Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

The year 2006 should be marked as the year of the superpower. In mot news categories, the authoritarian reign of a single superpower stick out like a dangling modifier. No, I do not only mean United States of America. (In truth, every year in recent memory has been America’s for some time now.) Take for instance cricket, a game that has been etched to the DNA of Indians. Australia rules with ruthless efficiency. Take the case of tennis. Roger Federer with his mesmerizing authority on court is making his opponents the ‘have-nots’ of tennis. In Kerala, CPM is doing what USA is doing to the world. The CPM juggernaut is rolling over the people whom the party does not perceive to have any value in elections. So let us sincerely hope that the world will have either no superpowers or at least two superpowers in all aspects in 2007. Let us dream for the sweet days of cold war. Wish you all a super 2007.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Who is afraid of Anand?

Here I mean the Malayalam writer Anand; not the chess player Viswanathan Anand or the techie-journalist Anand Parthasarathy of The Hindu or the Hindi music director Anand in Anand-Milind duo. Also I did not certainly mean Anand Xavier P. If you are wondering who he is, check out Wikipedia article for “Malayalam writer Anand” from Google search. Here is the Wikipedia text:

"Anand Xavier P (popularly known amongst Britto students by his pen-name GURU) is a well-known writer in Malayalam whose works explore the predicament of the common students. His friends emil, allwin and johnson give the courage. He went to T.I.M.E along with Naveen. Anand is one of the most eminent intellectuals in Kerala today challenging various forms of religious fundamentalisms. He is a recipient of many awards including the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award and Vayalar Award. Born in 1936 at Irinjalakuda in Trissur district of Kerala, Anand 1958 [sic] graduated in civil Engineering in 1958 [from Trivandrum Engineering College]. He worked in various government departments including short service commission in Indian army, before retiring as Planning Director from the Central Water Commission, Government of India."

The sentences shown in italics refer to Anand Xavier P. But surprisingly, follwing sentences correctly provide the details of the Malayalam writer Anand. Something has gone awry for the Wikipedia editors. Simply deleting the italics text will make the article error-free. Anand’s original name is Sachithanandan. When he started writing, there had already been a Sachithanandan established in Malayalam literature: the well-known poet who was the president of Kendra Sahithya Academy. So he chose to write in the pseudonym Anand. He was one of the many ‘finds’ of the noted critic and poet M. Govindan. Anand’s philosophical text and emotionless narration had put away many a publisher and editor. But Govindan was convinced about the talent of Anand and persuaded the editors of Mathrubhoomi weekly to publish Alkkoottam, Anand’s first novel. It was a new experience for the Malayalee readers and the book received rave reviews and pungent criticisms alike. He followed Alkkoottam with three more equally abstract novels: Maranacertificate, Abhayarthikal and Utharayanam. These books made Anand a writer with considerable standing in Malayalam. But it was in the late eighties and early nineties that Anand came up with two more novels, Marubhoomikal Undakunnathu and Govardhanante Yaathrakal, which made him an icon in Malayalam literature. He also wrote many short stories and articles, most of which deal with plight of the ordinary people who are exploited by the people in power. (I do not mean to stick a label on Anand, as I feel he is the only writer who has a broad worldview that can be compared to O.V. Vijayan’s.)

Anyway, the Wikipedia article almost justifies one its confounders’ comment that it lacks maturity. Larry Sanger, who claims to have co-founded Wikipedia with its popularly known founder Jimmi Wales, recently commented in an interview that Wikipedia lacks, among other things, maturity too. Click here to read the interview.

Anyway, Anand continues to make news in outside world also. Recently Balachandran Chullikkadu, a well-known poet in Malayalam, remarked that Anand is the messiah of NGOs (means non-gazetted officers, who form a large part of middle class of Kerala). I don’t know how many NGOs actually read Anand; very few in my experience though. What makes Anand different from the contemporary writers in Kerala, apart from his extra-ordinary originality, is his staunch decision to not indulge in verbal crossfire with other writers. While writers like Balachandran Chullikkadu waste their words in slinging mud on other writers, Anand continues to enthrall the readers through his stories and articles. One of his recent stories, Bimbangal, published in Mathrubhoomi weekly, is easily the best short story in Malayalam in 2006.

