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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

notebook



Notebook – The Flip Side of Malayalee Adolescence

What strikes one immediately about Roshan Andrews’ new film ‘Notebook’ is its freshness. It has kept itself clean of all the jaded faces and voices of the Malayalam film industry, and fields fresh and young performers as its central characters. More significantly, it does away with the very idea of male heroism, for it has a narrative that is driven, run and controlled solely by adolescent girls. Even Suresh Gopi has little to do in the film, except to be just a ‘guest’ and play the sideline role of a facilitator. In the theatres, the restlessness of the malayalee male audience was evident; the absence of a male macho hero to take over the reins and the enviously self-engrossed manner in which the girls run their lives seemed to provoke many an intolerant howl.

It evidently takes a lot of guts to render such a narrative in the mainstream. For, the film takes on many haloed institutions in its stride – the school with its tyrannical father figure of the principal, the family, the hospital, the police etc. It is as if the girl students have been left alone in an island of emotions with no recourse to any kind of authorities, social, institutional, familial or spiritual. Whatever family is there in the film is a divided or absent one. One of the trio of girls actually points her fingers at the father of the girl who dies during an abortion they planned to carry out in secret. She says, “She was afraid of you, that is why she didn’t dare to share things with you. If you were kind, she wouldn’t have met with such an end”. It is significant that the families of all three girls are incomplete, in some way or other. The school is another such totalitarian space where any human feelings/failings have to be necessarily secretive and hence subversive.

The film presents a total divorce between the adolescent and the adult worlds. These worlds have lost all connection between each other and one can feel the lonely desperation of the girls as they plunge into disastrous decisions. Devoid of any symbiotic links with the world, the girls are left to fend for themselves. And they form strong bondings, make plans for life, and dream about their future; in the process, what they traverse is not an easy road, it is also one strewn with treachery, fear of adults and their institutions and one’s own regression into personal gains.

Roshan Andrews also brings out into the open a lot of taboo things. There is a long sequence centred around sanitary napkins which made many among the audience squirm on their seats. (Like condoms, despite all the ads, the acquisition, carrying and disposal of sanitary napkins still remains a closely guarded and ‘private/vulgar’affair in Kerala society. And it is high time someone started speaking about these in the open.) Likewise, the film also deals head on with pre-marital sex, pregnancy and abortion. Having no access to any social knowledge, and unable to discuss these taboo subjects with the adults and institutions that lord over them, the girls are forced to resort to their own ways out of the impasse. In the process, they have to weave a web of lies, all of which lead to the fatal death of their friend and their eventual separation.

Only factor that may limit ‘Notebook’ from becoming another campus favourite like ‘Classmates’ would be the milieu withing which it tells its story. Its narrative unfolds among obviously upper class ‘elite’ students in a residential school that many a malayalee usually refuses to identify with despite the fact that most of our children are studying in very similar institutions under similar conditions and with very similar problems of duress and lack of community, expression and communication.

C S Venkiteswaran
venkity@gmail.com

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