The OMC Filmgrimages | Revisiting Kakkothikkavu ( Chamakkavu) 25 years on

The Frontage of the Sharngakkavu Temple (Chamakkavu)
The Frontage of the Sharngakkavu Temple (Chamakkavu)

Here is one more reason to wax eloquent on one of my favorite movies, Kakkothikkavile Appooppan Thaadikal (1988). On a recent visit to Kerala, yours truly had the good fortune of making an unscheduled stop at Chamakkavu, the “Kakkothikkavu” that we  are so familiar with, from the movie, where the Sacred grove becomes the central eco-system  in which the characters enact their life’s roles with a delightful ending to the proceedings. It is an ecological miracle that the sacred grove, though reasonably denuded, still retains its canopy and structure –  as it was with a sinking feeling that I read through a series of posters stuck on the local bus station that I alighted, exhorting the local community to come together to prevent decimating another Kaavu in the locality to make way for a vast building complex. The photographs come courtesy of two dear friends – talented and successful photographers Anoop and Santhosh, who also know the place like the back of their camera-wielding hands.

The Sharngakkavu Temple (Chamakkavu) complex
The Sharngakkavu Temple (Chamakkavu) complex

The expansive “courtyard” of the temple, with the Kaavu in the background. One could almost mistake it for the neighboring lush treeline till you reach the entrance flagstones leading inside. Its as if you are entering inky green darkness.

The Sharngakkavu Temple (Chamakkavu) with the Kavu in the background
The Sharngakkavu Temple (Chamakkavu) with the Kavu in the background

From across the Achenkovil river, the structure looks diminutive, but I guess its mostly because of the  “looming” presence of the canopy behind.

The Towering Canopy that envelops the Sharngakkavu
The Towering Canopy that envelops the Sharngakkavu

Standing at the entrance of the temple, looking at the grove, enveloped by the towering expanse overhead, a part of  your mind shares apprehensions on how long before all this would disappear – maybe not the temple, but the sacred grove behind, yielding place to a Community Centre or the new Panchayath Administrative Block.

The pathway to the Sacred grove at the Sharngakkavu-Temple  (Chamakkavu) complex
The pathway to the Sacred grove at the Sharngakkavu-Temple (Chamakkavu) complex

To any child, the Kaavu is mythical, enticing, deep dark and mysterious, and somehow becomes the perfect place to escape from the strictured regimens the “outside world” demands,  a theme running through Murli’s life in Kakkothikkavile Appooppan Thadikal (1988). If director Kamal immortalised it on screen, no one could have put it as eloquently as Soni Somarajan did  in his “Curse of the Serpent “,

The whole kaavu spanned a large part of the compound and it almost leaned into a huge pond topped with green scum, occasionally broken by the little stones sent skimming over it by the children in the neighbourhood. It was difficult to see the other side through the grove; the foliage was so thick with vines, creepers, gnarled branches and the thick green leaves. It was dark when you walked inside and it bore no resemblance, in form or climate, to the world you had just left behind. It was creeping cool – you almost felt the goose-bumps come on and the first instinct was always one of fear as if you were being watched. Here and there, through little nooks in the foliage, the sunlight would find its way through in little beams that scythed its way into the dense vegetation and lit it up in a strange shade of foggy green. The grove’s floor was thick, with years of accumulated humus, dry leaves, parakeet droppings, minuscule rotting flowers, forsaken form-less idols and red manjadi seeds. The grove must have seen days of glory but nobody knew why it had become so abandoned and ignored.

I am sure this is exactly what even Murli and his band of young friends felt in their hearts too !

The iconic stone slabs that lead to Kakkothikkavu
The iconic flagstone “stairway”that lead to Kakkothikkavu

The iconic flagstone stairwell is now flanked on both sides by the home-grown barbed-wire fence, though it wasn’t fenced two decades back. Thankfully the eeriness hasn’t been walled. It flows and swirls around, unfettered.

Kakkothikavu-revisited, twenty five years on
Kakkothikavu-revisited, twenty five years on

Director Kamal mentioned in an interview that the location of a sacred grove that perfectly suited the screenplay that they had in their hands was given to them by none other than MT Vasudevan Nair and once they visited the place, they couldn’t agree more. Twenty five years on, if you are one of those who still hold that simple, sweet film close to your hearts, you would see that the spirit of the grove has somehow found a way of keeping a step ahead of the urban cancer called “Development”.

The pathway into the heart of the Kaavu at Sharngakkavu Temple (Chamakkavu)
The pathway into the heart of the Kaavu at Sharngakkavu Temple (Chamakkavu)

A dirt pathway that runs perpendicular to the flagstone stairwell, deep into the Sacred Grove ends in a short clearing and nothing more. I strained hard to look around for the remnants of the mud wall partitions that formed the “gypsy camp” inside the place but the Grove, I guess, has a way of fiercely recouping its own – vines, undergrowth, dankness et al.

The green canopy inside the Kakothikavu
The green canopy inside the Kakothikavu

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we started our own Malayalam Film Trails ? Revisiting locations of the classics we hold close to our hearts, and reliving the moments of those celluloid characters lives in a place that transformed magical inside the darkness of the cinemas, but yet so real.

As real as the ripples of the waters of Achenkovil river, in this case.

17 thoughts on “The OMC Filmgrimages | Revisiting Kakkothikkavu ( Chamakkavu) 25 years on

  1. I just visited Chama kaavu a week ago and felt more pain than delight after seeing the state of affairs. My passion for understanding the ecological dimensions of sacred groves took me to Chama kaavu, just to find degrading vegetation and apathy of the local people. An abode of rare and endangered floral species, this grove, I wish recuperates and regains its lost magnificence. Kakothikaavu, though lives on the reel, I wish it survives in real also! By the way, good blog and very good presentation!

  2. Indeed this film has to be treated at par with other milestones like Jeevitha Nauka, Neela Kuyil and Chemmeen

  3. Surasu, another great artist was a star performing for the song in Kakkothi Kavile Appopan Thadikal, he is the man who died unsung under a mango tree near Kottayam railway station almost 5 years after the super hit movie, a beggar figure, nobody cared for a full day, then someone identified him as the old man in kakkothi kavu, thanks to the movie
    Chamakkavu is just 5 kilometres from my mother’s ancestral home at Kollakadavu in chengannur Thaluk in Allapuzha district, I recall going there at the age of 10 in 1983 to see the monkeys

    1. Anu, remember reading that phrase in an article a couple of years back with regard to Hollywood Film trails and more recently in a TOI article, and I thought, what a lovely idea if we could archive that aspect, bit by bit. Thanks, cinematters

  4. Filgrimages – an excellent idea. Why not?
    And now i want to lose myself in that foggy ‘greenness’. Seriously considering adding it to my must visit places on my trip home.

    1. Thanks Rajesh, would also appreciate if atleast one filmgrimage were inorder – wouldn’t think it would be much of a task for a popular Film quiz master 😛 thanks, cinematters

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