Friday, May 11, 2018

The Carpenter's Funeral

An old carpenter* brings home a duck in his tool bag. Along with two bottles of arrack and a wad of demonetized currency. Even as the duck gets cooked with a potion to get him grounded,  the sea churns itself into a cacophonic  storm.

That would be the single line plot of the malayalam movie Ea.Ma.Yau at the end of which in serene shores  the carpenter's duck (and the gravedigger's dog) await the brightly lit boats  from opposite ends escorted by music that is literally 'soul lifting'.


The Father, The Son , And The Rest Of Us
When the member states that it is our responsibility to offer a proper farewell to those who are leaving us, we all do know that he was not referring to the cop who is being transferred to a distant station. 

The sea, is omnipresent in all its forms- physical, emotional, spiritual, acoustic - through out the movie. All through the initial portions , sea remains just a few calm waves washing the shores gently and rhythmically. But, when the old man falls  and  the girl runs out reaching for the neighbour ... ...
It is then that the sea raises its voice for the first time.

 The neighbour calls out to another. And another... and another.... 

And through these  interconnected cries , the rain clad movie about a very ordinary death  is enhanced to a higher  plane of socio political dimensions.

Had demonitization not happened and his life savings not been reduced to garbage even the cow would refuse to take, Vavachan Mesthiri would still have had a fairly good funeral.
Or for that matter, had the chavuttu natakam viewing not been interrupted by a phone call from the corrupt Lazarus who fudged the books after taking money for his own mother's funeral, Eashi could still have reached out to his father even before his fall. Twice - first by the vicar and next  from the Doctor- we hear  the compelling social comment about interchangeable roles of the religious head and the police chief.
When the democratically elected but helpless panchayat member  begs in front of the religious head and gets snubbed pathetically, contemporary political canvas of Kerala projects itself brilliantly. And at the  altar of  Capital (   മൂലധനം  is the word used in the movie ) armed to the teeth  with the deadliest blades,  the woeful citizen pledges himself only to get pulled in by casket consumerism.


All the characters in this movie  have a life and a story of their own. But, every time they come on screen, in addition to playing their part and lending the movie a certain influence, they also compliment  other characters. Like for example, during the vicar's initial probing visit to the house, Nissa's lover Sivan delves in and out of the  window frame, mimicking the vicar. The jilted lover with his broken clarinet is one such character that has different stories to tell every time he appears on screen. The neighbour all through the movie chides Lazar for his scandalising characteristic. But the moment  Saramma takes off with his bike, he sheds his assumed moral posture and becomes just like any of us. The characters move in and out of each other with much ease erasing the thin line of right  and wrong, just like Sabeth's ornaments transforming fluently into a costly burial box. Or the gravedigger occupying vaavachan's grave and time. Or the all pervading Ayyappan ,who, Easha had assured his father "will take care of everything".
And yes of course the duck.
And the dog.

The dog. That appears only in three scenes all through the movie. Emerges for the first time when the card players chase away the lovers. And then when Simon is ready for the angels of death. And finally, with the old man's duck awaiting the boats. Between the dog,Simon and  the old man , the question to Nissa that the old man leaves unasked gets buried.

Two characters that remain unaffected by the storm still continue with their game of cards. They are the time keepers who introduce themselves as 'time' in the very first dialogue of the movie. Caught between the guy from printing press who wants to know the time of burial ... and ... the unrelenting vicar who is the dispenser of time, Eeshi's character decides to carry the cross all by himself.


*Eventhough the film is set in a coastal village, the death (and deliverance) is not that of a fisherman. Vavachan Mesthiri is a carpenter. Early in the movie, Nissa tells her father that the frame that he had done for the church 'in wood' is about to be demolished. And later in the night, the drunk Doctor's wife refers to Vavachan as the one who 'carved the altar in one single piece of wood'. 

If Eashi reminds one of another person by the same name whose father also happened to be a carpenter, ... well.. now, THAT, is another story.  

Monday, January 8, 2018

ThondiMuthalum Dhriksakshiyum

A million metaphors - emotional and otherwise - could be read into the stolen thaalimaala*  that needs to be extricated out of the thief's faeces. But, pursuing those non existent tropes, as Sreeja in the crucial staircase landing scene says,  "is not worth it".

