Got your eyebrows up, didn’t I?
Its remarkable how a book can send you on a journey to a place you have never traveled before. I was reading through VT Nanda Kumar‘s Randu Penkuttikal, first published in 1974, (which was to the best of my knowledge, the source material for the first onscreen adaptation and depiction of lesbianism in Malayalam cinema) and suddenly there were these whole lot of questions. Our Malayalam movies have depicted, illustrated, portrayed, sketched and at times hastily, displayed infidelity, strife, violence, sibling rivalry, murder, crime, and even gone to the lengths of even psycho analysis and representations, but we never, ever have had the temerity nor the tenacity to discuss the ‘third gender‘ onscreen. Except, of course, for the pathetically few that you can count on your hand.
80-odd years of film making that have reflected and entertained us with topics that have been picked out from every possible nook and corner of the Malayali’s psyche and social systems, and oddly, homosexuality has hardly been featured in any of them. I wonder why.
And the ones that have been portrayed, well, they are all between women, which also gives rise to a bunch of related questions. Why are we so pathologically apprehensive ( scared?) of Homosexuality ? Going by the beaten-to-death premise of “films are a reflection of society”, its interesting to see us Malayalis looking for a place to hide or a direction to turn away when it comes to discussing Homosexuality. [ There is a beautiful, enlightening, insightful note on our attitude towards what we perceive as deviant behavior - Same-sex relationships, transexuals, effeminate males that still runs through the Malayali psyche, and you can read it here. ]
I have had an enlightening week, speaking to a lot of learned minds, being witness to some hard-hitting and well-laid out arguments and perspectives, which more or less substantiates what I too have believed all along. Our movie directors ( lets start from established ), who are a direct extension and a part of our society, and in the business of creating a product of art that sells, are mortally terrified of using this theme to spin their onscreen narratives, for the same reason we carefully avoid discussing or conversing about this amongst ourselves. But this apathy and aversion is discussing it amongst ourselves does not prevent us or hold us back from strongly reacting against incremental ‘events’ that at anytime threaten to intrude our ‘normalcy’.
From a 26 June 2009 Express Buzz article , there is a quote by Deepa, a Keralite lesbian activist, who states that sexual minorities “are so harassed that they are forced to leave Kerala for other states”. She also speaks about “a conspiracy of silence about sexual minorities in Kerala and people pretended that gays, lesbians and transsexuals did not exist in the State”. So you might ask, why should it even be discussed here in the first place ? Well, I would say, because its there, and it is as significant as the proverbial ‘elephant in the living room’ whom nobody wants to talk about, which would infuse a whole lot more tolerance, empathy, understanding and above all, a wider perspective of life that will enrich our lives in its own unknown ways. Coming back to Malayalam Cinema, the movies that I think have dealt with the topic of same-sex relationships, or have hastily outlined trends, and baled out of the narrative without a pause, have been Randu Penkuttikal (1978), Deshadanakkili Karayaarilla ( 1986) and Sanchaaram (2004). There was a ‘passing’ characterisation in Rithu (2009) and a ‘ hasty’ portrayal in Sufi Paranja Katha (2010).
Randu Penkuttikal (1978)
Director Mohan, in a recent interview confesses that he has never read the novel on which the film adaptation was based on, completely. He did manage to catch the first three or four parts of it in serialised version in a magazine and that was it. I wish there was a legal copy of the film available. The movie spoke about the deep, passionate love between two girls, Kokila ( Shobha ) and Girija ( Anupama Mohan – the danseuse). The novel portrays it as mostly possessive relationship that Kokila, the senior girl inschool has for Girija, her ‘drop-dead gorgeous’ junior, and who is also enamored by this constant ( almost suffocating) affection that comes her way, the former showering her with gifts and also makes it clear in very clear term terms as to what their nature of relationship is and will be, going forward. Girija is not so sure, and soon she falls head over hells for a handsome apprentice who takes charge in the local photo studio and gets into a physical relationship with her while his term lasts, and then disappears. She eventually gets married to her young teacher who had in the past proposed to her but was turned away in part by the rumor mills put in motion by a deeply possessive Girija.
The movie ends with the politically correct note of Girija at last seeing the light – that “this was all a phase in one’s teenage years and like any normal woman, she should be married and lead a happy, productive life” by the dashing young physician who is besotted by Girija and wants to marry her. So much for daring and cocking a snook at existing standards. After all the brouhaha, the end, is, shall we say, very very predictive.
Director Mohan speaks about the movie briefly.
Deshadanakkili Karayaarilla (1986)
One had to be either incredibly naive or seemingly callous to miss the signals and the strong undercurrent in the movie. Padmarajan had this uncanny knack of laying ‘almost’ all of it out there, stopping just so short of saying it IS so, leaving you to draw your own conclusions. From what I have read through his works, he is far too relaxed and in his elements, creating emotional undercurrents at his own liberty and pace with words than with visuals. He has frequently explored various levels of bonding between two females in a couple of his works – be it between the sister-in-laws in Novemberinte Nashtam, the friendship between Tulsi and Parvathi in Kariyilakkaattu Poley or the one between Shobha and Kalyanikkutty in Nakshathrangaley Kaaval.
