Friday, May 25, 2007


Munnar & Media Again

The last column on the very emotional issue of Munnar Demolitions and its media coverage drew a lot of response, both positive and negative. Some of the comments were very perceptive and pointed to the dangers inherent in the tendency of centralizing media and mediation so far as to discount the real. For instance, K Satchidanandan observed that "You are right about the spectacular aspect of the images of demolition and the oblique wish-fulfilment we derive from it as also about the immediate vs. the long -term in politics. (While reading it I also thought of another image of demolition- of Babri Masjid which had a different message and connotation altogether)… At the same time does this fact reduce the value of the real ? It is like even a just act turning into a spectacle. I feel we need to distinguish between the real meaning and the transformed meaning (transformed by the visual media) of the event…This does not in any way diminish the value of your observation about the long-term and less spectacular programmes. To me it is a matter of comparison than of opposites."

But one problem with the 'real' and the transformed meaning of the event is that, while the former can be dealt with and understood only at the realm of the legal-procedural, the latter works at a totally different level where very elusive and manipulatory elements come into play. And that is exactly why one is concerned about it. Basically because it is being given a kind of (blinding) primacy in our society today and its impact, especially in a media-driven society like ours to upset and determine our priorities is tremendous. This also makes it possible to subvert the popular through the populist with media hype. And so, in this constant flood of unanimous narratives, long term effects, solutions and explorations are invariably marginalized. Obviously, the building of systems and structures are never in the horizon of these media discourses as they are not p/liable to such easy spectacular ways...

Another comment was a critical one from Dr Jose Sebastian who thought that the column has not dared to go all the way "It is a very nuanced writing as if you are afraid of speaking out in the open. It is too abstract as well... I expected a kind of candid-black or white sort which I am sure is impossible. But congrats! You are the only one who dared to cast a doubtful eye on this celebration… I think Kerala society will pay for this madness." The writer is actually concerned about the impact such actions will have on the investment climate of Kerala, and suggests various ways in which this could have been handled with long term development in view.

The significant point is that even now, there are almost no reports or analysis about the whole affair. The media still doesn't bother to examine its rationale, possible fallouts, or to explore alternatives available, and the developing of transparent and accountable systems etc. The media is harping on the whole issue only at two levels: one, as a personality and power tussle between the Chief Minister and the Party Secretary, or as the heroic adventure of the Three Men Army battling it out there in Munnar despite all odds.

Unless media comes out of its blindfold, it won't be able to transgress the sensational or travel and see beyond the myopic immediacy it is drowning in.

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Monday, May 21, 2007


Justice as Spectacle

Towards the end of Bertolt Brecht's play 'The Life of Galileo', there is a striking dialogue about heroism. Galileo's admirer, disappointed by the former's recantation, laments Galileo's failure to live up to his dream and says, "It is a pity that a land doesn't have heroes". Galileo makes a pithy reply, "It is a pity that a land needs heroes".

Images flood our horizons of vision and experience, and carry us away on top of the dizzying crest of the present. It leaves no time for looking back or in or away. For instance, how does one make sense of the images of Munnar demolitions? For one, they work at the most basic and sensual level, these images of voracious iron tentacles pulling apart concrete edifices and structures, bringing into the open its visceral innards. It is not just the meting out of justice on public display, one that touts a fitting lesson to everyone else. Obviously there is a certain kind of violence inherent in the scopic pleasure we derive from it. It is a war against the concrete in which everyone feels to be in the vanguard, in a terrifying kind of unanimity, all venting their righteous anger at injustice, amssed wealth, luxurious living and all the ills that haunt our little lives. And, true to the logic of the spectacular, we also have the heroic figures on display crusading for us. In this unopposed and unopposable war, where everyone is on the same side, all the (physical) damage is out there, in the open and before the public eye. It is also a case where the immediacy and instantaneity of television overtaking and driving all our priorities.

But where do we return to from this spectacle? Without the help of the very unreality of this spectacle how can we make an easy return to our petty, and not-so-ideal everyday selves?

