Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Tryst with North Kerala

A sketch on the wall of a vegetarian restaurant (one of the very very few in the area), proudly proclaims that Thalassery is the "town of three 'C's -- Cricket, Circus and Cakes." The taxi driver who took us around also seemed to be very proud of the posh cricket ground, inaugurated by Sourav Ganguly. But of circus and cakes, we didn't see or taste much (buddy definitely got to taste the famed Thalassery Biriyani, which she was eagerly looking forward to !). But the vegetarian fare was a bit difficult to stomach. Mom was way too glad to have south Kerala sambhar !!!
Apart from food, everything was simply superb in this town with oodles of old world charm, not to be felt anywhere in this part of the state, except perhaps in the narrow gullies at Mattanchery. Thalassery is so green one wonders why people are complaining about diminishing forest covers ! But buddy promptly told me this rare patches of green is not enough to save the poor environment. It is probably this green that cools the atmosphere of this town with its narrow, moss-walled idavazhikal. Everywhere one turns there are level crossing gates, thick bushes and intermittent views of water bodies with vast patches of marine vegetation like mangroves. The Dharmadom Bridge offers an awesome and perhaps the lengthiest view of the azimuth, where the lake meets the sea. The Muzhuppilangad Beach -- apparently the only drive-in beach in the state -- is truly a heaven-on-earth. The road leads into the beach, to the pleasantly cool and peacefully calm waves. The beach also boasts of a wonderful array of really beautiful, and mostly unbroken shells ! the once-inhabited island in the middle of the ocean is an incredibly beautiful sight, and we almost reached the conjecture the famous island song from Kaho na Pyar Hain was shot there !
The historical Tippu's Fort too has its own charm, with a pan-view of the sea, which is broken at intervals by churches and other buildings around. The remnants of a cannon-carrier,a dysfunctional light house and sentry posts in desuetude -- all enhance the ancientness and historicity of the place. The erstwhile escape-route caves that lead to Kannur and Kozhikode are truly intimidating with its rather narrow path and dark interiors.
Perhaps what makes this town so cozy are its people, known for their hospitality and friendliness. The taxi driver took particular care in showing us around and seemed sad that we weren't staying long to see more. The Thiruvangad Srirama Temple is austere in its grandeur which is enhanced by the vast ground that surrounds the temple complex. Dad had an interesting story about the Siva Temple. Years ago, there was a farmland, right opposite the Siva Temple on the north side, which never used to give a good harvest. Later on people found out that the farm was bang on the path of Lord Siva's Third Eye, so naturally the farm was to suffer. To tone down the grave effects of the lord's Eye, a second Temple was built on the south side, and things became alright ever since. The Temple pond is really big and the facade of the main Srirama Temple is kept intact; it is built with vettukallu ( a rather grainy version of the normal chudukal) and might be a lot of years old. The Jagannadh Temple too has a huge compound, with an approach way like that of an airport !
But for Govt. Brennan College and its English Department, all this visual pleasure would not have been possible. The famed Thalassery hospitality was quite evident in the staff and students of the institution who took special care to make their guests comfortable. The College itself is an interesting site, situated in the middle of a lot of mini forests with huge trees and winding paths and broken stone steps !
Altogether it was an enjoyable and unforgettable trip both mentally, physically and academically, and a much deserved break for my mom, from the routine travails of a banker.
As the many papers at the seminar asked -- where are we headed to next?

God's Own Landlords

A scenic backwater village, farmers, a corrupt, land-crazy Panchayat President and his equally corrupt family, a duty-conscious Secretary -- form the crux of Pramani. B. Unnikrishnan rather successfully converges global geopolitics to a small farming village in God's Own Country. The aptly named hero -- Viswanathan Panicker a.k.a America/George Bush, (nicknamed so for his propensity to interfere in every single issue in his Panchayat, and reap benefits from it), is an out-and-out corrupt local head, who grabs his citizens' land in return for solving their issues. Hence, Viswanathan is a literal 'pramani', because he holds lots of 'pramanams' (land deeds).
The two neighbouring panchayats of Chittetukara and Tahzhekeezhpadam are at loggerheads, with the latter headed by Viswanathan refusing to co-operate with the former under the headship of Castro Vareeth (a staunch communist that he is; played effectively by Janardhanan). The nick names of the heads and the geopolitical disagreements between their localities rather clearly drives home the parallels in the global scene. Also, there is mock Mao (Suarj Venjaramood who got the tag, not because of his revolutionary idealism, but due to his job of making arimavu); his gimmicks of guerilla warfare to kill Viswanathan make up the comic part of the movie.
The movie addresses issues that have been dealt with in many others, but the treatment is slightly novel in that the hero is a corrupt local head who has no qualms in cheating his citizens, even when it comes to selling their farmland to big IT company that comes with the usual promises of jobs and development, with the boss voicing the opinion that farming is no longer profitable. The issue of depleting farmland finds mention in Anthikad's Bhagyadevata also. When Benny (Jayaram) attempts to convert his paddy field to plant coconuts, the local partywallahs make a hue and cry about the loss of farming lands due to bourgeois practices. B. Unnikrishnan tries to make a strong statement against proliferating cyberparks through Viswanathan's conscience prick, and his transformation that entails. After all, no one can eat computers and optical fibre cables, can they?
Though the female characters -- Sneha (Panchayat Secretary Janaki), Lakshmi (Rosy Teacher) -- are rather subdued, they in fact function as catalysts for Viswanathan's volte face -- a transition further enhanced by the social commitment of Bobby, the teacher's grandson. In spite of tricks and traps laid by his estranged cousin, Somasekharan (Siddique), Viswanathan emerges triumphant, holding aloft the values and ideals of his mentor Varkey ( Prabhu), the late son of Rosy Teacher.
Pramani thus can be classified as a social entertainer. Though the issues raised herein are not new, and the movie does not provide any path-breaking solutions, it serves in highlighting the current social scenario in the state and thereby serves in reminding the audience the fact that outside the theatre, life is not all rosy, that there are serious resentments seething under the garb of normalcy that the state donns. How many such movies would bring the required change, only time will tell. But till then, movies continue to be entertainers and a significant source of consciousness raising.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ividam Swargamano???

