Saturday, July 15, 2006

Mumbai Blasts - Resilience and Mourning

MUMBAI BLASTS - The Resilience and Mourning

Any tragedy throws up its own angels and demons, bringing out the best and the worst in the human society in which it happens. They also provides an occasion to ponder upon ourselves, for it forces us to face ourselves in all the starkness. The Mumbai serial blasts (pet named '7/11' by the media) is one such moment.

It was a virtual scramble for images and news in the beginning with all the channels vying with each other in 'breaking news'. (Even hours after the event, the channels were not unanimous about the number of blasts. While some channels claimed 8 others went on with 7. So much for our metro channels and their professionalism) Then started the first person accounts and survival stories about official indifference, rages at the lack of a disaster management system, the fate of the Mumbaikars to take charge of things, their courage and camaraderie, followed by stories of their instant but imaginative and deeply humane rescue operations. After all the gory images and the chaos that reigned everywhere was a sudden shift to praises about the 'resilience' of Mumbaites; their ability to get back to 'normalcy', with the trains back on rails with the usual crowds and congestion, and the commuters crowding them is as if nothing has ever happened. It seemed we were celebrating our ability to forget.

If one looks beyond 'resilience', one is outraged and shocked by the ability of a society to attain 'normalcy' so soon, which in other words, is only an indicator of our insensitiveness. It is inhuman to be normal so soon after such a tragedy. What is forgotten in this is the helplessness of those commuters (those 'victims of resilience') who have no other way but to catch their daily trains the very next day to earn their daily bread. They can neither afford to mourn nor force the system to do so. Even when one is overwhelmed by the courage of the average Mumbaite to face such situations, one should also not forget the fact that if he or she is risking his/her life everyday, it means they can't afford to stay back; for them, staying back means loss of daily bread. Nor are they capable of forcing the system to put mechanisms of public security and accountability in place. As a result, in our country, tragedies have become crises to be managed and overcome by the victimized and the affected themselves. And, a terrible event like this becomes a mere collection of 190-odd personal tragedies, to be faced, suffered, mourned and experienced solely by those affected by the death or injury of their dear ones. It is a 'resilience' that cannot literally afford to mourn. To mourn is to remember and pay respectful homage to the departed. More importantly mourning is not to dwell upon the wound and call for revenge, but an essentially social and personal process of internal and external healing and overcoming. But our society does not seem to have the time or patience for public mourning, to create social occasions of remembering the dead and raise human/e memorials for them – emotional as well as real. We only wait for another tragedy to occur to wake us up to yet another celebration of resilience.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

digital malayalee

Where in the world is the Digital Malayalee?

The Malayalam print media is and always has been doing well compared to other languages. Book publication and sales have burgeoned, and new magazines on various specialized areas are hitting the stands quite regularly. For instance, if business/finance magazines were unheard of or a rarity a decade earlier, it is no longer so. Similarly, we now have exclusive magazines devoted to automobiles, male fashion, electronics, cable television industry etc, besides the umpteen rags on crime and pornography. We have very glossy magazines like Take 1 devoted entirely to Malayalam cinema and targeting the malayalee diaspora. All this is apart from those ‘little’ magazines that still come and go like meteors in regular frequency.

But this trend has not had any significant impact upon the digital domain. Despite the presence of an expanding and vibrant community of avid readers, the netizens among them are obviously a very negligible minority. One reason is the demographics of Kerala population in which the proportion of youngsters is gradually narrowing, making all our ‘intellectual activities’ in print an exercise in geriatrics. Our aging population of the print-obsessed readers obviously is not at home with the use of computers or with the thrills of internet. As a result, very few of the literary or other works in Malayalam have been digitized and made available for a global community. (We will discuss about the commendable initiatives in this area in another edition.)

This is the case even with a medium like cinema, where digitization is at least limping ahead in comparison to literature. Though VCDs and DVDs of many Malayalam movies are available, they have been produced only with the malayalee population in mind. The wider possibilities of reaching a global community of cineastes have never occurred to its producers. These CDs don’t have multilingual subtitles or any other additional features, which make it impossible for them to address a wider audience of cineastes who would love to watch it. as a result, the potential of translating the growing interest in Malayalam cinema worldwide generated by our filmmakers due their presence in international festivals etc into a global interest in Malayalam cinema is never becoming a reality. This has denied our filmmakers from reaching out and many a Malayalam movie fan from other parts of the country and abroad the chance of getting to know our movies more widely and in depth. For instance, if somebody wants to watch an Aravindan or Adoor movie, where does he go? This sheer lack of digital format is definitely getting reflected in the global attention our cinema commands compared to other regional cinemas in India and outside.