One gets an uncanny feeling that underlying this penchant for the instantaneous (meting out of justice), crusaders (heroes we love to look 'up' to) and the spectacle (away and above us), is a deep suspicion or lack of belief in larger, longer socio-political processes - processes that are grinding and long term, but inexorably and dangerously close to our ordinary selves and daily lives – that world we inhabit and return to after consuming the spectacle. In a deeper sense, politics works on that very 'ordinary' self from which we yearn to escape, by giving it a new understanding and galvanising it to greater heights. But it is a process that demands a hero out of each and everyone of us….

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Stuffing up Kochi as Mumbai

In Anwar Rasheed's film, 'Chota Mumbai', the erstwhile soft-porn queen of Malayalam cinema, Shakeela makes a cameo appearance. She appears as herself and is in Kochi for the shooting of a film starring her. The Superstar of then and now, Mohanlal who plays the leader of gang of street goondas, along with his comic duo Jagathy Sreekumar and Co come together to give protection to Shakeela and the shooting crew. A crowd of ogling men gather at the location to steal a glance at their sex idol. Eventually, the 'proper stars' Mohanlal, Siddhique, and Jagathy themselves also pose with Shakeela to take their snaps with her. The superstar even inveigles his way into the cast of the film to make physical contact with her. Ironically, Shakeela disppoints the oglers by appearing in the dress of a demure Malayalee woman, though it doesn't dissuade her fans from thronging up to her. But as the film moves on, one wonders why does she appears as herself in a film of this sort which features a proper Superstar?

One major reason is that she is passe and no longer a threat; evidently, she is past her prime in her career and in malayalam cinema. Once a real threat, now turned into a butt of ridicule!. The other reason could be that her image is something that definitively vibe with and easily evoke the 'low life' image that the superstar is playing in the film. In the film, Mohanlal plays the role of a small time goonda who does odd jobs (though in the film we only see him intervening to free his friends from the clutches of either the rival gangs or the police). He is the son of a wrestler and leader of a gang of four who all belong to the streets of Kochi. Apparently, he is of no use to the family, and occupies a space that is neither within or without the family. He is a good-for nothing who floats along with his gang with nothing substantial ahead of them in terms of money or livelihood. Naturally, the film ends when he marries a proper girl and takes up a regular vocation.
In one funny situation that characterises their condition, we see the gang sitting sad and tense in a slum at dusk. In the earlier scene, the hero has been evicted from home by his father, after their house has been attached against an advance taken by the hero without father's knowledge. As it turns out, the tense wait of the gang is only for a bottle of liquor, as it is a dry day. In many other situations like this, the 'anti-heroism' of the hero is brought out repeatedly. Obviously only such a hero, who is the lowliest of the low, with no link to the 'normal' decent life of malayalee can team up to protect Shakeela. The Shakeela scene thus acts as a condescending pun on 'Shakeela culture', one that the hero himself is part of within the narrative. Trying to tell the story of an 'non-hero' the film has nothing to rely upon but myths and phantoms like this. Yet another myth is that of the 'Kochi underworld' which our young filmmakers are dying to imagine up as yet another Mumbai-like city with a 'proper' underworld a la Ram Gopal Varma!

And it is exactly this obsessive need for mythologising that hollows out the narrative or tries to substitute for it that makes the film into an absurd and extended animation of stuffed characters played by bloating, aged male actors.


Monday, May 07, 2007


Subterranean Lives of New Media Malayalee

New media technologies are transforming our ways at various levels and in various ways. It has changed the way we live, experience, express and work. ICT-enabled expressions have redefined communication and entertainment in a big way. For instance, the coming of digital technology has radically changed the way movies are produced, processed, distributed and exhibited. Similarly, IPTV, which is in the offing, is also bound to change the conventional modes of television viewing and content creation.

