Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Campus comes to Film

Lal Jose's 'Classmates' stands out from other films on different counts. For one, when Malayalam film industry believes to be reveling itself with the aging heroes and geriatric themes, Classmates dares to do away with all of them. It fields all the young talents who yearn to perform and play their age in contemporary Malayalam cinema. Secondly, when all our 'macho' films are crying for blood and revenge, this film goes to the other extreme. Here you have a father whose son is (accidentally) murdered by his classmate, pardoning him. And the murderer himself, on the other, refuses to reveal the name of the one who tried to murder him! If his earlier film 'Achanurangatha Veedu' was all about absolute lack of pity and humanity in society, this film is all for love, remembrance and tenderness. If the earlier film was more about young women, this film is about youth and love.

Classmates is a campus film that mixes different genres comfortably. It weaves into itself threads of a love story, a mystery thriller, a nostalgic trip to youth, and a buddy movie.. Usually our campus movies are all about adolescent love and their misadventures. Rarely does politics enter our campus films these days, and if at all it does, it invariably brings in tragedy and violence in its trail. In this film, politics, love and nostalgia mix together without one negating the other. So, when a group of classmates come back to their campus after a lapse of more than a decade, their memories unfold in different moulds, until they meld into the central narrative of a failed love. They unfold interestingly with some of the same scenes being narrated from different viewpoints of campus politics, silent love, youthful abandon etc

At the core of the film is this story of an unfulfilled love, that too, significantly, between a Tamil Brahmin boy (son of lecturers working in the same college) and a Muslim girl. This, in a way, seems to metaphorically remind us of the unfinished revolution of 'progressiveness' that used to animate our campuses. So, the film is not only about a lost love but also about a lost dream unfolding through a narrative set in a past campus, a past that is irredeemably lost.

One interesting thing one witnessed while watching the film was the attitude of the campus youth who thronged the theatres to make this film a box office success. They seemed to enjoy all the tightly edited campus scenes, but booed at two occasions when the central characters begin to 'talk' and reflect about their relationship and love. (Were they booing the shallow dialogues or the hazy romanticism is difficult to answer. But it was not a coincidence that these were scenes that tended to 'stay', or for the youth 'stray' from the breezy editing pattern of the other sequences. What they seemed to ask for is a television experience of fast moving images, without a moment of reflection 'interrupting' it as an irritant. Or, is it that our campus/youth films are yet to find a (spoken) language of their own?

Monday, September 11, 2006


Patriotism as Jingoism

It is one thing to be proud of one’s land and yet another being jingoist about it. But our films, obsessively tied to the ‘hero-villain’ black and white format, always invariably indulge in jingoism when they claim to be dealing with ‘patriotism’. It is indeed interesting to see whether any discourse or narrative of patriotism is possible at all without it positing an ‘other’, the enemy. It is the lurking presence of the enemy that makes ‘us’, it is ‘their’ threat that invokes us to stay together and assert ourselves. Without ‘them’, ‘we’ are impossible. Running through all the post-Kargil ‘patriotic’ films in India is this jingoism. Major Ravi’s film ‘Kirti Chakra’ is the latest addition to this genre from Malayalam.

In all these films, the enemy is invariably Pakistan, which in turn ‘automatically’ means Muslims. So the narrative gradually turns out to be actually targeting the ‘enemy within’ rather than without. Here, the ‘nation’ ‘naturally’ comes to mean ‘Hindustan’ (literally), and one need extend this logic too long for patriotism to turn into Hindu pride. So naturally all the villains are the treacherous Mussalmans, who never belong/ed ‘here’. Interestingly, in Kirtichakra only women among the Muslims seem to share (or realize) the nationalist fervour of the ‘heroes’, the men are easy preys to the cause of violence and bigotry. While the Hindus sacrifice their lives for the nation and ‘the people’, Muslims do that only for their religion. So nationalism comes ‘naturally’ to the former while it has to be imposed on the other.

Like any other ‘war movie’, Kirtichakra is also a male buddy movie, with the women only appearing as brief interruptions in the manly world of risks, adventure and action. On ‘this side’, they are charming objects patiently and proudly waiting at home for their heroic partners, and on the ‘other side’, they are gullible victims to the fanatic designs of men and religion. This pattern is yet another polemical formula for female characters - the romantic-innocent love or the preys and the victimized. While the ‘heroes’ love and adore and protect their women, the ‘villains’ use and abuse them. The worlds of women and men are neatly divided into the home and the world. The valiant Mahadevan (Moahanlal) loses his wife and kid in a terrorist attack, will still head the larger family of the nation. Jai, his buddy loses his own life trying to save his boss, but his widow will dedicate their child from their little family to the larger one of the nation. Such simplistic formulae are the stuff jingoism sustains itself with.

Significantly, all great films dealing with war are essentially anti-war movies. They assert life and point at the futility of violence and war. On the other hand, jingoistic movies of all varieties, whether it be Hollywood, Bollywood or Malayalam, thrive upon enmity, strife, violence and division. It feeds upon martyrs and violence, and finds it impossible to narrativise joy and peace. Exactly why a film like Kirtichakra makes one sad despite all its other merits like casting (impressive performances by Mohanlal and Jeeva), breezy editing and camera work. Because its pro-war jingoism makes it a painful viewing experience, as a result, in the name of patriotism what it glorifies is hatred and bigotry.