Monday, August 28, 2006

Remembering Ayyappa Panicker

Missing - An Atmosphere

How does one understand and come to terms with the departure of someone like Ayyappa Panicker?

Many of the young poets who are my friends feel that they didn’t do enough for him, that they haven’t properly acknowledged what he had done for them in lighting and clearing their path, in teaching them to be irreverent, and inspiring them to have the courage to stand alone, fearless of beauty and truth

Many obituaries will be written about him, but the void he left behind would remain. For, he was a whole atmosphere. He was one who spurned any kind of ‘following’ and he never followed any isms. Derided by the ‘progressives’, adulated by the shallow, he traveled ahead and afar, most often alone. He was one who was able to love and show concern to another without showing off. Like his poetry, his love was also subtle and tender; it also took time for one to understand it.

Very rarely has a writer/intellectual conducted himself with such pride and self confidence in Kerala, given its habitat of extreme conservatism on the one and polemics on the other. Maybe it was his acerbic sense of humour that he helped him to keep his head and mind above the averaging muck of malayalee discourses and public life. Cosmopolitan in the deepest sense of the term, he was never swept away by ‘waves’. Instead, they seemed to ‘unfangle’ themselves for him. Firmly rooted in his own land, history and tradition, he easily integrated and addressed them. His book on Indian Medieval Literature, Thakazhi, C V Raman Pillai and the series on Poetic Aesthetics are some of the best written in any language. With our looks locked westwards, we may only begin to take note of them only when they get translated and get quoted back to us by our icons.

He was the silent but a deeply motivating force behind all the aesthetic shifts and breaks that happened during the last decades in Malayalam arts and literature. His early poems shook Malayalam poetry from its romantic and ideological slumber, waking it up into a whole new world of experiences and visions. He inspired and virtually moulded a brand new generation of poets, publishing them and releasing their minds to the world outside. His Kerala Kavita was a unique publication of its kind, juxtaposing the best of world and Indian poetry with the local yearnings toward the new skies. He was a poet who broke all the rules and prompted others to, he experimented with all the genres and styles, and was never weighed down by his past or any assumed image of his own. But for him, nobody could have thought of Maharaja Series or the Cartoon poems as poems. Impatient with the run of the mill, Panicker transmitted this sense of frisson noveau into other arts too, like theatre and cinema. He was the moving force behind the resurgence in these fields, both of them witnessing an efflorescence of talents during the 70’s fired by a new vision and sensibility.

He was a translator par excellence, both of the West, generations and traditions, both classical and folk. (To paraphrase Zachariah, tradition is the clay one has to stamp with one’s foot to soften and shape, not something to carry on the head) His poetry and his writings on aesthetic theory straddle all these worlds easily. He looked at tradition from the here and now, and the contemporary from traditional perspectives He was not enamoured of them nor did he iconise any. In his works, both creative and analytical, he confidently uses the best of all these traditions to portray, dissect and reinterpret contemporary life and living. In this many-way process, he brought a fresh lease of life to traditional arts like Koodiyattam and to contemporary art forms..

With his irrepressible energy to renovate and renew himself constantly through his creative endeavours, he inspired our generation with his impatience for staid and reified forms, and irreverence towards all forms of authority and adulation.

He was always ready to set his sails towards uncharted destinations. Never anchoring himself in any ideology, establishment or masterpiece, he traveled lightly, spreading light and making light of the heavy baggage that everyone around him carried.

This is how he described himself to a visitor at the hospital, “Now I am ‘Vayyappa Panicker”. And who else could have written/sung ‘Muthuveli Pappachante Makal petta Rosilikku Muthuvankulangara ninnoru manavalan vanne…”? Only a Kutta-nadan whose foot is planted firmly in the soil and whose mind is open to the whole world.

C S Venkiteswaran

Friday, August 18, 2006

Digital Future of Malayalam Cinema

Mollywood's digital future

The first digital film in Malayalam is to be released this week. ‘Moonnamothoral’ by V K Prakash will be released in 80 theatres in Kerala through digital network.

This is indeed a welcome sign and could turn out to be a revolutionary moment for an industry like Malayalam cinema which has long been bound by low economies of scale that is not able to cater to a viewership that is fast getting globalised in its tastes as well as expectations. Both these trends have limited its scope for larger productions, experimentation and global marketing. Stagnant state in which it has been forced to vegetate during the post-globalisation period is reflected in the deep conservatism that runs through its themes, production values, methods, and technology. As a result it has been virtually taken over by exhibitors and distributors who virtually runt he show and dictate terms to the producers and directors. Being at the final and receiving end of the production chain, their values and dictates are determined by the demand side alone – something that is deeply inimical to innovativeness and change.

It is no coincidence that the ‘stars’ of cinema are averse to the very idea of digital cinema. For, its spread could spell the doom of many an establishments which feed upon the status quo On hopes that the switch over to digital cinema would liberate Malayalam cinema from the clutches of these conservative forces and become instrumental in releasing new energies and talents.. Digital cinema, because of its affordability and the scope for experimentation it gives, could give rise to the entry of new talents, who would dare to experiment with new themes and methods. If it were to happen so, no one can prevent the anti-establishment potential of this technology. The present level of production costs could be lowered like never before, and the possibilities of imaging technology can be used to narrate and visualize hitherto untold stories.