Thus, even while creating new avenues and formats of expression and communication, the new media technologies have also changed traditional electronic media like radio, television, cinema and telephone apart from older media like music, literature, painting, and other arts. For instance, several websites and portals have come up as web extensions of literature and music. In Malayalam, there are many websites dedicated to literature like, that is solely dedicated to malayalam poetry,,, etc which covers all genres of literature including e-versions of several classics, and which carries several sections related to Kerala life and society. Some of the sites like harithakam also have streaming facilities and discussion forums which makes it more live and interactive. These sites feature some of the best writing in malayalam literature, both past and contemporary. Such web extensions in fact enable malayalam literature and writers to break out of the bonds of the print media and its limited market boundaries, and reach out to malayalam readers living all over the world. It wont be long before these web extensions also become commercial propositions so that the writer/creator is benefited in proportion to his popularity and reach.

Similarly, political and other discussions about various aspects of life and society are also becoming more and more vibrant in the web world. Various issues that do not get space in the 'mainstream' are active here. For instance very disturbing questions and issues realting to dalit life and struggles, sexual minorities, environmental and other new social movements etc are in fact more exhaustively debated and discussed in this sphere. There are mailing lists like Greenyouth mailinglist which is an activist-support mailinglist for Kerala run by Global Alternate Information Applications (GAIA), which discusses vital issues concerning Kerala life and society. Sites like, on the other hand is one of the most vibrant sites that provide comprehensive insight into anti-imperialist struggles and ideations from all over the world. Another site that provides detailed information about Kerala is that gives links to all the important news items relating to Kerala. Among the communist parties, it is the CPI (ML) that maintains a more active website ( http://www.cpimlker compared to the established ones. This once again proves the primacy of the marginal in the net sphere. At the other extreme are sites like that provides the Hindu fundamentalist view of our times. One interesting feature of this site is the section Media Watch which spells out its mission thus: " Most of the visual / print media in Bharat today are anti Hindu, both in intent and temperament. Haindava Keralam prepares to expose the hidden agenda of Pseudo secularist media / journalists in Kerala and other parts of the country. We seek support of all nationalist journalists across Bharat to join us for the success of this mission" .

Obviously there is a churning process in progress at a subterranean level of Kerala society that at the surface level seems to plunge its head into the loud and banal sand of mainstream media. The new media expressions are important not only because it voices the voiceless and the marginal, but also because it is predominantlay the domain of the youth. Unless our conventional media which feigns to be 'the mainstream', wakes up and listens to these voices, it wont be long before they actually 'realise' their obsoleteness, both in form and content.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007



"To check whether they have gone out of date
I read and reread my old poems
Again and again

A liking vomit blood
A night stinks putrid
Moonlight turns sour and turbid
Each day a line begin to disappear
And poems begin to commit gang suicide
Losing their belief in life

Winds from the mountain valleys blow at my face
The ship wander in the sea
Crossing continents that receded, darkening

Never becomes out-of-date
The sorrow of one who can't realize anything"

A Malayalam Poem by P Raman

One always expects something fresh and exciting from a young director, especially in his first film. He or she we hope will have something in him/her that is waiting to be told, something out of the pale of the 'established' ways of narrating, one that tries to avoid from the muck of the status quo.
If you went to Amal Neerad's Big B with such expectations, you would be disappointed. It has neither a story to tell (let alone a 'new' story) nor a new or exciting way of telling it. It strives to turn itself into a spectacle without the fire or the sense of wonder to animate it. As a result, it ends up as a series of empty moments whose void is filled up by thunderous digital sounds and dizzying pyrotechnics of editing. In the end, it looks like a series of 'trailers' of Hollywood thrillers, with no concern for any kind of continuity or semblance of unity. True, one doesn't need continuity or unity to make a good film, but in which case, the surface or the spectacle that is played out in front of you should itself be able to hold our attention and create some higher order out of the chaos within us.

In this mishmash of heightened action and supercharged anecdotes, where all the dialogues are drowned by the background score, it is difficult for the viewer to find a way out or into it, other than surrendering oneself to the endless violence and orchestrated stunts enacted before him or her.

