East, which are rich in ethnographic details and insights.
The three films he made also resonate with the same energy of critique and resistance that charge his writings. Ironically, if his life and writings were all about relentless journeys, his films deal with social and political stasis and the efforts to break away. His first film ‘Harijan' (Telugu) was about downtrodden communities in rural Andhra in the cusp of a political crisis and rebellion. ‘Iniyum Marichhittillatha Nammal' (1980) was about a group of radical youth caught within an oppressive social system that envelops them. Ravi described this film as a ‘film essay,' a treatise that grapples with the dilemma of contemporary youth torn between thought and action, dreams and reality. ‘Ore Thooval Pakshikal' (1988) set against the historical background of the last days of British Raj, is a film that excavates the origins of class consciousness in a remote rubber plantation in Malabar.
Pioneer of art criticism
Ravi was also the pioneer of art criticism. He was fellow traveler of the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association during their show at Kozhikode in 1989. This show, under the leadership of mercurial sculptor Krishnakumar, challenged the art establishment up front , and was the first one of its kind in the country that brought together a number of young artists, who were to dominate Indian art scene in the next decades. Many artists such as Ganesh Pyne, Laxma Goud, and C.N. Karunakaran were close to Ravi, about all of whom he wrote with great sensitivity and detail.
In the 90s Ravi turned to television and made several innovative programmes on art, history, and culture for Doordarshan, Asianet (‘Ente Keralam'), and later, for Real Estate Television (about the architecture and habitat of various South Indian communities). ‘Ente Keralam' (1994 to 1999) was a meandering journey through the everyday life and culture of the State. By introducing people from various walks of life, obscure institutions and events, Ravi held up a mirror towards the often forgotten facets of Kerala's pluralistic culture and its inexorable transformations.
The rich and varied oeuvre of Ravi also follows the radical paradigm shifts in Malayali life, culture, and politics during the last decades, whether it be the tremors of the Naxalite movement, theoretical forays of cultural/art criticism, counter aesthetics in filmmaking, or television programming. A leftist to the core, Ravi never pontificated or sloganeered in his writings and always shunned the vulgarity of the mainstream. Throughout his life, he assiduously kept away from positions of power of all kinds. Ravi revelled in friendship and camaraderie, exuding a certain lightness and vigour in his carriage and demeanour, and in all his exchanges and engagements with the world.
In a way, every traveller shuns destinations, fearing it would end the journey. And like a typical traveller, Ravi too was acutely aware of lands not-yet-visited and destinations unrealised. Towards the end of his life, a feeling that his generation never realised its potential seemed to haunt Ravi. He said in one of his last interviews: “Personally, I think my interests were fragmented; I could never achieve completion in my writings or cinema, nor did I persist long enough with any. I was driftwood of sorts. It happened with many people in my generation, we were caught up in too many flows...” Obviously, it was such frankness and courage to introspect that made and continues to make Ravi dear to all.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
adieu chinta ravi
Thursday, June 16, 2011
homage to chidananda dasgupta
Upperstall profile by: Shoma A Chatterji
The film critic in India is marginalized within the world of journalists in general and critics in particular. The investigative journalist, the political commentator, the environmental reporter and the rural explorer lead the hierarchy of journalists with their 'hard-core' writing. Chidananda Dasgupta has changed the scenario forever. Film criticism is now as 'hard-core' as mainstream journalism, though it does not command the space and the platform in the print media the way it used to when Dasgupta was a practising critic. Rather, it is Film Studies that is now a much-in-demand discipline in several universities in India. In this sense, Dasgupta is a pioneer in the movement towards serious writing on cinema, stressing time and again, through his writings, that the distinction between art house cinema and mainstream cinema is a myth. He made history with the Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed on him for Best Writing at the Sixth Osian''s Cinefan Festival of Asian Cinema in July 2004. This is the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award to have been conferred on a film critic and scholar. "I am getting this award at a time when film criticism is almost dying out in India. We spent our lives teaching people the value and worth of cinema. When we first asked for government help to form the first film society, the official at the ministry said, "Film society, what's that?" Thankfully, lots of things have changed since then," he said in his response to the award.
To label Dasgupta only as 'film critic' however, is unfair because he pioneered the film society movement along with like-minded friends Satyajit Ray and Harisadhan Dasgupta in 1947. "A comment from Cyril Connelly, editor of Horizon, who said, "Calcutta is a city which has no film society" set off the trigger, more because Bombay had already laid the foundation for two film societies, one in 1937 and another in 1942. Neither of these evolved into a movement. Nor did they bring about changes in Indian cinema. We decided to change all this. With 50 members at a membership fee of Rs 5.00 per month and Prasanta Mahalanobis as our first President, the membership looked like a veritable Who's Who ofhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif the Calcutta intelligentsia." Dasgupta suggested the forming of a Film Federation and along-with six others. "We met Krishna Kripalani in 1959 and in 1960, the Federation began to function," reminisces Dasgupta.
read more at http://www.upperstall.com/people/chidananda-dasgupta
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
“It seems death never passed between us..”
A Conversation with T V Chandran on his new film Sankaranum Mohananum
C S Venkiteswaran
Your new film Sankaranum Mohananum seems to mark a fresh phase in your oeuvre. Compared to your other films, it seems to have a totally different take on life and death. If earlier films were about the all too real yearnings and desires of the here and now, this film is about them outliving death..
