Reflections on Munnariyippu (Malayalam Movie, 2014)

Authored by Indu Poornima

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Nihilism, Freedom And Feigned Innocence

Directed by cinematographer Venu, based on a screenplay by the short story writer Unni.R, this 2014 Malayalam movie explores the intricacies surrounding the human mind in perceiving the ideas of freedom, crime, and punishment. Through the life events of the protagonist C R Raghavan (played by Mammootty) and a junior freelancer Anjali Arakkal (Aparna Gopinath), the movie steadily unfolds itself to question subjective interpretations regarding  ‘real freedom’ and nihilistic tendencies set within the modern capitalist framework.

The movie begins with Anjali, as a struggling new entrant to journalism agrees to ghostwrite the autobiography of a retiring jail superintend, Ramamoorthy (played by Nedumudi Venu). On a visit to the jail to meet the superintendent, she comes across Raghavan, who despite having finished his official term for the double homicide of his wife and female boss, continue to live in the jail. The first chord of curiosity is struck in Anjali with Raghavan’s constant but calm denial of him being a killer even after having served 20 odd years in jail.  For the young journalist, the mysteriousness surrounding the protagonist accelerates after she gets access to his writings.  Through probings like “Are there bulbs which can be switched on to bring darkness in a room filled with light just like how you turn a bulb on in a dark room to bring light?” and “Light and truth are alike, just because we don’t acknowledge it at times doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist”, Raghavan presents his view of the world, only to further arouse the inquisitiveness in Anjali.

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Eventually, Anjali writes a feature about him in a popular magazine, which she titles ‘Brain behind the Bars’. The article gains applaud for her as a freelancer along with proposals from publishing houses to launch a book on Raghavan’s biography. The good money came with these offers from corporate houses with Anjali finally being content about having received her first big career break. For the purposes of the same, Anjali proactively takes initiatives to release Raghavan from the jail and asks him to write more about his life events and own interpretations which would, in turn, form the flesh of the biography. The movie proceeds with various desperate efforts from Anjali’s side to make Raghavan write, which he relentlessly fails in doing. As a last resort, Anjali moves Raghavan to an undisclosed, secluded area so as to infuse some creativity in him. Finally, when Anjali realized that none of her tactics were working, she gives up her mission. She makes her mind up to settle the deal with the publishing house in the court of law. When she goes to meet Raghavan one last time, to release him from the house where she had confined him, Raghavan gives the full script of what he was asked to write. In a bewildered state, Anjali hurriedly goes through the manuscript that he had handed over to her and with every passing page, tinges of surprise, fear and panic start to overwhelm her. The film ends with Raghavan killing Anjali with a rod, in one swift blow, just when she finishes reading and looks at him with eyes of dismay and terror.

The questions that the film leaves through its open-ended closure are myriad. On a second watch, one understands how each scene right from the beginning was in fact cues thrown at the audience leading to the impending dark scenes that form the climax. The major themes emerging from the movie are as follows:

Nihilism:

The protagonist in the movie is portrayed as having multiple layers, with his own rational explanations guiding his actions as opposed to the reasoning of others. While the mainstream sees him as being ‘abnormal’, ‘different’ or ‘too philosophical’ (in the words of Ramamurthy), he stays indifferent to such comments, and find bliss through his own understanding of the world. For when Anjali suggests that ‘he would be happy once he is out of jail’, Raghavan, as calm and composed as he replies, “But I am not unhappy in jail”. Raghavan thus doesn’t believe in values of freedom, loyalty, happiness, truth or reason in the sense as understood by others. He, therefore, exhibits traits of nihilism in believing in nothing, devoid of moral, or metaphysical convictions. He is quick to remove anything that comes in the way of his definitions, even if it meant the killing of the journalist who came in the way of him and his notion of  ‘freedom’, which he enjoyed by being in jail. Throughout the movie there are subtle references to his extreme pessimism, a trait generally found among nihilists. For instance, when Anjali tells Raghavan about how happy he would be leading a new life post-jail, he is quick in replying that, there is nothing called ‘old’ or ‘new’ in life and proposes that life is nothing but a struggle unto reaching death.