To me, I guess, he gets a little more ‘careful’ and shall I say politically correct, when it comes to creating a visual project. I am sure you can pick up the references and nuances if you have read the novels and his subsequent screen adaptations.Suffice to say, the pivot of both the movies, Randu Penkuttikal and Deshadanakkili Karayarilla is the same ‘event’, one of them entering a heterosexual relationship post their fleeing out of their regimented life, throwing the more ‘possessive one’ into emotional hell. Well, you could emphatically point out that they are just two normal friends, obsessively possessive about each other and that’s that, but hey, this is what I read from the movie. But the developments post this new emotional crossroads differentiates the two different paths the narratives take moving forward. While Randu Penkuttikal ends up with a timid, politically correct and tepid ending, Padmarajan cranks up the ‘helplessness and bitterness quotient’ a few notches high in the latter, hurtling the movie towards a tragic climax, a la Padmarajan. Again, the relationship doesn’t survive in the end.
Vanambadi etho from the movie, music by Raveendran Master.
I missed this movie at the theaters (on second thoughts, did it have a theatrical release ?) and got to watch it on DVD recently. I really really wish I had caught this at the cinema. The DVD is horrendous ! ( More of that gripe later !) One aspect that literally glows through the movie, other than the dark, inky, lush theme is the brutal honesty and conviction of narrating the story WITHOUT conforming to any social strictures. It is forthright, undisguised, blunt and in your face. And I loved that. The story is about Deliliah (Shrruiti Menon) and Kiran (Suhasini V. Nair), and how their unbridled, deep, passionate love for each other, as they come of age, both being childhood friends.
As the manure hits the fan, mainly due to wimpy ex-flame who finds both of them in a lip-lock, in the neighborhood wild, Deliliah’s wedding is hurriedly fixed – the easiest way to ‘re-validate’ her normalcy in the existing social setup, reclaim the family’s position in the ‘normal’ scheme of things, and post which, everyone can go back to their lives, as if nothing happened. interestingly, things are just about to get interesting at the altar ! Directed by Ligy J. Pullappally, based on her early short-movie ‘ Uli‘, it has by now won the award for the Best Film at the 40th Chicago International Film Festival, Special Jury Prize at the Kerala State Film Awards, the Special Jury Prize from the John Abraham Foundation amongst others. I would go on to say that Sanchaaram (2004) could very well be the first mainstream feature film in Malayalam ( that I know of ) that makes homosexuality the crux, the focal point of the narrative. You can access an interview of Ligy J. Pullappally with Sarah Warren here. You can also access the movie website here.
Now, for the griping on the DVD.
It sucks bigtime!I mean, how on earth can someone master a digital copy off a movie released in 2004 to something so horrendously bad in terms of picture and sound ? I mean, I can understand if I was watching a crappy VCD version of a movie from the 50′s, but man, this takes the cake. The sound doesn’t rise above stereo and is patchy at places, the frames at times keep shifting ( yes !). I can go on and on, but this will suffice for now.
A clipping from the film.
Finally, finally, someone gathered up enough courage and weaved it into the persona of a lead protagonist in a mainstream Malayalam film! I would say this was a long time coming, and sad that it merely added a ‘fleeting layer’ to the character and disappeared. But, a brave attempt, I must say. True, the film maker just would have wanted this aspect to stay in the background and not affect the central set of events that drive the movie forward. But there is something very unsettling about the movie, with its overload of cliches on life in Bangalore, which I cannot subscribe to or identify with. Coming back to the aspect of ‘deviant’ behavior portrayed, I do wish, a la Hollywood, Syamaprasad, the director, would spin off the character Sunny Immatty as the lead protagonist of a movie that would all be about..ummm..his life. That would be fun. Maybe Joshua Newtonn could do a sequel.
Watch the starting of the clipping. One of the few scenes in the movie that managed to hold your attention. The erotic undercurrent is so thick that you can cut it with a knife.
Sufi Paranja Katha (2010).
I seemed to almost miss it the first time around, but Achinthya seems to have dragged it by the hair and thrust that in my face. Thanks Achinthya. Again, fleeting at best, but this time it is more on the lines of sexual slavery that is depicted in the Gay relationship portrayed with oh-so-hurried-moments of screentime. Priyanandanan’s wracking film adaptation based on KP Ramanunni‘s novel by the same name, the main protagonist of the movie, Prakash Bare as Mammootty, in his emotional progression through the movie, seems to find solace in consensual (?) same-sex physical relationship with a young cousin of his Aamir, and in a ironic twist, is caught by his wife. Though this incident proves to be the catalyst that drives the narrative to its tragic climax, I just felt it was just a hurried device to facilitate a morbid conclusion to the movie.
As I mentioned earlier, maybe the short shots were all that may have been needed to drive the point home, but then again, these remain as depictions only, just a facet of the character that does not end up being the subject of a full-length, well thought out exploration – of their interactions and their ‘affectations’ on the immediate society they are a part of.
A Clipping from the movie. Keep watching from 11: 00