The necklace, and the immediate characters chained by it are mere backdrops. Backdrops for other seemingly insignificant  ones that form part of an ensemble cast to present a kaleidoscopic canvas.  Like the absent peepal tree; the solar panel scape; the flirting seminary student; the police station enveloped by the school, temple and the mosque; the game of kabbadi; the temple festival and the innate politics that also demands the water carrier to be kept in lock up at the request of his wife and mother; hungry childhood;  the cancerous mobile tower that gnaws into relationships and disconnects people; man without  ID making porottas in Mangalore, cop who authoritatively cracks the most difficult cases but cant figure out the switch for the ceiling fan in his own station; the barren land that doesnt help the poor tobacco farmer, the ironing board that doubles up as a cot; the girl brushing her teeth echoing the anger of entire feminine world ; waterways and the ferries....

The fact that the necklace is just a backdrop is established in the very first scenes itself. When, even as the hero and heroine in the stage drama are seriously worried about their personal life, Prasad moves away, relegating their issues to the background and walks into his own story.

And that story has several intertwined fissures - of politics, caste, religion, domestic, personal - lying beneath the case of the missing necklace.
The first faultline in the couple's relationship is exposed when Prasad 'blames' Sreeja for her carelessness. In a clever flashback, in the very next scene, we are led to find the deep roots of that rift.

A casual remark pointed at Sreeja's mother during a street rally ( supposedly by an organisation identified with Prasad's caste ) triggers Sreeja's mother on a tangential flight to encounter Sreeja  in her home. Straight lines, like those  from the street (society) to the house (family) and to the (personal), private space of toilet where Sreeja hides to escape from the blows of her parents criss cross the movie proving to be its skeleton structure . (The case of the missing necklace itself is brought into the police station as part of a very long straight line with an absurd purpose of carrying water to the station). The brute force with which Sreeja's father violates her personal space ends up as the deciding factor that influences the couple to take a marital plunge.

The thief  brings out deep punctures not only within the Sreeja Prasad couple, but in the police station and the neighbouring  temple too.  Through the station window, when he predicts an impending fight among the festival crowd, one has reasons to assume it is he who orchestrates the happenings.

The inner turmoils that the thief brings out from the Chandrans household is as important as it is similar to that of the Prasads. In fact, the thief doesnt differentiate between the two couples at all. His claim of returning the necklace to Chandran and Chandran's attempt to pass off  his wife's necklace as Sreeja's blurs the line differentiating these two couples.

From his elevated, vantage position at the upper floor room of the Police Station, through the diagonally opposite windows ( one among them with a mirror)  the thief views both the couples mingling with the street crowd. That carefully crafted sequence positions the thief as the benevolent adjudicator whose duty it is to offer deliverance to both the couples.

And he delivers. With panache.

 In one of the finest examples of montage, Chandran's wife implores him to "go to their daughter(in law)" . Next scene cuts to Chandran visiting Sreeja and Prasad. And even addresses her as 'daughter'. A daughter and another father find and fill each other's voids.

Part 2

It is natural for Dileesh's second movie to be compared with his first. But, a comparision with another movie (directed by Rajeev Ravi, cinematographer of Thondimuthalum ) offers immense possibilities.

Apart from the titular conjunction and Rajeev Ravi as the more visible common denominators , lot of other similarities do exist.

In both the movies, the couple relocate to a different geography. Anna and Rasool move to the red flag spangled  hilly terrain. Prasad and Sreeja move from the waterlogged Allepey to the borderlands of Kasaragode which is painted saffron.

Annayum Rasoolum opens with the police verification for Rasool's brother to get his passport. His (lack of ) identity is a running thread all along the movie. The thief in Thondimuthalum Dhrisaakshiyum too doesnt have an identity. And he steals Prasad's identity. 

The reflection that the thief sees of himself in the mirror and the shadow that Sreeja's husband sees of the thief in subsequent scene reminds one of Vishwanathan and Uthaman from Padmarajan's Aparan. The interchangeability or merging of these two identities could elevate the movie, especially the race and fight scenes of the latter part to a whole new dimension. 

Of interest is the delivery of prasadam on a couple of occasions. In the latter part of the movie, Sreeja's husband (Prasad) gets the prasaadam but not  the thief (Prasad). 