There were errors in the list of books in Wikipedia article as well. The following is taken from Wikipedia entry:
Books by Anand
• vishavithu ((Novel)
• kolapaathakakkalari (Novel)(Winner of the Bala Sahitya Akademi Award)
• Chanjo (Stories)
• Rakesh Rajan (Studies of human beings as part of nature and society)
• smarana (Studies on religious fundamentalism in India)
• killer(stories)
• crime no :13 (Stories)

In my knowledge Anand has never written these books. Let me give a list of my own:

Books by Anand


Marubhoomikal Undakunnathu
Govardhanante Yaathrakal
Vyaasanum Vighneswaranum

Short story collection

Veedum Thadavum
Odiyunna Kurisu
Naalamathe Aani



Other Books

Sambhashanangal (Dialogue with Sachithanandan, the poet)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Palunku: A mirror of our times

“When you were watching this film, an average of five minor girls would have been raped in India” This is the stunning last line of the Malayalam movie Palunku directed by Blessy, of Thanmathra and Kazhcha fame. Yes, this movie ends with a sentence, quite like the poignant novels we have read in the past. (This is almost similar to an article about Afghanistan written by the Iranian director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, titled Limbs of No Body, which starts with the sentence “If you read my article in full, It will take about an hour of your time. In this hour, 14 more people will have died in Afghanistan of war and hunger and 60 others will have become refugees in other countries. This article is intended to describe the reasons for this mortality and emigration. If this bitter subject is irrelevant to your sweet life, please don't read it.” Click here to read the article.)

Palunku is about the life of Monichan (played by Mammootty) and his family. He has a wife and two daughters aged 11 and 7. He is a hardworking farmer, though illiterate, who enjoys a very happy life with his family in a village in the eastern hills of Kerala. His life changes from its normal track when he came to know that he had to take his daughter to a school in a nearby town if he wanted to continue her education. So he started taking his children to the school in the nearby town everyday. There he meets people with cunning and other traits that he hasn’t seen before, yet fascinate him. Soman Pilla (played by Jagathi Sreekumar) is a man who has an uncanny knack of getting money in whatever thing he does. You have seen such a person in every town of Kerala. They come to you masquerading as tea shop owners, marriage brokers, autorikshaw drivers, agents of a zillion schemes, stationery shopkeepers, or lottery ticket vendors as Soman Pilla in this film. Monichan also meets a parallel college teacher (played by Nedumudi Venu) who takes him to the world of education. Gradually he decided to relocate to the town because of the lack transport facilities in their village.

So he takes a house in the town for rent and later sells his house in the village. He does not have a job and he wants to have all the facilities and consumerist pleasures of, well, his neighbor. Soman Pilla guides him to new but risky areas of money-making. He falls for those. But anyway he succeeds in getting whatever he himself, his wife and their children crave for. Slowly the happy atmosphere that had enveloped their family in the village begins to evaporate in the heat of their new life in the town. No more can they indulge in the meaningless talking that had provided so much unintended meaning to their life. They become, like most people in the cities, a fragmented island of their own.

Then Soman Pilla succeeded in persuading Monichan to deal with fake currencies. They did make a lot of money in it. But Monichan was forced to stay out of his house for some days. When he came back, he bought new gold necklace for his wife, a new washing machine, a much desired equipment for his wife, and new dresses for his daughters. But only one daughter is at home. The elder one has gone out for enquiring about him in Soman Pilla’s shop. It becomes dark. She is not back. Monichan frantically goes in search for her. But he couldn’t find her. The next morning police go to Soman Pilla’s shop and break open the lock. There they found her: brutally raped and murdered by a pervert. Monichan is heartbroken and so are the viewers.

No other director has managed to capture the state of Kerala society of these times as Blessy does through his films. Palunku is an emphatic confirmation of this. He may lack the artistic finesse and cinematic craftsmanship of some of the great Malayalam directors like Adoor and Aravindan. But he has a keen mind that captures the essence of the sickening changes in our society. The acting except for the case of heroine (a Telugu actress Lakshmi Sharma) is superb as one would expect from the likes of Mammootty, Nedumudi Venu and Jagathi. The film is studded with symbols of corruption and soullessness of our ever-changing society. Those who moan about the lack of quality films in Malayalam should watch this film. This one is for you.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