Digital technology is nothing new to cinema. It first entered cinema in the form of special effects and in the field of sound. Digital cinema gave a fresh depth and dimension to cinema. Now digital technology has entered the fields of production, distribution and exhibition too. Now cinema can be made and shown without a camera and a conventional film projector. Now cinema can be made without it even depending upon object-reality. Anything that can be thought of and dreamt about can be digitized into visuals. So the interface of digital cinema is not with reality but with dreams and images. Hope Malayalam cinema will live up to its potential and find a new and great lease of life unleashing the potential of our young filmmakers, who have long been forced to remain mere consumers of global images.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Censoring Cable TV Network

Cable around Cable TV Network

This week the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has issued a notification to the effect that no film, film song, music video or even their promotionals or trailers can be beamed into television through the cable network without clearance from the Central Board of Film Certification. This notification comes into immediate effect and the condition is applicable to content produced in India and elsewhere.

This could only be described as a draconian measure by the state to curb freedom of expression. Right from the beginning of the television era in India, the local cable television networks have played a major role not only as ‘middlemen’ between television channels and the consumers/subscribers, but also as producers of local content. During the last decade, these networks have grown into one of the most vibrant medium in the country. This has been so especially in Kerala, and so, the said decision is going to very seriously affect the cable television industry in the state. The verve and commitment with which they have taken up local issues and events, covered incidents and happenings have given them great popular appeal and influence. Obviously, it is this influence over public opinion and imagination that disturbs the centres of power.

Two things mark the cable channels apart from the pan-language and national channels. One of their major strengths is penetration and reach. They beam audiovisual signals into the remotest parts of the state, where satellite TV is seldom available. Second, they carry local content in great detail and depth, something the satellite channels can never match or compete with. While the satellite channels ‘cover’ only the ‘major’ issues, the local cable television network have given ample time and attention to the issues at the grassroots. And this local content and diversity is what makes them popular and plays a crucial role in creating a strong sense of community among the local population.

Moreover, it is a Paleolithic measure in the age of Information and Communication Technology revolution, where any kind of content, text, audio or video can be transmitted at no time from anywhere to anywhere in the world. And imagine the CBFC watching and passing the 24 Hours of audiovisual content of thousands of channels everyday before telecast!

Such laws are not applicable in the case of satellite channels now, nor is it practical with live telecasts. So, instead of imposing such anti-freedom laws the government should have thought of introducing some kind of licensing system to ensure competency and accountability, and putting in place more democratic mechanisms to monitor the content of cable television networks. Such monitoring has to be essentially consensual in nature and not an imposition from above.

The State and the Bloggers


“The powerful always seek to limit freedom by talking of the misuse of freedom, but freedom cannot be called freedom unless one has the right to misuse it … More than evil itself, I have learnt to fear the menace of good that comes in the form of improving others”
Rabindranath Tagore, Jibansmriti

The recent decision of Government of India to impose a blackout on blogsites, place freedom loving citizens (and netizens) in an impossible situation. What we face is a check on freedom of expression in the name of terrorism. Whether it be the citizens or the netizens, there won’t be any difference of opinion as to the question of terrorism, for, the vast majority among both would be the first to condemn it. In fact, the longest of battles against all kinds of terrorisms, both of beliefs and opinions, words and swords have been fought by those who stood for freedom of expression and speech.

According to reports, the Department of Telecommunications has passed an order to ISPs to block several websites.Most ISPs have complied with it and as of now blogs and sites hosted Blogger, Typepad and Geocities are not accessible. This decision in fact pushes the bloggers into that dark and ominous area between two establishments – the state and terrorism - both of them traditionally intolerant to expression of difference and diversity of opinion. It seems our governments are still in a time warp. In a way, internet technologies have made any kind of censorship obsolete or impossible.

The bloggers have already got into the act of opposing the ban and creating a networked wave of protest against this ban. Wikipaedia the free software encyclopaedia has already launched Bloggers Against Censorship at campaign, as part of the Censorship Wikia. As part of the campaign against censorship, they have documented all relevant information in this regard, putting the whole thing in perspective and creating an open platform for joining hands, exchanging views and to create a coalition of sorts against the ban. Also given are tips for bypassing the ban. It is indeed commendable on the part of the blogging community to have stood up to the challenge using technology as a catalyst and tool in the socialisation and democratisation processes. This is actually a pointer to the radical politics of the future.

According to Aniwar Ahmed, a free software activist, this also shows that Government of India did not learn anything from the past experience of banning yahoo! Groups in the name of militant Khasi tribe. Its popularity and visibility only went up by leaps and bounds instantaneously, despite it being blocked by all ISPs! Clearly, you can’t ban anything on the internet… Blogs are the vanguard of a new information revolution. Because they allow and encourage ordinary people to speak up, they’re tremendous tools of freedom of expression. (

If we need to fight terrorism or any kind of intolerance for that matter, the way is to open up areas of expression, exchange and communication, and not shutting them off or censoring them. It will only lead to the consolidation of the enemy and to black out vital areas from public gaze. In other words, we need to eradicate terrorism, but not through other tools of intolerance but through creating trust through transparent and free means.

For, we are already living in a very censorious climate, and all freedom loving people, whether it be minorities or citizens, “would benefit more if they demanded more speech and diverse representation than seeking to silence already existing spaces” (Shohini Ghosh)