 The nihilist in him doesn’t consider his acts of killing three women, including Anjali as being wrong a deed as there is no existence of the concept of moral righteousness, loyalty or justice in his worldview. Perhaps this explains his constant denial of the crime he is convicted of since the beginning of the movie. In the beginning of the movie, there is an image of a dead lizard being moved by a group of ants. Although the ants might not be directly responsible for the death of the lizard, they are definitely participants in the act, as agents of destruction of its dead body. A parallel to this is drawn in the protagonist’s case, in his claim of innocence for not having killed his victims. Rather, the nihilist sees the death of the two females as being preordained and perceives himself as being a mere agent of implementing the already decided fate. This notion also perhaps explains the relevance of the title of the movie, Munnariyippu, meaning premonition in Malayalam.

Idea of Freedom

An overarching theme that is being questioned and countered throughout the movie is perhaps the subjective interpretations of freedom. While the general perception is to think of jail as a metaphor for isolation, or a correction cell for the ones transgressing justice and laws of the land, for Raghavan, it is bliss, his ultimate door to freedom, where he lives in at most joy, despite the end of his jail term. Towards, the end of the movie, to Anjali’s question of whether he decided where he wanted to be dropped, with his ever-so-innocent smile Raghavan calmly responds that it is to his cell room that he wished to go back, before hitting her head with the rod.

The reasons for his intolerance of the world outside of jail can be varied.  The movie shifts the notion of ‘confining space’ from jail to the larger public spaces in modern settings. Perhaps it in the outside of jail, in the public sphere that Raghavan faces the more disciplinary control on his actions than in its inside. This can be understood through the Foucauldian notion of Panopticism, wherein disciplinary surveillance enables the observer to view the actions of the observed and keep the latter uninformed of them being observed. From jotting down whatever random thoughts that came to him, whenever he wanted to, to being subjected to Anjali’s constant surveillance on his day-to-day activities and pressures on meeting deadline the writer in Raghavan is suffocated, faces writer’s block and eventually loses the interest to write. There are repeated statements in the movie made by Anjali suggesting that the protagonist was ‘under her custody’. The movie uses metaphors such as the isolated house, Anjali forcefully locking Raghavan inside, dictating him on what he has to write etc. as instruments of surveillance imposed on him by the modern public space. Anjali, herself a representation of a generation cobwebbed in profit making pursuits, fails to respect the private space erstwhile enjoyed by the writer, as a consequence of which she pays dearly in the latter part of the movie.

Thus, the movie also throws light upon the capitalist mechanisms that commodify creativity and reaps profit out of it. While Anjali’s portrayal is one in affirmation to such a mentality as seen in instances like of her indulgence in ghostwriting with the pure aim of making money. At the other end of the spectrum, Raghavan as a writer loathes the public space, he is exposed to after 20 long years in jail for its overt and covert controls over behaviour. His writing is now being interrupted by external forces, trying to mold it into patterns of their choice, in an attempt to sell it for profits. The nihilist in Raghavan grows intolerant to these and ultimately chooses to return to his safe haven, where he enjoyed at-most liberty.

Intrinsic Innocence

A crucial turn in the movie is when Anjali slowly begins to confide in Raghavan’s claim of not having killed anybody. Throughout the first half of the movie, there are little reasons as to why Anjali should not believe Raghavan’s words of not committing the crime. Elegantly poised and composed as he is, Raghavan portrays the demeanor of perhaps a well-read philosopher or author than that of a murderer.  On the one hand, she develops a genuine sympathy for this man for having lost 20 years of his life as punishment for a crime that he did not commit. On the other, in her own pursuit of etching a name for herself in the field and make good money, she conveniently overlooks the possibility of Raghavan being a murderer, thus falling prey to his feigned innocence.

In conclusion, the most important message that Munnaryippu attempts to leave in the minds of its audience and for larger public debate is perhaps the credibility of the correction mechanisms imposed through jail imprisonments. Despite having spent close to twenty years in jail, the murderer in him doesn’t cease to exist, only to be aroused by another woman, whom he perceives as being an impeachment upon his personal liberty. The last scene sums up this attitude in its peak when Raghavan is seen to be enjoying a good night’s deep sleep beneath the trophies of his crimes that he treasures- photographs of all three of his victims.