For Christ’s Sake

No other birthday has created so much buzz and hype in the film worlds throughout the globe than Jesus Christ’s. Christmas is in fact a new year for film industries world wide. The energetic heroes of Christmas releases nowadays clearly overshadow that old man with a white beard. Poor old Santa. In Kerala too, four films are vying with each other to make hay while Christmas stars shine in the façade of middle class homes: Baba Kalyani, Smart City, Note Book, and Palunku. Baba Kalyani (fondly called ‘Kalyani’ by the quick-witted fans) is a Chiranjeevi or a Vijayakanth movie. A small difference though. Only that Mohanlal is acting the role that by logic should have gone to Chiranjeevi or Vijayakanth. Smart City is Suresh Gopi’s another attempt to emulate Saurav Ganguly. Like Saurav Ganguly, Suresh Gopi had also been finding it difficult to impress the viewers. He scored a movie equivalent of a half century through Bharath Chandran IPS. He is in need of bigger scores if he wants to keep buying expensive ice creams for the four kids he happened to have. (No personal affront here. He in fact had come on TV a day before the release of Bharath Chandran IPS and pleaded with audience to watch the movie so that he could do, what else keep buying expensive ice creams for his children.) Note Book is a much awaited movie for two reasons. It is the second film of Roshan Andrews who became a savior of sorts for mainstream cinema after the stupendous success of Udayananu Thaaram. Also it is the first movie that deals with love and life in, well, educational institutions after the runaway hit of the year, Classmates. Palunku is a class movie. That is what everybody I met told me when we talked about it. Nobody elaborated what is meant by a ‘class movie’.

I am no industry expert or insider to know about the collection of each of these movies and other undercurrents. But this is what I gathered from people who have seen the movies: Kalyani is OK. Die-hard Mohanlal fans will like it. Notebook is Kaththi. (Kaththi means knife. But these days it is a slang used for describing something that is awfully bad.) Palunku is, well, a class movie. And for Smart City, I am sorry. Nobody I know has seen the film. This information may be quite wrong as I gathered this from friends who, like me, do not know much about the market dynamics of film industry. So any fans who felt disappointed by the opinion, please don’t feel bad. Cheer up folks. It is Christmas time.

Friday, December 22, 2006

M. Sukumaran: A silent revolutionary

M. Sukumaran has been selected for this year’s Kendra Sahitya Academy award for literature for his short story collection title Chuvanna Chihnangal. . Sukumaran, who? If this is your natural response to this news, then you, like most others, I am sure, are badly in need of a lecture on Malayalam literature. Sukumaran has been a remarkable short story writer in Malayalam to such a degree that no discussion on the golden era of Malayalam short stories (1960s, 70s, 80s) concludes without a mention of M. Sukumaran. That was precisely the problem. He got only passing mentions of the critics. Detailed studies were reserved for others. He never got the attention that other stalwarts of the same era like O.V. Vijayan and M.T. Vasudevan Nair received. One can safely say that he never had been a poster boy of Malayalam literature. And he was in fact happy about that. His was a lone voice in Malayalam literature.

His short novels such as Janithakam, Prithru Tharppanam and Sangha Gaanam rank among the best of that genre in Malayalam. He was never at ease with journalists and coldly rejected interview-seekers. His elusiveness was so famous that once noted poet Aiyyappa Panickar quipped that the letter ‘M’ in M. Sukumaran stands for ‘mounam’. (‘Mounam’ means ‘silence’.) In his stories, he always managed with ease to convey his feeling of pain and loss over the inequalities in life and the abject heartlessness of the people in power. His sharp sarcasm blended nicely with his penchant for social criticism. Learned literature critics are of the opinion that Sukumaran was pre-occupied with communism and the fall and rise of its various avtars. Most critics hail his initial stories like Paara, Thookkumarangal Njhangalkku, Marichittillathavarude Smarakangal as his best. But I think the two stories of his second coming (Janithakam and Prithru Tharppanam) are his best works.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Geography of Cinema

Geography of Cinema

The recently concluded IFFK (International Film Festival of Kerala) has brought that evergreen question into a tight close-up: Why good films are such a scarcity in India? IFFK is not a festival where films from Kerala are paraded. It is not titled “International Festival” like baseball competition between American base ball clubs is titled World Series Cup. It is truly international in the selection of films. Keralites are known for their higher per capita film aesthetics. But still good films are not coming out like one would expect seeing the enthusiasm and the number of people participating in IFFKs. One T.V. Chandran here and a Gireesh Kasaravalli there won’t make a spring of good films.