Literature, cinema et al are often regarded as a mirror to society, as a forum where issues and trends are depicted, in a supposedly imaginary set up, so that it rightly becomes infotainment. However, not all movie makers embed social issues in their stories, but the few who do so, do it rather effectively -- Sathyan Anthikad being one among them, now joined by Rosshan Andrews with his Ividam Swargamanu.
If in his debut venture Notebook, Andrews dealt with confused teenage, ambitions and relationships, Udayananu Tharam was a meta-cinema that gave a glimpse into the machinery called cinema, the people who work it,their egos and struggles, failures and successes. In Ividam Swargamanu, he addresses a cause that is at once very serious but widely prevalent in God's own country. He makes a strong statement against the rampant trend of converting arable lands to make way for high rises. The movie also seeks to emphasize the fact that crass consumerism that is slowly seeping into the countryside has led to drastic erosions not only in the relationship between man and man, but also between man and land.
Set in the sylvan Kodanadu, Mathews's farm is unanimously declared a "Swargam" by the villagers, the parish priest and the media crew of a news channel who come to do a feature on a poetess'teaching career, (Mathews happens to be the said teacher's student, who was once scolded by the same teacher because he wanted to be a farmer). Apparently he took up farming to save his father from debts and to recover land area that the finance company took away. Things go pretty smooth till a land grabber, Aluva Chandy sets his eyes on this heavenly piece of land, for someone to build a private resort at the riverside. What follows next is the epic battle between a common man and the entire government system, a battle that exposes a whole different sub-system driven by greed and a vast network of government servants willing to do anything at the mention of "Gandhi" (though not in a strictly patriotic sense, but used as a synonym for corruption loot), in which the former triumphs rather emphatically.
Mathews could reach his fight to a successful conclusion only because he had the resources and right kind of contacts to see him through. Such a possibility is out of bounds for the poor farmer of Kerala or the illiterate tribal, who can only resort to suicide in the face of utter indifference from those who are supposed to protect their rights. Andrews, however, seems to convey the idea that, no matter how malignant the system is, the judiciary continues to mete out justice. But then, as a lawyer says in another movie, there is only one law, with which, sometimes, the accused is saved and the defended is convicted !
Another aspect of the society that Andrews brings into his frame is that of the changing attitudes of the rustic community. Nattinpuram no longer seems to be nanmakalal samrudham. The Kodanadu folks seem to belie the much celebrated rustic unity and co-operative camaraderie, rarely seen among city-zens. The prospect of a township and the resultant job and business opportunities lure them away from the plight of a farmer who is merely trying to keep what legally belongs to him. At the same time, the stereotypical ignorance of the villagers is reinforced through the fact that the excitement about a five-star hotel and shopping mall seem to cloud their rationality so much so that they don't bother to enquire further into the township promises made by the infamous land-grabber.
As the credits roll up, one feels the satisfaction of having watched a good film. Andrews proves that entertainment lies not in songs and dances, but can be found in touching scenes, dialogues and even in a good location. Mohanlal excells as always in the role of a common man; Thilakan, Sreenivasan, Lakshmi Rai, Priyanka, Lakshmi Gopalaswami all perfectly fit into the plot that James Albert has woven with ease. Lalu Alex is par excellence as Aluva Chandy (and probably the name will stick, like Dimdi Mathai)!
Mathews's problem might have come to a happy conclusion -- sadly, it happens only in cinema ! Things are seldom so easy for the common man who leaves the theater feeling happy in one man's victory over the system; his problems remain the same, and he will often be forced to give bribes to get things done. Rarely can one make things happen like Mathews could. After all, cinema is a kind of willing suspension of disbelief !
Kerala, tourist destination that it is, might have retained the tag of being God's Own Country; pakshe ividam sarikum swargamano???