More about the author of this blog post, Indu Poornima, an avid reader, imaginative photographer and a forced gym visitor could be found here: https://www.facebook.com/induandinduonly

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The Home without Walls

(A recreation of Mridula Ravi‘s concept of ‘Home’, woven with intricacies of her for growing up years. An elegantly powerful writer herself, she is my inspiration behind this piece, as she is in many other things we do in our ever so wonderful college life.)

Born right into the middle of an extended family, I was always around a lot of people. The seed that was me sprout; slowly but steadily, amidst the warmth and love that was blanketed around me.

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The cocoon that was etched around me was elegantly beautiful; I, the princess, in this safe haven, danced away my life to lees, quite oblivious to the world outside. As years rolled by, I grew up to be the lead warrior of a battalion of younger cousins as we went around playing at all possible hours of the day.

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Of the numerous games that we laid hands on, role plays were my favourite. In those plays, I bossed around my younger ones, being their mother, teacher, doctor and what not!! Thus, within the four walls of the place that formed our home, I created another of my own.

Rains in Kerala are an ecstasy. On those nights where crickets would hum to the rhythm of drizzle, I would slip away into wildernesses of my own, traveling to all possible wonderlands of my story books. In the folds of those nights, I realized for the first time of the power of dreams I was capable of seeing. The aroma of mangoes, an omnipresent affair of the summer months used to greet us, smiling gleefully in the orchards. The Crimson evening sky would always coincide with savoring the last bite of mango, while at grandmother’s lap listening to her stories.

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The hairpin roads of Wayanad unveiled itself to give a new dimension of a home in my life. The perpetual wrap of wool that braced those hills held a sense of inevitably; of life, death, and everything beyond. This new home to my undergrad college life revealed the shades of life beyond the black and white.

In this new home, my favourite room was the college library. I was thrown mercilessly, like a shuttle cork by a passionate player, to and fro, by the world of letters. The turbulence it created was an initiation ceremony- the maturing of a carefree girl to a young woman who started questioning everything around her.

It was amidst those book shelves that held magic, I let my body explore the same magic of its own, in an enigma unknown to its owner. The flutter of a male gaze, blood that rushed, fingers that fanatically followed and bodies that fused. It was all like another homecoming- only to a place I had never been before.

Life took me in its wings, only to be left alone to find a home in the city of dreams. Initially, Mumbai was nothing like home- in fact far from it. Slowly the nights I cried myself to sleep, gave way to ones of story tellings tucked cozily among the city lights of a land that never slept.

Before  I knew it, the street food, local trains, new people and their stories had formed the concrete to the new home I had proudly built, all by myself. With windows of opportunity and doors to new experiences, garnished with cushions of hope and curtains of warmth- my home is an obsession.

In life, Only my addresses kept changing, home always stayed.

~ Guest Post by Indu Poornima, Aspiring Development Professional, TISS, Mumbai.
https://www.facebook.com/induandinduonly


Weekly Readings – November 4th Week + December 1st Week

Weekly Readings – November 4th Week + December 1st Week

When Democracy is Held Hostage by Social Media.

It is about time that we rethink the role played by social media in promoting global democratic ethos. The faulty filter system perpetuated by social media functions reassuring us of an open platform that facilitates a free exchange of ideas has taken a hit. This filter bubble that we live in, aggravates the situation by promoting content that conforms to one’s belief system and filtering out all opposing views from our feeds. The present state of social media is such that it allows uncurated fake content to be passed off as real which leads to misinformation of masses.

URL: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-failure-of-facebook-democracy

The Decline of Democracy and the Need for Meritocracy in Politics.

As a relatively young democracy filled with political intellectuals us, Indians need to give a lot of thought to the dialectics of our free speech and the logical acquisition of true knowledge. Our desire for easy answers can be will lead to the proliferation of political demagoguery, turning all of us into victims of misinformation. Right to vote should not be taken for granted and be ever vigilant not to exercise that choice unconsciously.