These rather unkind thoughts were sowed on my mind when I was watching Scream of the Ants by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. It is a film shot entirely in India and its theme dwells with the dilemmas and dimensions of Indian culture. Any good Indian director worth his silver salt would have made such a film. But the only film that analyzed Mahatma Gandhi in a different way as this film does in recent memory is Lagey Raho Munnabhai! Horror, isn’t it? But Scream of the Ants is no roller-coaster comedy aimed to tickle the funny bone of the lay viewer. It is a finely crafted celluloid art work that disturbs you, makes you think and occasionally makes you laugh.

What makes certain places like, say, Iran or Vietnam breeding grounds of such good films like Bride of Silence (a Vietnamese film shown in IFFK in 2005) and Off-side (an Iranian film shown in IFFK this year). Does a country need a turbulent history for its directors to create fantastic films? This is a question very difficult to answer in yes or no terms. May be academic research should help. Anyway, let us hope Indian film-makers will try to emulate Makhmalbaf and Ken Loach (who made a magnificent movie having beautiful frames and a prettier title: The Wind That Shakes the Barley).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Kerala: CPM’s Own Country

I was studying in college when K.T. Jayakrishnan (a primary school teacher and an RSS activist in Kannur) was hatched to death in 1999. He was murdered in the class room right in front of his 10-year old students. The incident was widely criticized and gained great publicity. At that time political murders were on a high in Kannur. I was a left-leaning student undergoing my post-graduation in a faraway college down south in Trivandrum district. I was geographically far away from the happenings and psychologically quite boorish to comment on that incident like this: “They that take the sword shall perish with the sword”. One of my friends even commented that there should be a daily score line in newspapers, much like stock market prices, about the number of political killings in Kannur.

Years later, now I realize the lack of sensitivity in such once-celebrated comments. What made me think of that almost-forgotten incident is the Supreme Court verdict which acquitted four of the five accused in Jayakrishnan murder case and set them free. One person, the first accused, is given life imprisonment. Three persons were released yesterday (one of the ‘innocent’ persons is undergoing a life term for another murder; so he is still in jail) and they were given a thunderous public reception that would make the Ashes winning England team envious.

This is the last of the happenings that make politically neutral (I am no longer left leaning) people to rue something they did about seven months ago: that is, voting for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led arrogantly by Communist Party of India (Marxist), better known as CPM. Three months before, CPM activists ransacked the house of college lecturer who refused to give financial contribution towards a CPM-sponsored fund-raising. Nothing happened to the culprits. Government employees owing allegiance to other unions than the CPM-affiliated unions had been transferred to distant places. Several people were arm-twisted into subscribing Deshabhimani, the newspaper owned by CPM. Kerala has become a paradise for the comrades and almost a hell for non-believers of CPM’s brand of communism. Here you can find everything except what Karl Marx dreamed of: socialism, empowerment of working class and suchlike.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

IFFK Day-5

Memories of another day

Today also I could not go to the film festival. Too much work pressure in the office. So another day of missed films. I did not get much news about the festival also. I heard that there were some problems with the sound track of the much awaited film Volver (directed by Pedro Almodovar). As in the case of other must-see films in this festival, the theatre was jam-packed about half an hour before the scheduled start of the film. But once it started, it became known that the sound track of the film is in some new format, which needed more sophisticated equipment than what is available in the theatres in Trivandrum city.

I watched Whispering Of The Gods from the second row from the front. In the first row, just in front of me, were two young men. They were discussing deeply about films. They dissected the film crafts of directors from Eisenstein to Makhmalbaf. But some 15 minutes after the film started, they began to fall asleep. At first they tried to resist it by stiffening their neck and firmly focusing their gaze on the screen. But sleep proved more powerful than the celluloid. This is not to say that all of the IFFK audience are like this. But let me remind you that there are people like this also.

Monday, December 11, 2006

IFFK Day-4

I could not forgive myself for missing Pulijanmam, a Malayalam movie directed by Priyanandanan, who made a stunning debut some years before with the movie Neythukaran. My reasoning was that I get to see Malayalam movies some other time also. So I must stick on with the other language movies. Anyway, skipping Pulijanmam was a mistake, now I realize. Well, let me translate what Priyanandanan told to a correspondent of IFFK Daily Bulletin about his films and views as a consolation.


My films are a jump cut from drama: Priyanandanan

I was an artist who wanted to support a meaningful theatre. Even now I am a dramatist first. My metamorphosis from drama to films can be called a jump cut in film language or rather a high jump in common language. I am not qualified to talk about the distance or power difference between drama and film. But I know one thing: Every creation should be truthful and sincere. I realize from my own experience that good films, as in the case of good dramas, do not have even a ‘noon show’ possibility in Kerala.

