'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ravi, Frida and Pilar

As he locked the door and turned away, Ravi shut his eyes tight. He said softly: "Father of Eventide Journeys, Grant me leave as I depart from this little nest of sewn up Mandaram leaves!"

- Khasak

Malayalam filmmaker Ranjit's most critically acclaimed films so far have been 'Paleri Manikyam' and 'Pranchiyettan' (both were big money-spinners as well). But I don't think either was a masterpiece. Admittedly, 'Paleri' had an absolutely authentic-looking central character played by Mammootty and interesting observations on the Communist movement of north Kerala but its core story not much more than a dumbed-down parody of Karamasov - brothers troubled and haunted by the shared karma of a dead father and his bank of sins, a burden they can only add to. 'Pranchiyettan' had its moments as well but was marred by several clumsy passages ( the advent of 'Padmasree' and the silly yoga-master to name a couple), not to speak of its tasteless swipe at Oscar-winner Rasool Pookkutty.

Now Ranjit has come up with 'Njaan'. It does not seem to have won the same acclaim as the aforementioned films; and it certainly did not make much money. But I found 'Njaan' distinctly more interesting than anything its maker did earlier.

I confess my judgement is colored by personal experience: the frame story of 'Njaan' is driven by a seemingly successful IT professional who writes a widely-red blog and has decided to write a play, an event eagerly anticipated by some hard-core (and hugely appreciative) theatre buffs. The parallels: I was in IT for long, I certainly blog and I have written a play. The divergences: I never had it very good in IT, my blog has had but a handful of readers and the play I wrote and published several years ago was a non-event.

Now for the real stuff:

Watching 'Njaan', one senses 'Paleri' persisting as a hangover in many of the key elements - an investigator so omniscient he does not need to investigate anything, a son haunted by his late father's moral transgressions... (and the over-appreciative theatre group, eagerly lapping up everything ladled out by the all-knowing young hero, is a throwback to yet another Ranjit film, 'Thirakkatha'). But, slowly examining the protagonist Narayanan's bond with an illegitimate half-brother born to a free-spirited 'Kurathi' fortune-teller (the latter was also hired from beyond the pale of caste-restrictions as wet-nurse to the legitimate son), 'Njan' matures to connect with Khasakian dilemmas of lust and guilt and their oppressive karmic baggage. Also striking were the film's snatches of fantasy (or is it magical realism?) - the increasingly disturbed Narayanan puts up dozens of little mirrors on the walls of his room and they all begin to show the specter of his recently deceased aunt; in another episode, his blind bride 'sees' long-gone ancestors peering beatifically at the couple from a balcony. Towards the close, setting out on his final fateful journey, Narayanan confronts his father's spirit and speaks lines which are almost identical to Ravi's final farewell to his absent father (that the young investigator probing Narayanan's dark secrets is also named Ravi was almost certainly a conscious decision).

The day after I saw the film, I heard Artist-Scholar Dr. C S Jayaram speak on 'Ekphrasis'. During the course of his hugely informative and provocative presentation, Prof. Jayaram presented an extended meditation on the painting My Nurse and I by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. I was struck by the uncanny parallels between the Native American wet-nurse's shower of milk and the outcaste Kurathi's unfettered generosity.

And just as I was keying in the above lines, thoughts wandered off again towards Latin America and fetched from some dark corner, vague memories of a character from Marquez's 'One Hundred Years of Soliutde'. Searching online, I saw this page. Excerpts.

"(In the scheme of 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'), Unlike the "proper" women of Macondo's founding generation, Pilar Ternara is a free-wheeling agent, answerable to no one—the complete opposite of proper and sexually repressed characters such as Úrsula and Fernanda del Carpio. She arrives in the Buendía household to help with the domestic tasks and progresses from managing the kitchen chores to sexually initiating the Buendía sons into manhood and fatherhood. ... But sexual attraction is not the only reason this raunchy woman acts like a magnet for the Buendía men. It's her spontaneity, emotional understanding and unconditional devotion that draw them to her. Along with her raucous peals of laughter Pilar dispenses tenderness, compassion, and a joie de vivre that's missing in the Buendía women. ...