The waterways, ferry and expression of love.
Water itself is a recurring motif, in both the movies. In her absence, and after her death too, Rasool goes underwater to 'see' Anna. Prasad and Sreeja have their future bound to the ground water that fails to make an appearance till the thief delivers them their necklace. Most of the intense scenes  between Anna and Rasool happens in the ferry boats. Prasad and Sreeja take off from where Anna and Rasool left it. Lot of cleansing by water happens in Thondimuthal too.

Politics of Religion and Caste.
Religion stood between Anna and Rasool. It was caste in Sreeja's case. Even Prasad's father, who belonged to a time different from  the present one in which revolutions have stamped their presence would not have approved of such an union.

"പെണ്ണ് ധൈര്യം കാണിക്കാതെ ലോകത്ത് ഇന്നേ വരെ ഒരു പ്രേമ വിവാഹവും നടന്നിട്ടില്ല "

The end
In both the movies, characters played by Fahad end up walking contentedly in a distant north Indian city.  

Does anatomizing a movie kill it while watching?

Even as the drama is being played inside the police station, people outside are seen making preparations for the temple festival. 

And, unknown to each other, Mrs Chandran is seated next to Sreeja, waiting for her husband to take her to the temple.

Visuals of school, children help the thief make decisions.

Details like these and many more are intentionally placed. Missing them would be a far more insult to the movie than dissecting it. 

* (mangalsutra, the Indian wedding ring equivalent - necklace worn by the bride)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Annayum Rasoolum

The story (as told by the sutradharan, Ashley) begins when the cops set out  on their mission to establish the identity of the ferryman.  They don’t get to meet him straight away. Instead, they meet Resul.
Led by Resul, the cops (like rest of us, the audience)  ride through the streets of Kochi and meet other characters.  What is inferred by the cops may or may not be in resonance  with individuals  of the audience . And that, is the experience offered by the makers of this movie, Annayum Resulum.
Replace Anna and Resul with any of the other characters, like say Kochi, Vypeen, Colin, Abu, his wife, the girl hanging around Colin’s house playing badminton, any of the sales girls sipping a frugal tea by the service staircase of the textiles showroom, or even the mannequins, the ferry that gets stuck in the middle of the river, or the smaller one which tugs it to safer shores, strangers after losing their identity  carrying on with their inter religious matrimonial existence in some nondescript  remote villages, the invisible Bharathettan, Kunjumon with his assorted friends and enemies, the silent conversations happening between Anna and her father , the narrow by-lanes , the River, the bridges, the mobile phones, the songs, the silence.  Each substitution offers you a different perspective.  Blend  them all together , and you have Annayum Resulum.
It is not ethical to dissect a movie or even a story for that matter, but highlighting a few pointers while  attempting  to dive deep  into the River to have a better view of Anna, and Resul wouldn’t hurt :
Had the boat not got stuck midway, the lives of Anna and Resul (and their story) would have been left to drift in the everyday routines  of going forth and back, until Anna decides to end her life sooner, than later.  And the camera wouldn’t have discovered the interiors of  Anna’s house either.  Only after the mechanical failure of the boat and the subsequent attempt by Resul to peek into Anna’s heart  that the camera enters   Anna’s house.  Some of the most evocative scenes  conveying the emotions, undercurrents, the tense silence, faith, love and helplessness  are captured by the camera from within the interiors of that house.  A compelling social study exploring the reasons why many young Keralites  find violence as a means to establish their identity  is carried out by the camera, poignantly .
As much as it is a social study, it is political as well.
While riding through any village or town in Kerala, one could never miss the noisily coloured  flags that the political parties flaunt in all street corners and spaces in between.  Neither could you miss the posters, arches etc.. If during the three hour long journey through Kochi, you fail to see any of these, the only possible reason could be that the camera avoided them intentionally. Exceptions being  the dash of red flags and festoons in the hilly town that Anna and Resul briefly take refuge in (and a lonely flag fluttering at the entrance of Kochi port).  In this movie -where not a single blade of grass moves, nor a word is spoken , or a moment of silence shared that the director  does not intend to- these visual symbols of present day politics are  ever more conspicuous by absence.  Like Resul does, take a deep breath and dive down  beneath  the unrevealing surface. And you could see political statements  dripping from every frame of the movie.
Coming out of the police station, as a reply to his uncle’s seemingly innocuous and ‘balanced’ observation that the statements made by either parties seem to be correct, the ferryman in as much measured words as possible blasts the so called ‘neutral’ opinions  and makes it clear how and why extremists are born.  
Under the prevailing social conditions, as illustrated in the movie, conflicts are bound to arise. In fact it is a vehicle for history to move ahead. Conflicts can happen in the streets, at home, in the narrow by lanes, within one’s own mind, in the political and spiritual spheres- as in anywhere else.  Those who fail to take sides and do not act decisively are those who struggle to move on.  They are not helping themselves, and they don’t help the larger community either.  The movie does take sides and thus establishes its identity.
Even as Anna and Resul lead us to all these other characters and their manifestations, it is interesting to note how they are guided into their communion.  Goaded by his father’s offhand comment, Resul reaches the church premises where Anna , strengthened by the authority of the  verses from Bible( She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar – Proverbs 31:14) rejects with conviction the offer from her fiancée and waits for Resul to come.  Resul, guided by the same teacher who helps Anna get  her perspective about marriage cleared ( against the backdrop of divine gifts of love and sex) takes Anna’s hand, beautifully.
The story, as told by the sutradharan ends when he, even though having  access to both Resul and Anna  fails to communicate the message  of hope to Anna  and she decides to assert her identity. Did Ashley fail or it was the script that failed? A point worth debatable.

