Malayalam cinema

The new hero in Malayalam cinema is the card-carrying communist

After the Communist-themed ‘Oru Mexican Aparatha’ and ‘Sakhavu’, Mollywood waits for ‘Comrade in America’.

Kerala is ruled by the Left Democratic Front, and some of the widespread Communist sentiment has coloured commercial film productions in shiny hues of red.

The Nivin Pauly starrer Sakhavu (Comrade) is the latest Malayalam movie to celebrate Communism and spread the ideology through populist means. Sidhartha Siva’s movie, which has been running to packed houses across the state, sees the Malayalam star Nivin Pauly in the double role of Krishnankumar, a student activist, and Communist leader Krishnan, who unites tea plantation workers facing exploitation. Krishnakumar learns the qualities of a true Communist by observing the life of Comrade Krishnan.

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Sakhavu,

The first movie to rally to the cause was the March 3 release Oru Mexican Aparatha (A Mexican Infinity), which portrayed the intense political rivalry between a left student outfit and a Congress-led student political organisation. The film, starring Tovino Thomas, was a box office hit.

Director Tom Emmatty said that he didn’t think about the market potential when he decided to make Oru Mexican Aparatha. “I wanted people to come to the theatres, and opting for a movie with Communist themes was a ploy to attract more viewers,” Emmatty said. “I made the movie with good intentions, but I received many brickbats. Many alleged that I was trying to malign Communist parties and their student wings.”

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Oru Mexican Aparatha.

Detractors of the red mania will soon have another cause to agitate against: Comrade in America, directed by Amal Neerad and starring young star Dulquer Salman, is scheduled for a May release. The movie, also known as CIA, has been shot at locations in the United States of America and Mexico. The posters show Salman in the backdrop of a modified American flag, in which the stars have been replaced by the Communist sickle and hammer.

However, the movie’s director, Amal Neerad, said CIA should not be lumped with its predecessors. “I had planned to release the movie in 2016 but it was delayed as I couldn’t complete the shoot on time,” Neerad said. “CIA should not be considered as run-of-the-mill stuff.”

Romanticism for the Communist cause dates back to the early 1970s. Legendary filmmaker Thoppil Bhasi directed Ningalenne Communistakki in 1970 and Anubhavangal Paalichakal in 1971. In the ’80s and ’90s, several films examined the ideology that has endured in Kerala for decades, including Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Mukhamukham, Lenin Rajendran’s Meenamasathile Sooryan, IV Sasi’s Adimakal Udamakal,Venu Nagavally’s Lal Salam and TV Chandran’s Ormakalundayirikkanam.

“Filmgoers in Kerala have always had high regard for ideal Communists,” pointed out film critic NP Sajeesh. “So all the films went on to become huge hits.”

Many of the left-leaning films made in previous decades subtly tried to malign the trade union movement that had been gaining momentum in the state, Sajeesh added. “Most of the films created the binaries of good Communists and bad Communists, and tried to exhort people that trade unions were a bane.” The newer batch of films harks back to an idealised notion of Communist politics even though it is widely believed that the state’s leadership is veering towards the Right, Sajeesh pointed out.

Rather than ideology, it’s the colour of money that seems to be encouraging filmmakers towards Communist-themed movies. “I am sure that the success of two recent movies will inspire more directors to try out similar stories,” Sajeesh said.

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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.