20070907

COMRADES STRIKE GOLD ON THE SILVER SCREEN

Cuba Mukundan And AKG

K A Shaji / Thiruvananthapuram

Is cinema beginning to whirl too closely to politics in Kerala? It looks like it is, given the success of two recent films: one a commercial movie on the degeneration of Communist parties in Kerala and the other a biopic made by acclaimed director Shaji N. Karun on legendary Marxist AK Gopalan. The two hits have come at a time when the mainstream Left parties are facing serious allegations of shadowy dealings with the land mafia and businessmen of questionable credentials.

Another film based on politicians is in the making, and it is expected to be a scathing exposure of CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. Significantly, the return of Left politics into the Malayalam film industry is annoying Vijayan loyalists more than others. They are more worried about the new trend since discussions are on to produce almost half-a dozen films which would discuss the “Kerala-model Communism”.

“Earlier, it was the media syndicate involving journalists that targeted us. Now it’s the turn of a film syndicate,” a CPM central committee member, notorious for his dubious deals, told a meeting of the party’s youth wing in Thrissur. “We must be vigilant about their anti-party motives,” he cautioned the delegates.

The first of the two films, filmmaker Lal Jose’s Arabikkatha (An Arabian Tale), was released last month and dwelt on CPM politics in north Kerala. Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan was in the audience at the premiere. Noted actor-turned-director Sreenivasan, who played the lead role in the film, says: “The film was an attempt to highlight the negative trends in the Communist movement in Kerala. It is a socially relevant theme, timely and topical.”

“As a native of Patyam (a Marxist stronghold in the highly volatile Kannur district), I know the pulse of the Communist movement. My awareness, triggered by the erosion of political values, also helped me," he said. Sreenivasan said he was apprehensive about how the party cadre would treat the film. “The feedback is encouraging. Arabikkatha has been hailed as a film that tells the truth,” he explained. “It was released at an opportune time when the state was abuzz with discussions on the rival groups in the CPM represented by Achuthanandan and Vijayan. Even the names of the hero — Mukundan — and his party archrival – Karunan — have been carefully chosen to rhyme with the originals. All this helped the film at the box office,” said film critic CS Venkiteswaran. The hero ‘Cuba’ Mukundan is a full-time Communist party worker in Chemmannur (meaning, land of red soil), a remote village in Kerala. He gets the title ‘Cuba’ for his dedication to party work, and loves anything and everything about Cuba and China. Though the film acknowledges that the mass movement had degenerated into the party machinery’s obsession with power, Mukundan continues to carry out party orders unflinchingly. Gradually, he becomes popular with the people and is shunted out by his party rival Karunan, who frames Mukundan’s father, also a party worker, in a case of embezzling public money. As his father dies, Mukundan has to repay the debt and Karunan persuades him to go to the Gulf to earn money.

But the Middle East is no Kerala and Mukundan stumbles onto a globalised world where he has to do menial work to survive. Here he falls for a Chinese girl selling pirated CDs of Malayalam films. But he admires the land of Mao Zedong more than the girl. Subsequent events show the hardships endured by Mukundan until he realises the value of labour and returns home. “Despite its many shortcomings, the film raises a few fundamental questions that trouble the Malayali psyche — the idea of a worker/labourer and the concept of labour. Who is a labourer? What is labour?” observed Venkiteswaran.

There are also questions the film raises about the party in Kerala. Blinded by the classical definition of proletariat, the Communist parties have not been able to address the radical changes this identity has undergone — from citizen to consumer. Once the mass movement turned into a party, it had no clue as to the changing dimensions in the role of workers, their relationship with various aspects of labour, their desires and questions of identity. Mukundan is confronted with these dillemas once he is displaced from his ‘natural’ habitat of local politics to the internationalised labour economy of the Gulf. If Chinese communism is seen as paradise by the Communist worker in Kerala, the reality of Mukundan’s girlfriend shatters the myth.

“Though the primacy of labour — the bedrock of the ideology he believed in — is realised in the end by Mukundan, it is as something essentially agrarian and physical; we find him a happy man after a few years of physical labour on the farm. Obviously, the urban-technological realm and the labour associated with it is not “labour” for him. He never manages to find a foothold in the urban jungle, which is portrayed as the natural habitat of the clever and the cunning. As a result he turns out to be a pre-industrial Communist of the agrarian variety, rather than an industrial proletarian. In that sense the film is about local nostalgia versus global reality,’’ Venkiteswaran further observes. The other film, AKG, the docu-drama on Marxist stalwart AK Gopalan Nambiar, popularly known as AKG, is also not going well with the ‘new age’ Left politics, even though it was produced by the party’s own cultural wings, the Purogamana Kala Sahithya Sangham and the Sakthi Cultural Forum, Dubai.

AKG, who led a large number of agitations for farmers and workers all over the country, was the first Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Acclaimed director Shaji N. Karun, who said nothing against the party while turning back the pages of history, scores a key point with the film: “Don’t deviate from the path of service and sacrifice established by AKG and others like him.” The film took five years to complete and it was released when the media was teeming with stories of CPM leaders’ nexus with the unholy capitalists. “He was really a people’s leader. My effort was to show the great humanist. Cutting across party barriers, AKG empathised with the poor and the downtrodden. The film happened only because of the respect and affection he commands even now,” Karun explained. The first shot of the film was canned in Kayyur in Kannur district, where AKG had led a farmers’ struggle. The scene was set during the Amaravati agitation of June 1961 when AKG had gone on a hunger strike for the people displaced by the Idukki dam. During the premiere of the film, MP P. Karunakaran, AKG’s son-in-law, described the film as an attempt to recreate the eternal moments in the life of a great leader who struggled for the oppressed and the downtrodden. “It is the first people’s film in Kerala. The actors used for mass rallies and refugee camps were common people, instead of junior artistes” he said.

Though Karun is silent on the degeneration of AKG’s party post-liberalisation, the viewers feel the difference instantly. Another feature film in the making on the Marxist aberrations is a collective work of a few party sympathisers in Kozhikode. The film, yet to be named, is also probing the relevance of classical Marxism in an age of abject consumerism.




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