Meanwhile, the story ‘about’ the sutradharan  turns out to be the bigger picture. Having discovered himself, he moves on with his onward journey, into the oceans.
The stories within the story don’t end there either.
Just as since the opening credits Resul was leading us through the streets of Kochi, by the end credits he dives deeper and wider  and takes us on a  journey northwards- to the Hindi heartlands.

Now, the movie has to be re interpreted with a pan India perspective?

That is when the politics of this movie is exposed to harder terrains.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Jai Mata Di

June 26, 2011.

Descended from among  the rain clouds into the humid embrace of Delhi. And onto dusty Noida.

Since then...

Crossed quite a few meditating holy cows on the streets, dabbled in couple of colour-festivals; appreciated autumn and spring, and of course the Himalayan winter.. and er.. summer too. Ditched the long journeys for more  wider and wilder wanderings;  learned  to drive wrong side in 6 lane highways .. and throw expletives at the near miss collisions;  like fish to water, took to panneer. (fish??  ये क्या है ? );  met the Lodhis, Tuqlaqs, Khans;  conversed with the unmarked sepoys from across the centuries ; ate  paranthas and kababs  tinged with history; inhaled the dust and greed  of the sin cities ; cruised the green lined tarmacs ; dug deep into the graveyards of time;  climbed the rocky forts stretching from infinity to infinity; lost a few friends... and lot more hair; made new friends.. and .. that's it.

Still struggling with  the 'hain's and 'hoon's,  at the bottom of the unfathomable Hindi curve. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Vishwaroopam , a fringe review.

1. a physical likeliness or representation of one or more  person, thing or a concept equating it with the universe. And beyond.

2. act or process relating to launching of a star from Kodambakkam to the Mecca of moviedom , Hollywood. (pun intended)
3. amalgamation  of different collateral issues that snowballs into a grand question for which  Arnab finally  seeks answer on behalf of the nation.

related words 

Ulaga Nayakan : prophetic epithet coined by Kamal's fans to which he is trying to live up.
Vishwaroop      : circumcised title for consumption of the north. Not to be confused with the physically truncated movie version  that is about to hit Tamil Nadu soon.

I havent  watched the movie yet. Never got a chance till date. But after getting reviews from couple of people to whom I can safely and cost effectively outsource my thought process, I  concluded that this is a 'Sakalavallavan' masquerading as a 'Chachi 420' and having ambitious claims to become an intercontinental 'Kuruthipunal'.

With such a prejudice infested mind, once I get to watch the movie , am sure to have nightmares of the worst comic nature. I can already see the protagonist of 'Anbe Sivam' dressed up as Rambo and armed with a hammer and sickle singing  the unofficial American anthem "Are you with Us or Them in the WARRR against terror" , probably to the tune of  'O ranga... sri ranga... koppara thenga....'  I wouldnt attempt to watch and review, at least not in this state of mind. Instead, it is very interesting to watch from the sidelines the circus that is being played around the movie.

Kamal Hassan intended to produce a  Hollywoodish Tamil movie.Looks like he has already succeeded. But the issues that started clouding the movie least resemble a Kodambakkam masala. On the contrary, it is more like watching one by  Tarkovsky.