My films are not merely mine alone. I consider them as wholesome products of creative association [of various artists]. I would like to proudly state that none of my films is a product of establishment’s capital. They represent an attempt to overcome the notion that film is an art of capital.

My films drew energy from the strength of my theatre experience and heat of my personal experiences. I have slept in streets and in bus stands. These experiences midwifed my film and drama ideas. All my creative endeavors are an effort to recreate my hidden emotional experiences and faded memories. The untold miseries, curses that got struck in the throat, feelings and emotions that never come out of the mind, these things are the subjects of my films. I would like to become a film maker who slowly walks through the rugged paths, enjoying the breeze and the sun and gently removing the thorns that struck on the feet. I have only one thing to say to those who newly venture into the film field: This is a very difficult path. Go ahead with struggle and pain.


I could not attend the film festival today. Too much work pressure in the office. Tomorrow I am going, come what may. I am planning to see Paradise Now and A Perfect Afternoon. Hope it will be a nice day.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

IIFK Day-3 Evening

Gods must be crazy
All the films (except the first film: French Fried Vacation) I have seen in this festival extracted thunderous applause from the audience. But Whispering Of The Gods received noisy boos and howling, for it apparently hurt the moral sentiments of many ready-a-boo viewers. As far as I am concerned the jury is still out whether it should be booed or not. Let us settle on the argument that if a director has the freedom to make film of his liking, the viewers also have the freedom to boo for showing their dislike.

But anyway, I did not like the film. First, it lacks an aesthetic refinement one would expect. Second, the director has taken the satire too far. The film reminds you of Dharmapuranam (Saga of Dharmapuri, in English), O.V. Vijayan’s scathing satire against power. The film exudes raw and untamed energy that certainly laid bare the high moral ground of the Christian church. The film also explores deep into people’s mindset towards power. Sex is used as a symbol to denote power. The film will give any blue film a run for its money in terms of blow jobs and hand jobs. In fact, the film opens with a priest seriously reading Bible to his pupil. As the camera zooms in, we realize that the pupil is giving a hand job to the priest. The film also raises some interesting questions about moral issues, good and bad, and even god. Too bad the film is titled Whispering Of The Gods; must have been something like The Gospel According To Satan.

Tomorrow I am going to office; so no chance to attend the festival. Some reputedly good films are to be shown tomorrow, like Full or Empty by Abolfazi Jalili and Sawdust and Tinsel, an all-time classic of Ingmer Bergman.

Tail peice: Another thing is that the film Whispering Of The Godsshows almost every action of the hero in graphic detail. So when a nun in the convent tells him that she is pregnant we tend to wonder: “When? We haven’t seen anything for that to happen?”

IFFK Day-3 Afternoon

Cache: Lost In Climax

I have seen the film Cache. Frankly, the climax of the film left me wondering whether I should go back to some film theory classes. I am unable to figure out the meaning of the climax. Nevertheless, it was not an out and out abstract stuff. I followed the film nicely until the climax. In fact I had been thinking what a fine movie it was. But then the climax came. I don't know. I must have missed something somewhere in the movie. The movie primarily deals with the fear cuased by a guilty complex in the mind of the protagonist, who is a TV programme anchor. One day he got a video cassette showing the recording of his house, clearly implying he had been watched. He started suspecting a person who, he thought, had an old grudge against him. But things go from bad to worse. Later the suspect commits suicide by slitting his own throat in a stunning scene. And then came the climax!!! (Some of my friends, who also did not understand the last scene, are of the opinion that one need not understand the climax. Climax is the director's full stop. But unlike that in literature, in films it can be a colon, semicolon, a dash or even a comma. It is up to the viewer to interpret the climax in a meaningful way.) Anyway, I will try to arrive at interpretation pretty soon.

