Tuesday, January 30, 2007

remembering Kozhikodan

Remembering a film critic

The demise of Appukkuttan Nair alias Kozhikodan, at the age of 81 at Kozhikode last week, saw the exit of one of the veterans of film criticism in Malayalam. He was part of the trio that made film writing in Malayalam a popular and more importantly, a serious exercise. The other two of the trio were Cynic and Nadirsha (TMP Nedungadi). Along with them were occasional film reviewers of the period like Velappan Alappad, Gopi Kuzhoor, and Aswathi (Padmanabhan).

One major contribution of this generation of film critics was that they elevated film criticism into a serious genre of writing in Malayalam. Till then like in all other places, film was considered a 'low' mass art not worth the attention of the literate or the literary. He belongs to the first generation of film critics in Malayalam and before the advent of the polemical age of ideological criticism and eclectic aestheticism. His skills and equipments draw freely from local literature and culture, and were sure of themselves in confronting films from all languages and culture at the eyeball level. Maybe it is such sure sense of one's location and rootedness that keeps the generation of Kozhikodan apart from the ones that followed.

Kozhikodan began writing on films from the early 1950's. He started writing in Mathrubhumi and Chandrika, and later became a regular columnist of Mathrubhumi weekly along with Cynic and Nadirsha. While in the beginning, Kozhikodan wrote on English films, Cynic and Nadirsha dealt with Malayalam and Hindi movies respectively. It was in the 60's that Kozhikodan took over from Cynic to write more on Malayalam films regularly. Aware of the fact that they were first generation film writers, they took great care to 'explain' the film to the mass readers. Though their penchant for summarizing the story and for the literary has been criticized by their successors, their valiant effort at virtually creating a language to talk/write about cinema in Malayalam is undeniable.

Another distinguishing characteristic of the writings of critics like Kozhikodan is their rootedness in Malayalam. Though he was exposed to western writings on film, he wrote in his own language, in the process creating a new local idiom and syntax through it. Thus they brought Malayalee face to face with Hollywood and the Western films. For instance, Kozhikodan, whose early passion was poetry, would unabashedly break into poetry to describe a film or a scene, and would effortlessly use the analytical and aesthetic linguistic tools of kalari and kathakali to describe the western ballet. And unlike the columnists of the later generations who restricted themselves to 500 words and massive generalizations, he wrote at length about all kinds of films. Never after has Hollywood, Hindi and Tamil films been written about at such great length in Malayalam, or in any other Indian language. One of his books titled 'Chalachitra Jalakam' is a collection of his lengthy and detailed reviews of western films. Kozhikodan later collected his writings into several anthologies and had also won the state award for film criticism. He has also written a much appreciated book on film appreciation, 'Chalachitra Aswadanam Engine?'; and his book on the actor Sathyan, whom he considered the greatest actor Malayalam cinema has produced, is one of the rare and only book from that period on an actor.

Like all columnists, he was also accused of being repetitive, but his writings kept a consistent track of the developments in Malayalam cinema for more than 3 decades. He believed that a film review should be 'wholesome' and touch upon all aspects of cinema; his effort was to make it something enjoyable even to someone who hasn't seen the film. His books will definitely remain a rich source of inspiration and material for the film scholars of the future..

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007


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


a write up on bose krishnamachary's installation
LaVa (Laboratory of Visual Arts) at Kashi Art Gallery, Kochi

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