Contemporary Malayalam cinema through its various manifestations in the mainstream and off beaten paths are responding creatively and critically to social reality in multiple ways. The new films by young and talented directors are positively engaging with society and its political issues in an ethical and aesthetic way that lures human interest from Kerala and the world at large.
The new films Adaminte Makan Abu by Salim Ahamed, Kanakombathu by Mahadevan and Bombay March 12 by Babu Janardan that illuminated the screen in late June 2011 make vital comments on life and reality in Kerala and India at the wake of the twentieth century. Ahmed’s film is about a Muslim couple in the social margins longing for the pilgrimage to the holy land under extreme conditions of social, cultural, economic and emotional deprivations and the survival of human hope and compassion against hostile surroundings with a touch of environmentalism and eco-ethics towards the end. The film depicts the life and struggles of aged people in the margins who confront various forms of exclusion and challenges.
Salim Ahmed’s film is a brave attempt to portray the life in the margins. It also renders visible the darker worlds of social exclusion and economic deprivation with a few intimate character sketches. The performance by Salim Kumar, Zarina Wahab, Kalabhavan Mani and Suraj are remarkable and the director deserves all the appreciation for excellent cast, craft and conception. Madhu Ambat’s camera is also aesthetic. But the film is well defined within the old cliched format and structure of the archaic art genre of Malayalam cinema stretched to its extent by Adoor, Aravindan and reiterated by many other followers who lost themselves in its decomposed vicious circle.
The film directed by Mahadevan called Kanakombathu is about the current socio cultural crisis created by the commercialization of professional education in Kerala. The educational capitalism initiated by the right wing neo-liberal policies of some of the ruling political formations has ruined the higher education sector especially the technological and health care educational sectors. Bachelor degree programs in applied technology and surgical medicine (popularly glorified as “medicine and engineering” in Kerala) have decayed into money making cut throat capital trading and bargaining.
The upper middle classes and aristocratic sections of the society force their youngsters to pursue higher education in these streams of technology or health care without considering their tastes and aspirations. This so called professional drive creates the worst gambling and capitation fee oriented markets in educational field and denies the agency of the student in opting the higher education of her or his choice. This system is gross fundamental right violation for the students and for the marginal sections of the society who could not afford this capital game.
The students who are least interested in the study of mere technology or medical surgery are also suffering and becoming anti socials with out a liberal education in the humanities and social sciences. They are not taught history, politics and culture that are inevitable in the making of a sound human person or citizen of the world and the region. Even language and literature are denied to them who are programmed in soft skills and mere functional language (that too in English alone, denying them the generative potentials of mother tongue and its organic writing ) that creates programmed machines and dehumanize the the individual for corporate capitalism. They are even denied a chance to study empirical science proper that has the potential of original research of social relevance by improving the life of the people through various original theoretical formulations, inventions and discoveries.
The collective tragedy is that while some of the brilliant creative talents are wasted in the mere study of technology and applied sciences in a market oriented training and practice that could had produced socially valuable outputs in the field of human sciences or empirical sciences or in creative artistic realms; some less interested and dull witted with capital mobility may even do extensive damage to the fields of “engineering and medicine.” It also causes damage to the life of common people in various ways.
The more serious soio-political issue is that the self financing right wing concept denies equal opportunities and educational rights for the socially, educationally and economically backward students of our society who are rich with the so called “merit” despite the socio-economic barriers. The elite advocates of “merit” in government institutions are keeping mum over the merit erosion in the self financing sector.
The elite advocates of “quality and merit” also forget that India is a democracy and not a meritocracy of the chosen monopoly races. It is interesting to note that the elite advocates of merit silently support the capitalist marketization of education even when they raise a hell against the representative inclusion of historically marginalized people in education and public service in the name of “merit”. The anti Mandal agitations, anti affirmative action revolts at AIIMS and the ongoing hate slurs against reservations in public sector prove this elitist propaganda against inclusion and democracy. The double speak of the historically advantaged elites are also explicit in this context as their hidden monopoly desires are well exposed here.
The script by Madhu Muttam scathingly criticizes this right wing market driven agenda that ruined the educational field of Kerala by commercializing higher education and health care. The critical teacher played by Manoj K Jayan articulates these ethical and critical concerns having immense socio-political values. The all encompassing grip of drug mafia and MNC lobbies that spread diseases and epidemics in the third world to create new markets for their medicinal drugs and narcotics are also timely exposed by the script and film. The performances of youngsters in the film and its popular appeal especially the screen presence of Mythily are also positive in enhancing the socially liberating aspects of the film.
Well known scenarist Babu Janardan’s directorial debut Bombay March 12 is also crucial as far as contemporary cultural politics in Kerala is concerned. This well made film raises the fundamental issues of human rights and constitutional rights in a grave critique of our state apparatuses like the judicial system, police and the army. The Ma-adani issue that is a serious human rights violation is fictionally embedded in the filmic text in subtle ways and the film asks crucial questions about the ethical content and inclusive democracy of our legal system that denies equal rights to certain minor sections of our society. It is the first major attempt in Malayalm film to visualize the reality of religious underpinnings of the state and to forground a minor perspective and critique of the nation, nationalism and patriotic discourses from below.
Babu’s serious and humane historical drama raises serious ethical questions against the constitutional republic and its violations of fundamental rights of its own citizens belonging to the specially protected minor sections of the society. It is an ethical and humanistic attempt to locate the agony of the minor subjects in Indian society today. The fragmented and fissured narrative also signifies the split realities of the deprived and the wronged in our country. The film narration and text are highly engaging and visually captivating with Mammooty and Roma in the lead and proves the directorial potentials of this young man who could contribute such meaningful and intervening works to enrich the contemporary political potential of Malayalam cinema.
There is a great change in themes and treatments of the Malayalam film that is often hijacked by the former elites who use it to render their feudal nostalgia and fascist craving for totalitarian power as epitomized in Urumi, Tiger or Aram Thampuran. The films made by the historically and culturally challenged sections of society are making visible the soci0-political realities and inqualities in an ethically significant way.
The recent works by Madhav Ramdas (Melvilasam) and Priyanandan (Bhakthajanangalude Sradhaku) are also remarkable in this regard. It is also important to observe in sharp contrast at this moment that the cultural elites of Kerala are still playing with soft porn under the label of teen-sexual fantasies and erotic nostalgia as in Rathinirvedam or Avalute Ravukal (reloaded by I V Sasi himself!!!) while the politically struggling sections are voicing social issues and political questions with a renewed ethical thrust that makes us believe in future; the future of democracy and humanism.
Radhakrishnan, P S. Chalachithravum Charithravum. Trivandrum: Kerala Bhasha Institute, 2010.
Sekher, Ajay. “Puthiya Chila Melvilasangal.” Pachakuthira, June 2011.
Shanmukhadas, I. Cinimayute Vazhikal. Thrissur: Current, 1990.
Venkiteswaran, C S. “Pradesika Chalchithra Nirupanathinte Vibhaktha Jeevithangal.” Malayalam Research Journal. January 2011.