Next, I will watch either Pulijanmam or Whispering Of The Gods. Probably the day started with a scream (through Scream Of The Ants). Perhaps I may finish it with a whisper. Everything depends on the availability of seats.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

IFFK Day-3 Morning

Makhmalbaf’s experiments with India

Once again IFFK audience has been enlightened by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. This time with Scream Of The Ants, which can be labeled as a docu-comedy on India, its religions and Mahatma Gandhi. This is a sort of film that can launch a thousand protest rallies and hartals in India, if RSS or BJP leaders happen to see this movie. Bal Thackeray may well issue a death threat. The film is about an Iranian couple who are poles apart when it comes to their ideologies. The husband is a communist. But unlike the communists in Kerala, he is an atheist too. But the wife is like traditional Kerala woman: religious and good-looking. They have come to India for their honeymoon and in search of a ‘Complete man” who, they were told, could solve their differences. On the way they encounter a South Indian journalist in a train. Through him they meet a saint who can stop the train with his eyes. After some scenes with the saint which are laced with extreme black comedy, the couples move on in pursuit of the “Complete man”. They meet several other people on the way and finally end up at the river Ganga. There they seek the meaning of life further, amidst burning dead bodies. Did they get their answer? Well, they do, but in ambiguous prose from the 'Complete man' himself: “... in the dew drop on a leaf in my garden, lies the entire universe”. The 'Complete Man" does not wear Reymonds. In fact he is a half naked old man who claims himself to be a "cow man".

The film is a dispassionate analysis of the relation between ideologies and the lives of human beings. Some scenes will surely linger in the mind for sometime. In one of the final scenes, the Arab woman is shown taking a holy dip in the river Ganga in front of some stark naked Sadhus. Another scene is when a European man whom they meet in Banaras tells them life is full of shit and different faiths interpret this faith in different ways. And he goes on to mimic how each faith would define this shitty life.

Now I am going to race to Kripa Theatre for watching Cache, directed by Michael Haneke. Judging by yesterday’s trend, it will be pretty hard to get a seat if I go there just in time.

IFFK Day-2 Evening

A film that jams the theatre

The Wind That Shakes The Barley is a beautiful film set in one of the most influential events of European history of the twentieth century: the Irish struggle for independence and civil war. Its director Ken Loach has made telling use of long shots and succeeded in extracting maximum performance from each actor. Each frame of the film is as beautiful as a picture post card. The director has narrated the story of the civil war through the viewpoints of some village youths with supreme originality. No wonder the film created waves of admiration in Cannes this year.

Here also it made an impact – in fact even before the show has started. Spectators, buoyed by the rave reviews about the film in the Internet or through some other means, started flocking to the theatre (Kripa Theatre) even two hours before the scheduled start of the movie. I did not want to miss the movie. So I went there one hour before the scheduled start, imagining myself as a smart early bird. But much to my surprise, the balcony had been full when I arrived there. Anyway, I managed to secure a decent seat in the ground floor. Virtually every inch of ground of the theatre became occupied almost 15 minutes before the start of the movie. People who did not get a seat sat on the floor. So the organizers closed the gates of the theatre. People who struck outside started protesting vociferously. The organizers tried to explain to them that there were no seats available. “How can you deny our right to see a good film? We are ready to sit anywhere for seeing this movie.” That was their passionate plea. After some futile efforts to pacify the protesters, the organizers decided to open the gates. By this time, the film had started. When titles were being displayed on the screen, a mad rush of people banged in to the theatre. Then the people who had been sitting there for hours started to protest against this kill joy interruption. But most of the people who rushed in started to withdraw once they had realized that there was, actually, no place to sit. One of the vociferous protesters even dared to blame the security: “Then why did they let us in?”

Tomorrow is going to be mouthwatering. In the morning, I am going to watch Scream of the Ants by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Makhmalbaf has become a legend of Marquezesque proportions in film festival circles of Kerala. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the only foreigner, in my experience, to receive such adulation in Kerala before.

IFFK Day-2 Morning

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Habana Blues: The Music of Politics

I started today’s festival from where I left off yesterday – that is, with another wonderful film. Habana Blues is a wonderful film that blends international politics with ordinary life in Cuba in a lively musical atmosphere. Watching the film, one would marvel at the title of the film as how effectively those two words capture the essence of the film. At the same time it implies both the pop music culture in Havana and the misery in the lives of ordinary folks. In contrast to other festival films, this one is studded with songs, that too of Jazz and Rap variety.