Only things that we register are the continuous scenes of encounters, settling of scores, and the various characters entering in and out of the narrative just to rouse our suspicions about their motives. For instance the character of the Assistant Commissioner of Police or that of Eddy (Manoj K Jayan) seems to have no other role in the diegesis. In the end, you find that the whole string of 'local' characters starting from Mammooty to those decorative females who accompany them, are all held together by a thread which is held by two 'whites'. They actually turn out to be the puppeteers who make the locals 'play'. At one end you have Mary Teacher (Nafisa Ali) and at the other Tony (another white character, whose only aim is to stand in the way of the hero). While the former is all virtue and charity (all the central male characters, are her adopted children, and each one from all religions), the other is the personification of villainy. All the other characters are motivated positively or negatively by these two 'whites'.

There are films that leave one in a stupor, but rarely do films consciously intend to do so.


An Excursion into Malayalee Family

One distinguishing character of Sathyan Anthikad is that he knows his strengths very well and never ever strays from it. He is a chronicler of middle class malayalee family, and in film after film, he goes on elaborating its idiosyncrasies in umpteen number of ways. As a result, over time, he has created a niche audience for himself. In recent times, his focus seems to be the travails of women trying to find a way through the mess of malayalee society and economy. In films like Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal, Achuvinte Veedu and Rasathantram, the female characters are given a centrality that is rare in mainstream Malayalam cinema now.

In Vinodayatra, Sathyan Anthikad weaves together the stories of different families, moving from one to the other, and thus creating a web of narrations that talk about families that are broken, separated, traumatized, or yet to be. All the families that appear in the film are incomplete – either by accident or by design. Take for instance, the family who hosts the hero Vinod (a feeble performance by Dileep), that of Mukesh and his wife. They are childless, and the presence of their respective siblings disturbs that little space, threatening its insularity from within. Vinod himself is brought up by his sister and father – his mother died when he was young; and that makes yet another incomplete family. The other family narratives that enter the film, that of Innocent the worker at the dam, and of Ganapati the street child, are also both broken families.

If the first part of the film is centred around the arrival of Vinod and the ripples it create within his sister's family, the second part is centred around the family of Anupama (a vivacious Meera Jasmine). Her family is also scarred by various accidents. Her father, an ex-constable is incapacitated by a fatal wound that he received while on duty – during a communal riot at (where else?) Malappuram. It is significant that, while Anupama recounts the incident, we see him being stabbed by a typical Muslim. Obviously, the 'normal' and normative family or social unit is the middle class Hindu one, and what threatens its peace and existence is the Muslim other. Its obviousness is jarring, and lays bare the flip side of the 'common sense' that Sathyan Anthikad is often hailed for.

Another family that is incomplete is that of Anupama's elder sister. She is in love with a married man and has a child by him. He visits her only in the stealth of the night. Theirs is a family that is fated to hide itself from the public.

So what is this apparently comic yet a very bleak excursion through broken and incomplete families trying to tell us? The film offers several pointers and also many a time even explicitly pontificates upon the ills that mar our society: our obsession with international and progressive politics, our disdain for manual labour, our penchant for moonlighting, unionization, etc - all the favourite reasons Anthikad films have always reveled in. But the solutions that his films offer are regressive as they are totally circumscribed by the little institution of the nuclear family that is totally and 'carefully' insulated from the expanding horizons of malayalee life and times. Anything new or adventurous is anathema to it. For instance, in his world, any girl who ventures out of the family (Mukesh's sister in this film, like Achu's college mate in Achuvinte Veedu) is inevitably brought back into the fold – in both cases, not through force, but through logical reasoning! In a world where marriage and family is the rule, love is immaturity or infatuation. Interestingly, all kinds of extra-familial love are taboo in this world. The symptoms of the 'malaise' that the film indicates is the young girl's fascination for television!

So, in Sathyan Anthikad films, even when the women assert themselves and seek a career of their own, they have to strictly follow the rules of the patriarchal family, ironically one in which the patriarch is often absent or castrated. As a result these films live in a sterile world that stands on the ruins of the traditional family but dares not to dream of anything beyond or outside.

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