URL: http://www.openculture.com/2016/11/why-socrates-hated-democracies-an-animated-case-for-why-self-government-requires-wisdom-education.html

When Courts Become Propagandized Law Making Making Institutions.

Law of the land entrusts judiciary to go beyond merely scrutinizing the legal validity of a legislation or an executive order but also to explore the potential injustices arising out of the execution of the same. To quote Justice Brandeis, executive if given the free will to use the state as a laboratory of democracy, Jeremy Bentham‘s utilitarian principle which calls for providing maximum happiness to the maximum number must form the fundamental premise of its policies. Judicial populism manifested in the form of Justice Deepak Mishra’s and Justice Pratibha Rani’s judgments are only acting catalysts to encouraging xenophobic nationalism. It is time for the political and judicial class to show some civilisational confidence to set aside the tendencies to criminalize dissent.

URL 1: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/Contours-of-a-challenge/article16737935.ece

URL 2: http://thewire.in/83606/jana-gana-mana-dangers-passing-sentiment-law/

 

‘The Art of Getting By’ – Film Review

‘The Art of Getting By’ – Film Review

I read a quote once when I was a kid “We live alone, We die alone. Everything else is just an illusion.” it used to keep me up at night.

I can’t exactly remember when the idea of life and death was fully understood, but I vividly remember that I was deeply troubled knowing the fact that one day, I will loose all that I held close to me. Little did I know back then, life in its replete avatar will offer me a melancholic masterpiece that death will always struggle to match. The protagonist goes through a similar situation at a much later stage in life than I did, but given the urbane setting of the story and the comfort enjoyed by virtue of being in a developed nation, reasons are quite clear as to why the realization came so late for him.

We’ve seen such self exploratory-deeply introspective films before. For most of the viewers, ‘The Art of Getting By’ probably would have nothing novel to offer which other films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 500 Days of Summer haven’t already did. One of the high points of this film is that it helps the viewers to calm themselves down. It brings your life’s tempo a notch down so that you can feel the wind playing with your hair and your heart leaking out love. Through the meaningful and resonating portrayal of its lead characters, it reminds us that it is okay to be confused in life as each of those confusing experiences will make sense later in life, when we put in perspective, the choices we made. We’ve all gone through those moments in our lives when we are unable to put names to our emotions towards people and situations and more often than people around us have blamed us for not having essential clarity of thought. If there is anything that this movie manages teach the audience, it is to own up to your feelings and give it time to make sense to you, bit by bit as you embark the journey towards self actualization.

The post is dedicated to all the misanthropes around, who are just waiting for that little magic nudge to come out of their cocoon. 🙂

Cheers!

A Visit TO SARGAALAYA ARTS AND CRAFTS VILLAGE, Iringal

A Visit TO SARGAALAYA ARTS AND CRAFTS VILLAGE, Iringal

The farther I travel, closer I am to myself.

Northern Kerala or as the natives called it, ‘Malabar’ is renowned for its 3Cs – Culture, Cricket and Cake. It’s rich & distinct cultural heritage has attracted connoisseurs of art and crafts across the globe in large numbers. Famed for its unique balance of cultural intermixing and preservation, the contemporary manifestation of its proud legacy in arts and crafts can be attributed to its flourishing trade with the Arabian Peninsula, folk elements that overcame the barriers of religion, and the influence of cultural practices that has passed on for generations among the Adivasis of Wayanad.

As somebody who had spent his childhood in Malabar, a visit the Sargaalaya Arts and Crafts Village at Vadakara was nostalgic in many ways and had a sense of homecoming in the light of vagabond life that I’ve been leading off late. It rejuvenated the fading memories of Theyyam and Moodiyeetu which once use to shine brightly along with the soft glow of earthen oil lamps. I felt like being that little kid I once was, filled with all the curiosity in the world.