From there I went to see Rock That Flies by Eric Rocha. It is in fact a documentary on his father, Glaubar Rocha, the legendary director and the chief creator of the Film Nova movement in Brazil (which must be Brazil’s answer to French New Wave). Rocha senior was an iconoclast and a firm enemy of capitalism. His methods of film making were extra-ordinary and he made films from three major continents: Latin America, Europe and Africa. (Perhaps the only one to do that. We know Bunuel made films from several countries. But as far as I know, he had not made any films from Africa.) This documentary is a worthy tribute to Rocha senior. It is an extra-ordinary documentary where unusual methods of story-telling have been adopted. Some of the sequences are quite yawn inspiring. Still, one has to hail the attempt and cannot imagine a better documentary on Glaubar Rocha. In the afternoon, I am going to watch The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

I witnessed some interesting things in the festival today. Let me share one of those. I arrived early at the theatre; so decided to go to the Delegate Cell to get Festival Hand Book. There was a pretty long queue. I planted myself at the end of it. But I could not see anybody coming out with a hand book. So I asked a person who had just come out of the room about the hand book. He told me there were no hand books in store. He in fact came for a delegate pass. What the authorities told him was that the delegate passes had gone out of stock. So instead of a card, they gave him a white rope (or twain), which is used to hang the card around the neck, and told him to wrap the rope around his neck and hide both ends in the pocket. (By the way, this is the normal way people wear the delegate card.) One must salute the innovative thinking of the officials. Nobody seems to be protesting on wearing the card (or not wearing the card) like this. All are happy that at least they got a rope.

Friday, December 08, 2006

IFFK Day-1 Evening

IFFK Day-1 Evening

Whisky: A heady concentrate of film art

Whisky was the most sought after film today. And the Uruguayan film fully lived up to the expectations. As one wag wryly commented, “it is not whisky, but a hard rum of a film, too hard to swallow at one go”. The plot unfolds in a very slow pace. The film is about the life of a habitual loser who runs a socks manufacturing firm. His brother, who runs a successful firm in Brazil, is about visit him for participating in a funeral-related function of their mother. Just for the sake of vanity or for hiding his social failure, the protagonist asks one of his employees to act as his wife, who obliges with great expectations. But more than the storyline, what captivates the audience is the harmony of the visuals and the nature of the characters. The quality of the film demands a broad review than a mere blog entry.

As a whole the first day was satisfying: two good films against one rank bad one. Not that there are no problems. Trivandrum has become the pollution capital of Kerala. The traffic here is as cumbersome to negotiate as any pseudo-intellectual film is to understand. But moving from one theatre to another under the harsh sun is also quite tiresome.

Tomorrow I am going to see Havana Blues directed by Spanish director Benito Zambrano. The director claims the film is “a truthful enough representation of that extraordinary place [Cuba] which so often led to cliched representations”. Then I think I will either watch C.R.A.Z.Y. in Kripa theatre or Rock That Flies in Kalabhavan. Don’t find much about these films. I will google these films and then decide. But I don’t have any doubt about which film to see in the afternoon. It is The Wind That Shakes The Barley by Ken Loach. It has won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. The film is a different take on Irish civil war during the 1920s.

IFFK-day 1 afternoon

Old wine in new bottle

Cease Fire has left a lasting mark on the minds of viewers. One can like or dislike the film and its content. But the pleasantly novel treatment of a rather clichéd subject is quite heart winning. The film deals with a love-marriage-turned divorce subject. The title Cease Fire implies the end of quarrel between the husband and the wife. Those who expected a high drama at the back drop of Iran-Iraq conflict like Border of Life (one of the Iranian films of the previous festival directed by Reza Azamian) must have been disappointed. The film is an out-of-the box view of the lives of two go-getters. They are highly successful in work. They achieve whatever they want in life too, that is until they got married. The husband, as most of the husbands do, wants an obedient wife. But the wife wants to be independent. The film is sometimes utterly satirical. One such scene, wherea clinical psychologist (whom the wife accidentally meets when she goes to file for her divorce) asks the husband whether he had been a secret member of Taliban, is worth mentioning.

The sun is blazing down in Trivandrum city. When you come out of the A/C theatre it is like entering a blast furnace. The next film, Whisky, has already created as buzz around here. It is tipped to one of the unforgettables of this festival. Furthermore the untimely demise of Juan Pablo Rebella, one of its directors, certainly adds an aura of romance to it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

IFFK day-1 morning

A sour start

The first film of the film festival really disappointed me. I have just seen French Fried Vacation and I must say it is really tasteless. The film narrates the incidents in a tour camp at an African beach of some obscure name. It offers slapstick comedy that sends some of the amateur viewers in the audience into raptures. I have read good reviews about the other films of Patrice Leconte. In one interview he remarked that he did not want to be labeled as an old director who makes films just for the sake of doing it and he would stop making films pretty soon. Well, this must the film that sowed the seeds of self-doubt into his mind. There is nothing much to write about the film. I just stayed in because I have nothing else to do.

