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.
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.”
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 The posters show Salman in the backdrop of a modified American flag, in which the stars have been replaced by the Communist sickle and hammer.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.