This allergy towards the net and the digital is going to take a huge toll on us unless we address the issue on a war footing. Despite the facility and economy of digitisation and the infinite possibilities it opens up, we have not shown serious interest in this endeavour. As a result, our digital presence is very feeble and poor compared to others. Take Wikipaedia for instance. You search for a malalayalee personality, and you draw a blank.At the moment if you Yahoo search ‘Kerala’ you get 12 million sites, but search for any specific information about a malayalee personality or aspect in the net and you will feel the draught. Malayaleee history, culture, art, literature, politics, news, etc do not find their rightful presence in the digital domain except for some initiatives like which comprehensively covers all media reports related to Kerala,, a free software attempt at creating a comprehensive ‘creative commons’ related to Kerala and which gives some information about Malayalam cinema history. As regards Malayalam content in the net, the situation is even more pathetic, something that is undergoing gradual change with the development of Unicode based fonts and the efforts of the Malayalam bloggers worldwide.

We are indeed living below digital poverty line. And this is an issue to which the malayalee has to wake up immediately.

C S Venkiteswaran

Sunday, July 02, 2006


The Prajapatis – the lord of ‘subjects’ - of Malayalam Cinema

Until recently, malayalees looked upon Tamil cinema condescendingly for their loud (literally!) depictions of superhuman heroes and utter lack of narrative logic (read naturalism). Tamil cinema indulged in impossible plot lines and supermen like Rajnikant while Malayalam cinema prided itself for its ‘realistic’ styles and stories, which actually owed to its dependence on literature.

It seems the wheel has turned full circle. Contemporary Tamil cinema has broken out of such shackles and is experimenting with bold, innovative themes, trying out startlingly new ways of story telling and picturisation. An array of talented young filmmakers have entered the field, energizing the industry and globalising it in the real sense. They freely borrow from all genres and styles to create their own heady mix of entertainment and effects – aesthetic and emotional. Unlike in Malayalam, these ‘experiments’ are happening not at the fringes or with apologetic shoestring budgets, but right at the core of the industry itself.

Watching Ranjith’s new film Prajapati, one feels that Malayalam cinema has a very long and tortuous way ahead to get out of its extreme poverty or rather poverties of styles, themes, narratives, visualization, technology and contemporariness. It is still firmly stuck in the same old narrative and stylistic prison. Prajapati narrates a primitive story that has no connection whatsoever with contemporary life or realities; the latter come as a garnishing - as some stray comments upon local politics. Even when it tries to tell a superman story, neither is it capable of achieving the technical perfection, innovativeness in visualization effects of a Tamil film, nor is it able to break free from the age-old ‘canons’ of puerile naturalism that Malayalam cinema is chained to. Like the village in the film that steadfastly keeps all the ‘ills of the contemporary’ outside, the film’s feudal mindset seems incapable of venturing outside worn-out formulae and staid dialogues (again reminding one of the early malayalee abuses on Tamil films for their lengthy and convoluted dialogues and high pitched rendering a la Sivaji Ganesan). One would be able to ‘imagine’ a village like ‘Perumalpuram’ in the film only by shutting oneself off totally from the world around, brimming with youth, new modes of life, love, living and communication, exciting technologies and gadgets, and also the extremely complicated problems and dilemmas that go with them. It is a village, ruled by a middle-aged aristocrat Devarmadom Narayanan (played by Mamootty, who is struggling to fit into the role both in terms of body as well as spoken language) is one that is ‘liberated’ from all the ‘ills of contemporaneity – industry, communication technology, politics and even judiciary, which according to the infantile logic of the film equals to degeneration, corruption and pollution. But all this purity and innocence is solely for the village lot, the prajas, while the prajapati lives in a luxurious island of modernity( which is in stark contrast to his enemy-brother family, which is still pre-modern and looks pitifully rural). His isle is animated by tillers, tractors, Plasma TV, internet, scotch (with a valet to hold the glass for him!) etc. Only difference with the earlier avatars narrated by Ranjith is that here the hero is not a connoisseur of arts! That seems to have been taken over by the shallow and crass film crew, with a heavily painted Salim Kumar masquerading as the hero. He is obviously the low culture icon of degenerate values and tastes of the contemporary or the outside world, as against the sophisticated (and fair complexioned) high-cultured insularity of the real hero.

How long will it take to reach Tamil?