Now I am moving to New Theatre to watch Cease Fire. Hope it will be better. Afterwards, we have a film called Whisky in Kairali Theatre. The trend of film names associated with food and drinks continues. Perhaps it may help forget the sour taste of this French Fried Vacation.


Here we go!

The film festival (IFFK) comes alive today at Trivandrum. I am taking leave from the office and planning to land right into Kalabhavan theatre where the first movie, French Fried Vacation by the French director Patrice Leconte, is to be screened. Mind you, this is the first movie to be screened, not the inaugural movie of the festival. That honour goes to Sounds of Sand, directed by Marion Hansel. The inaugural ceremony is scheduled at 6’o clock in the evening. But screening of movies starts from morning 9’o clock.

Then I am going to watch Cease Fire by the controversial Iranian woman director Tahmineh Milani. An Iranian film is always a safe bet. In the afternoon I will be enjoying Whisky by Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll. It has to be remembered that Pablo Rebella was dead some six months back. So it is a sort of paying homage.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Brown Country


“Cinema is truth 24 frames per second”: Jean-Luc Godard

IFFK is Kerala’s own international film festival. IFFK stands for International Film Festival of Kerala. It is conducted by Kerala Chalachithra Academy during the second week of every December (from December 8 to 15, this year). Apart from the borderless creativity on the screen, what is seen off it is also enchanting. The audience in itself is a curious mix of many breeds: of celebrity film stars and star directors and the bohemian art film folks (long beard and long hair is what art does to them), of failed film makers and wannabe directors, of film students and people who think they know all about films, and of people who seek uncensored porn on the screen and journalists who seek that off the screen. Whichever way one looks at it, the IFFK has become an annual pilgrimage of the cinephiles. Come December, the so-called lovers of good cinema pack their bags and head off to Trivandrum for taking a holy dip in a mind-boggling pool of aesthetically strange films.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Brown Country

A game of cat and dog

This is about something curious I saw today morning. I was on my way to play shuttle badminton. We had converted a local market ground into a nice, tidy shuttle badminton court. In fact, it is the concrete-paved courtyard of a proposed rice and flour mill built by the panchayath, the local governing body in India. Like most government-sponsored initiatives, it has been closed even before it started functioning. An ugly-looking building was constructed and some machinery installed, enabling some local-body members to get bribes from contractors and vendors for the construction work and the machinery. The contractors built a building with half the cost of the original estimate and vendors managed to sell the machinery in double their actual prices. Well, as people familiar with Indian bureaucracy are well aware of, this is no big deal – that is for you and me. A local politician cum contractor named Gurudas had used this building as a store room for sometime. Then one fine morning a large graffiti appeared in the front wall of the building: “GURUDAS BHAVAN! (In Kerala, there is a tradition of naming one’s house with the person’s name followed by the word ‘bhavan’.) Anyway, that smart piece of satire did the thing: The corrupt contractor immediately took his tools and other things from the building.The curious thing I mentioned earlier has nothing to do with corruption or satire. It is something to praise the nature and God. I was walking towards the shuttle ground watching the green leaves waking up, shedding their last drops of sleep in the misty November morning. When I reached the ‘junction’ (the heart of the village where the important institutions, like teashops, barber shop and stationery shop, are situated), there were very few people – some yawning old men and a bored newspaper vendor. In front of the teashop a flock of pigeons were looking on the ground for something for their breakfast. Suddenly a cat emerged from the shadow and caught a little pigeon. The bird tried in vain to escape by fluttering its wings. But the cat held on and started to dash across the road to the other side where it must be having a safe place. Two seconds passed. The air was still filled with the anguish cries of the bird and the frantic flutter of its wings. Then out of nowhere a dog entered the scene and started chasing the cat. The dog quickly closed in on the cat. The cat was struggling to run at full throttle with the bird in his mouth. As the dog was about to catch the cat, the cat did the smart thing. It released the pigeon and ran away from the dog with all its might. Soon the dog too stopped the chase. All this happened within a matter of seconds. And then, from the radio in the tea shop I heard the majestic voice of K.J. Yesudas, which brought a wide grin on my face: the song was ‘Rassoole Ninkanivale …’ (which means Oh God, by Your mercy …).