Sargaalaya Arts and Crafts Village is an institution that is focused on the preservation and marketing of dying crafts to ensure the welfare of the artisans from Kerala. Located around 42 kms away from the heart of Calicut city, it is easily accessible by bus and is frequented by a lot of visitors whose romanticism hasn’t suffered a premature death. Run by Uranlungal Labour Contract Society, it brings together artisans, painters, sculptors under one platform so as to facilitate them with stronger market linkages, better work conditions and higher bargaining power. Modelled in the lines of a residential community than a marketplace, the buildings of the village were a perfect blend of interactive visitor friendly spaces and workplaces that ensure focus for longer periods of time.IMG_20161030_141921_HDR.jpg

One of the first stalls that I decided to visit was that of Mr. A K Arun’s terracotta miniature sculptures. Mexican parrot, Golden Hornbill etc were so lifelike that one simply cannot stop admiring the endless talent, the sculptor possessed. Hailing from a village called Elimbinadu near Vadakara, Arun hasn’t allowed his bodily of being a mute to come in his way of putting 7-10 days of tenuous labour for completing a single sculpture.

Inspired by Arun’s determination and captivated by the extensive use of vibrant colours for bringing those avian species alive, I hesitantly moved on to the next stall to find dry flowers from Nagaland welcoming me with the enthusiasm that north-east people are famous for. There was Zara Thelma, the maker of these artificial flowers looking irritated because the village administration wouldn’t allow her to sell plastic bags to her clients. Her products were obviously too heavy for paper bags to contain. I wanted to know more about her products but decided against it, considering the bad mood she was in.

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Wood Paintings

As I strolled through the corridors of adjoining stalls, I couldn’t help but to stare at a section full of exquisitely designed palm fibers products that were weaved, braided, knotted and crocheted into palm fiber strands as fine as human hair. It was the flexibility and strength that Palm fiber offered that helped artisans to create such elegant table mats, runners, files and wall hangings that prompted customers to buy them off. I came to know that every palm trunk that meets their quality requirement are processed by immersing it in the water, followed by the strenuous beating of the same to produce fiber of the highest quality.

For long, coir products have symbolized Kerala worker’s resurgence in an increasingly corporatised market space. Creating a niche market for its own, coir jewelry is the latest fad that picking up among both urban and rural women, helping them to create an ethnic aura around them and sending the onlookers, the message of a sustainable lifestyle. As I passed numerous women who were admiring their own good looks sporting the trendy coir jewelry, I stumbled upon yet another ornamental marvel in the form of seed jewelry made out of Rice, Manjadikuru, Thottavazha Kuru, Soppekaya. Exquisite finishing on the seed products was conveying the extreme levels of dedication, patience and hand-eye coordination that had gone in.

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Bamboo Paintings

We all know screw pine (Kaitha) as mother plant of pineapple and far less people know it as a raw material for woven and hand embroidered mats and bags. The sight of female folk sitting together to cultivate precious pieces of art is satisfying social process in itself if one is not too interested in the finer aspects of jewelry. If one looks hard enough, we realize that we are witnessing poverty giving way to prosperity as water hyacinth fiber is warped, dyed and made to wind through yarn to create products that will stand out in any gallery. The craft village also seem to encourage the idea of using natural fibers over synthetic fiber such as showcasing products made out of mohair derived from angora goat and rabbit. The fact that fiber can be extracted from multiple sources such as from seed, trunk and leaves of the same plant underscores nature’s immense potential.

In the backdrop of the melodious music from the violin classes which are conducted in the village premises, I found glass fiber and bronze sculptures of Mrs. Sherin K Satheesh, (an upcoming sculptor), come to life and felt those statues to be communicating with me about how modern man have started to become more and more like a him, indifferent to situations that demanded a kind intervention.

The name NC Ayyappan is synonymous to excellence in the field of Kora grass weaving. In no time, I found myself to be speaking to him about scope and relevance of hand-woven products in an era, when alienation of handicrafts and artisans are taking palace at a faster rate than number of new facebook accounts being created in a given area. UNESCO seal of excellence given to Killimangalam Pulpaya made out of Kora grass are one of the few things to cheer about in otherwise languishing craft.img_20161030_154034

At the end of my visit, I realized that behind the business enterprise that Sargaalaya Arts and Crafts Village is, it stands for the protection of our tangible and intangible heritage. It’s unique architectural style that gives emphasis to the creation of interactive spaces and long corridors that reminds one of a bygone era adds to the overall experience of the visitor. As I bid goodbye to this temple of art, I realized the real deities of this place of worship are the human spirit and determination that has gone into the work, which we seem to have ignored somewhere along the way to the top.