First to hit you is the absurdity. Of investing such a huge amount of money and talent  into visual and audio effects and then forcing it directly onto the living rooms of poor Indians, a majority of whom can only view it through their Doordarshan inspired TV sets, leave alone HDMI and home theatres  That was just the beginning.

Once you survive the initial, slow paced, deceptively absurd, not so interesting hurdles, suddenly you find yourself deeply engrossed in the multi layered, mutually entwined, complex puzzles of deep  intricacies, typical of East European art house movies.

On a socio-political level , it attempts to find answers to questions that the largest democratic nation in the world struggles to cope up with. Like the next PM of  India will be wearing a Dhoti or not.

On a spiritual level, you find people from all political parties talking about freedom of expression. And a focussed group of followers  begging them to reveal where they get their weed from.

In the most productive and least influential plane of social media, the highly knowledgeable characters rage, joke and blog. And move on to their next target.

Of all the interpretations being churned out of this comic tragedy, the macro financial aspect vis a vis the religious background is what excites me. At the highly unlikely event of those 20+ leaders inviting me to join them to represent my own 'fringe' group,  my single point agenda would be to oppose the movie on the basis that the movie has been produced with capital from a money lender.  What? No No, I am serious!! The concept of money lending at exorbitant interest rates is against the basic tenets of belief that is shared by those out on the streets of Tamil Nadu and Afghanistan.  Now that the unedited movie is running fullhouse in theatres across neighbouring Kerala where every fourth person is a Muslim and every three-fourth  member of cabinet is a Muslim refutes the charges levelled by these leaders against the movie, the only valid reason they can cite against the movie is the one raised by me.

They are very much welcome to join and support me.

Coming Soon: Vishwaroopam, a fringe review part 2

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 - A byline.

Anna Hazare and the unknown Mayan. Underachievers.
Santa Claus .The Italian marine driver.
Fidel Chavez. The fighter.
Mary. Came Khome.
The General. Raged. And Aged. And then raged.
Obama. Cry more. Sell more. What The Gun!
Pranab da.  GAARed upstairs.
Kasab. Closured.
Assam burned. Neighbour, Banglored.
Wikijailed.  KalmadiRajaMozhi bailed.
Crores CAGged. Loss Zeroed.
Kingfishy lies.
Coal blackened.
god, Particled.

2012. The cliffhanger.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Chandni Chowk

Razia Sultan's Grave. Bulbuli Khana . Near Turkman Gate, Old Delhi

Died Oct 13, 1240

"grave said to be of Sultana Razia" .. Several versions of her death are in circulation and even more claims about location of her grave. Hence the above reference in the ASI plaque. 

Modern day neighbour of Sultana Razia. 

Have to weave through the galis of Bulbuli kana to reach the heritage spot. Sunday , with shutters down would be preferable for a visit.

And here amidst the chaos Mirza Ghalib found the perfect geometry of his poetry. 

Died February 15 1869

The haveli where he spent his final days was until recently being used as an air cooler manufacturing facility. The Government managed to reclaim half of it. The other half is still being used as an STD call booth. Ghalib still couldnt reclaim his roof. When it rains, its insides are filled with rain water rather than with Ghalib's verses. 

Old Delhi has to be viewed as a single architectural entity. It spreads like Delhi's own  river, Yamuna - from myth, through history to the present. The architectural time space continuum is not punctuated by the galis, but loosely strewn together by it. 

 For a moment, you could be the little boy of  Abbas Kiarastomi's 'Where is My Friend's House?' For the dreamy eyed, doors of Delhi's galis come  in all shapes, sizes and motifs.


And the stairs... Probably as part of maximum utilisation of  space, steep steps remain a feature of Old Delhi's architecture. 

Unlike the architectural structures that make up Old  Delhi, its electric transmission system seems to have predated the Moghul dynasty. 

 Beneath the dust of  multiple centuries, those who inherited the streets which once saw valour, love, blood shed and  opulence carry on with their daily chores... 

...moving the wheels of time

.... spreading the joy of colours...

.... and wisdom ...


... or having nothing to smile about...

.. filled with hope...

... and life... pure black and white...

..even as the mercury soars to 42plus on a summer noon, waiting for the next customer's ride... goes on...

..past , present, light..shadow.. 

.. in a chaotic rhythm... perfect geometry...

..and in assorted blends...

... and wares...

...the young...


...and the faceless. 

They live. 


They dream. 


In and around.. Chandini Chowk.