Yes. If you look at my earlier films closely, you can see that their narratives were always very much embedded in and sensitive to their historical and sociopolitical atmosphere. In Ponthanmada, Danny, Mankamma, Ormakalundayirikkanam etc you can see this. But in this film it is a sort of trip into the mindscape of a sensitive young man, Mohanakrishnan, whose life is loveless. The storyline goes like this: Sankaran, Mohanakrishnan’s elder brother, a school teacher in his 50’s, suddenly decides to marry his colleague’s young daughter, in order to help him. But once he gets to see Rajalakshmi, he blindly falls in love with her. Tragedy strikes when on the morning after the wedding night, he is bitten by a snake and dies. Though the official funeral is over and done with, Sankaran refuses to leave the world and appears before Mohanakrishnan in various guises, pleading with him to talk to his wife and inform her that he is still around. At first Mohanakrishnan is scared, but he slowly comes to terms with this strange situation. To add to the confusion, Sankaran is visible only to him and he has a tough time convincing others about his existence and his brother’s pleas. Their efforts to block Rajalakshmi’s re-marriage lead to various bizarre and hilarious situations in the film. Mohanakrishnan himself is a man living a lonely life, away and estranged from his wife and child. In the end, his brush with the undead brother and his travails lead Mohanakrishnan back to life and to look at it afresh..
What was the inspiration behind this theme about the dead haunting the living?
Actually, I wanted to do this film around 2000, after I finished Danny. At that time I even discussed the story with Mohanlal. But it didn’t work out, and I moved to other projects. Through years the film grew in me to take its present shape.
The film draws a lot from my personal experience, especially from the sudden and painful death of two persons who were very close to me, my elder brother Madhavettan, and friend and filmmaker John Abraham. Madhavettan, was my elder brother, but he was very much senior and like a father to me, also my guardian and guide. A lecturer by profession, he tried to ‘reform’ me in various ways, weaning me away from ‘bad influences’ and persuading me to pursue my studies. Later he went to Uganda and during a vacation time when his family was about to fly to meet him, he met with a car accident there and died instantly. We never got to see his body; he was cremated there. After that, Madhavettan began to visit me regularly in my dreams, telling me he is not dead, and also about a lot of other things. I could never come to terms with his absence and still can’t believe he is no more. Similarly, the sudden and accidental death of John Abraham was a shock to me. I just can’t imagine him as a dead man; he too appears before me from time to time trying to tell me something, and reminding me he is not dead. “People are lying I am dead” he says.
This film is my attempt to come to terms with the absence of these dear ones. In fact you can see the portrait of John in the film in Mohanakrishnan’s studio, when his wife asks him, “How did he die?” It is my question too: how did he die? Did he die at all? So, this film is also a homage to these two people.
The theme of absence and death is a universal one. Everyone around us will have someone dear who is no more, and about whose absence one has not been able to come to terms with. But the treatment of such a theme can be very bleak and brooding…
This is where this film differs from the usual style. Though this film deals with death and ghostly presences, the story is told in a humorous manner. Even though Mohanakrishnan’s various encounters with his dead brother are macabre in its essence, those scenes will evoke laughter in you. The film is structured around this dual presence - the visible and live Mohanakrishnan who only can see his brother and the invisible presence of Sankaran. There are a number of desperate attempts of Sankaran to make himself visible and present to the others, especially his young bride. But he fails in that and it leads to further and more desperate attempts. In fact, there is a long sequence where the duo plan and attempt to block the re-marriage of Sankaran’s bride that verge on the slapstick. That sequence ends with the image of Chaplin – from the famous poster of The Kid, where the face of Chaplin suddenly turns into that of Sankaran. Adding to the hilarious surface of the macabre undertones of the movie, is the presence of actors like Jagathy Sreekumar, Kalpana and V K Sreeraman.
Q The film also has a very interesting structure, it is like a letter to the undead..
Yes, the film is structured like a letter addressed to Madhavettan and John. It in fact begins my addressing them, and ends with the line from a poem, “it seems death never passed between us…” In between is the shifting and tumultuous mindscape of Mohanakrishnan. Jayasoorya has done a splendid job in the totally different roles of the brothers, with the dead one appearing in different guises and costumes. While one is real, the other is unreal and doesn’t leave any footsteps or traces behind. In one scene, we find them both trying to take a photograph. But the camera fails to capture Sankaran: he is just an absence in the picture. Jayasoorya lived up to the challenge playing these contrasting roles, that of the real Mohanakrishnan and the apparition of his brother.
Later in the film, he begins to see and hear the voices of several people who are dead and have many desires, needs, wants and yearnings, which they want to fulful through him. At the end, there is an indication of his return to the world of the living. We see the protagonist sitting below a peepul tree and gradually removing his make up. His image also gradually disappears from the mirror, and we are left with a make up box and a collection of spectacles – which Sankaran wore in his different guises throughout the film. So, there is a sense of exorcising the undead and a positive return to life and its affirmation at the end, all accomplished through a journey with the dead.
Q Like in your other films, this film also pays homage to your favourite authors, this time Saramago etc..
Later in the film, he begins to see and hear the voices of several people who are dead and have many desires, needs, wants and yearnings, which they want to fulful through him. At the end, there is an indication of his return to the world of the living. We see the protagonist sitting below a peepul tree and gradually removing his make up. The image of Sankarettan also gradually disappears from the background, and we are left with a make up box and a collection of spectacles – which Sankaran wore in his different guises throughout the film. So, there is a sense of exorcising the undead and a positive return to life and its affirmation at the end, all accomplished through a journey with the dead.
Q Like in your other films, this film also pays homage to your favourite authors, this time Saramago etc..
Yes, after I completed the script, I happened to stumble upon Saramago's The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis where he quotes the lines of his poet: “it seems death never passed between us…” This line struck me, because it was exactly the feeling I had about the deaths I was also grappling with. I have used an adaptation of this line at the end of the film.