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