Pilar represents a different dimension of female power. In some ways she's traditional, completely loyal and devoted to caring for her men. But Pilar cannot escape her low social status, nor she does not have the seal of approval that comes with marriage. She is not a wife, but a prostitute. Pilar gives birth to the first offspring of the Buendía sons, making it possible for the Buendía lineage to carry on. Despite being a pariah she occupies a privileged space in the novel, right alongside "decent" women. The only Buendía to decipher the gypsy manuscripts goes to Pilar for the advice he needed to continue on. Her powers go beyond the arts of domesticity—she heals the psyche and reads the future in the Tarot....Buendía women like Úrsula, Rebeca, and Meme seek out Pilar and her cards, as do the men, during times of doubt or crisis. Clearly, Pilar, as possessor of the secrets of fertility, memory, eroticism and clairvoyance, occupies a primary and critical space in the novel..."

For long many critics have been looking for parallels between Macondo and Khasak. Vijayan often had to take and parry questions on the alleged debt he owed Marquez (although, to my knowledge, nobody asked Marquez whether he knew of Khasak before writing '... Solitude'). However, very personally speaking, 'Njaan' has become a very real and interesting bridge between the two masterworks.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Paniyeli Poru - a Prelude

Periyar is Kerala's largest river by far; it is perennial and in a fair monsoon year, a mighty torrent. Near the village of Paniyeli, around 40 km from the heart of Cochin, is Paniyeli Poru, a rock-strewn and turbulent stretch of Periyar. In this context, the Malayalam word 'poru' can only mean 'rapids'. In most other(?) contexts, the word means 'struggle'.

Today afternoon. A pleasant hour and half drive from home takes me to the gateway to Paniyeli Poru. The surroundings are lush green, the weather inviting. A uniformed woman (the place is maintained by the Forest Dept) tells me to cough up thirty rupees for entry; then follows half a kilometer of atrocious mudpaths to a clearing amidst tall trees - the parking area. The monsoon-swollen river could be seen rushing past. I hear from someone the 'poru' proper are a kilometer upstream and a cobbled pathway leads off along the bank. I follow it...

... for two minutes. Two men appeared and told me to halt. One was youngish and in smart khaki, the other, older man was in shabby khaki. Shabby says: "We are closing. So you can't go further."

Self: So soon? But it is only 4.35 pm. 2 hours of daylight left!

Shabby: The place has to cleared by 6 so now Sir (he motions towards Smart) will go in and fetch those holidayers who are in the main Poru area. And that will take time.

Smart: Yes, people just come and wallow in the water and I have to herd them out!

Self: I came from far. And it is not too late. What if I come with you as you go in and walk next to you both ways. I won't cause any delay and won't hinder your work.

Smart: But then, other people will come and ask me to take them in too...

Self: But there isn't anybody else!

Smart: Wait five minutes and more tourists will come!

Self: But we could start straightaway and he (indicating Shabby) is here. So, ..

Shabby (to Self): I can't remain on guard here. I need to go home; been here since morning!

Smart: That is right. I have to now go in ... and they keep coming in!

Self: At least for 10-15 minutes,....

Smart: No. Rule is rule and it applies to everyone. I can't make an exception for you.

Self: But the rule says 6 pm you said. It is not yet 4.45 and I have a proper ticket!

Smart: But if we let you in and something happens to you, we will be in trouble. And ... we need to go home, right?

Shabby: Yes Sir. That is what I said to him upfront (pokes his jaw in my direction).....

I turn and walk back a hundred meters and look back briefly; the two are still there and appear to be chatting. Presently, a bunch of tourists pass me. I don't pause to see what is being done to them.

Near the exit, I see a woman employee.

I ask: What time does this place really close?

She: 6 pm. We stop giving tickets at 5.

Self: I took the ticket at 4.35 and was denied entry to the main Poru area by two fellows out there. They said I was late. Weird! ....

She: You mean... they were Forest staff?

Self: Seems so, two characters in khaki. One was a certain ..... (I had read Smart's nameplate)

She: Oh, he is our Sir!

Self: Really?! From the way he talked, I thought He was the one who created this river... or at the very least, that he is sole heir to this property! And he is a mere Sir, tsk tsk! Anyways, thanks Chechi! looks like this is a nice place; I shall be back!