As I had a final glace at the gallery through the window of my car, I could see Herbarium, Mural and Glass paintings in conversation with each other, polishing themselves up and getting ready to explore this big wide world trying to charm yet another enthusiast.

 

Economics Nobel 2016 – Macro No More Ruling the Roost

Economics Nobel 2016 – Macro No More Ruling the Roost

There was a time when Nobel Prize for Economics was monopolized by those academicians who were able to push the frontiers of macro-economics. Step motherly treatment to micro-economists, made the upcoming learners of the discipline to believe that rewards are proportional to the universality of their theories. Clearly, deductive research was the toast among the academicians during the large part of 20th century. But clearly times are changing as per Noah Smith in An Economics Nobel for Examining Reality as Micro-economics, supplemented by easy availability of data and better use of technology in analytics is surging ahead of macro-economics in terms of their improved share of Nobel prizes ever since 2005. So, it is safe to assume that ground breaking theories in the area of micro-economics will no longer remain to be harmless and unheeded salmons, but become the big white tiger sharks of economics world. It is carving out a unique space where smaller is better.

Future of India’s Development Cooperation

Future of India’s Development Cooperation

A review of the meeting conducted on 28th September 2016 by Institute of Sustainable Development and Governance. 

A paradigm shift has been long underway in the way India approaches it’s extra-territorial developmental initiatives since 2003. There has been a sustained effort to come out of the post-colonial image of a assistance recipient nation, largely driven by geopolitical strategy and fueled by our economic prowess.

At the turn of new millennium, lines of credit has emerged to be the new instruments of chequebook diplomacy. In this context, Panchsheel principles along with India’s efforts via Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme has given the much needed push towards establishing a developmental assistance regime based on enlightened national interest.

One of the consequences of the trade protectionism, financial recession and currency wars between global powers is the emergence of regional groupings. It is proposed that supra national bodies like BRICS and SAARC will serve as a platform to leverage finances at the disposal of the member nations. It is in this context one must view the emergence of New Developmental Bank which has given a new hope to the member nations of global south movement.

With sustainable developmental goals featuring high in the priorities of Non Governmental Organisations and Civil Society Organisations world over, it is only apt that India’s developmental assistance to South Asian community is focused on the same. Construction of Salma dam and Parliamentary building in Afghanistan and hydroelectric projects in Bhutan are evidences of an alternative model of developmental assistance that is approaching it’s silent watershed moment. This model is likely to focus on self reliance and non-conditionality avoiding the compulsions of free-market. Effectiveness of this model will largely be based on how clear the recipients are about what they want and in which form. To be put the issue in the framework of India’s domestic development structure, one might find similarities with India’s Panchayati Raj regime, essentially giving recipient the freedom to do what they want. In this backdrop, we are likely to find India assuming the role of a Panchayat Sarpanch among the members of global south whereas other donors would be viewed as disruptive outsiders.

Such a model is likely to align with the larger goals of the much anticipated global south south cooperation as it was on show during the  African-Indian summit of 2016. Domestically, such a model is likely to create a sense of post-colonial pride, the need of which was first found to be resonating in Bandung Conference of 1956.

What makes such a model unique apart from the obvious advantage of it being non-intrusive in nature? It is a lesser observed fact that back-end and front-end services that comes along with the developmental assistance is considerably cheaper while being supplied from India. For example, setting up a healthcare system based on generic drugs model in a global south nation is likely to be more successful than any other free-market initiative. Much admired and respected Indian feature of economic frugality and efficient use of available resource is a highly marketable product in this context.

Questioning the system and changing the status quo has always presented itself with unique challenges but history time and again has proven that a community with a better story to tell and a better developmental template to show for has eventually been accepted. In this regard, India has the potential to carve out an alternative system of developmental cooperation giving flesh to the idea of global south, which much lacking in recent times. This model can aptly be described as a messy pulp fiction but with an enormous potential to transform into a classical work that will stand the test of time.