A Film Review

Recently I saw a wonderful Malayalam movie, ‘Nanpakal nerathu mayakkam’ (titled ‘Like an afternoon dream’ in English). The movie, directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery with Mammootty in the lead role, tells a simple but strange story. A Christian group from Kerala that has gone to Tamilnadu for a pilgrimage is on the way back home in their minibus. When everyone in the bus is asleep in the afternoon, James (Mammootty), the group leader, wakes up and asks the driver to stop the bus in the middle of a deserted stretch of road in rural Tamilnadu. He gets off and walks purposefully through the fields, through the lanes of a nearby village and directly into a house with an old man sleeping on the veranda and his old blind wife listening to a movie on TV. Sundaram, the son of the house had gone missing two years ago and, strangely, James has now started walking and talking like him. The city-dwelling, Malayalam-speaking James has suddenly become transformed into the village-dwelling, Tamil-speaking Sundaram. There is much confusion with Sundaram’s wife and daughter, the villagers, and with the Kerala group that includes James’ wife and son. Finally, the next afternoon, James as Sundaram goes to sleep and wakes up as his original self. The movie has many layers of imagery and sound that I will not get into but will let you watch and find out for yourself. I wanted to talk about the movie because of some unusual Bharatiya overtones it carries.

Firstly, the movie is shot almost entirely with static wide-angle shots. This highlights and brings out the beauty of the backgrounds in which the action is happening. This includes the fields around the village, the lanes and houses of the village, the insides of the village buildings etc. Everything that the camera captures is beautiful and vibrantly alive. The stereotype of the ‘backward’ village that we get educated into is completely absent.

Secondly, there doesn’t seem to be any difference in the way that the city folk from Kerala and the village folk from Tamilnadu behave once they both realize that they have a problem they have to solve together-to get James back to Kerala. There are wise and foolish people in both groups and they communicate in Malayalam and Tamil and, in spite of their bewilderment, are all finally willing to wait and give time for whatever strange process is going on with James. One of the older men from the village says that the group is after all coming back from a pilgrimage and sometimes strange things happen.

Lastly, the movie does not talk down to its audience and gives no explanations or justifications for what is being shown and leaves the interpretations to the viewer.

I recommend that you take the time to watch this movie and hope that it warms your heart as it did mine. Do add a comment here if you see the movie.

The Empress of India

“Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death in 1901. Her reign of 63 years and 216 days is known as the Victorian era and was longer than any of her predecessors. In 1876, the British Parliament voted to grant her the additional title of Empress of India.”
– From the Wikipedia article on Queen Victoria

We had gone walking to Cubbon park in Bangalore and my wife noticed the statue of the fat queen with an inscription saying that she was the empress of India. The statue standing half-hidden and unnoticed just outside Cubbon park in the middle of a crowd of vehicles and people was looking neglected and not very empress-like. And I thought about how the mighty British empire (or what the current history textbooks call the mighty empire) had fallen so low. I also got thinking about the hubris of the fat queen from a small part of Europe who called herself the empress of a landmass some twenty times the size of her Kingdom.

Well, maybe she was reincarnated here and got sorted out. 🙂

My wife and I have also been doing a lot of train journeys across the length and breadth of India. Bangalore to Delhi, Delhi to Visakhapatnam, Visakhapatnam to Calicut, Calicut to Bangalore, Bangalore to Mumbai etc. And all our recent trips have been in sleeper class where the heat and rain and cold gets into your compartment. The great privilege you get, of course, is that you can look out of the window and experience the changing colour and texture and character of the landscape.

What I have been noticing for some time now is the hugeness of India. When the train passes through unending forests or through softly undulating green countryside or kilometers of fields or over rivers like the Godavari, I know that no human being has ever been an emperor or empress of India. Perhaps no human being has been an empress of England either but that is not my concern. To me it looks like kings and emperors with their power and pomp and marble statues have been stories we have told ourselves to forget that the land holds us and we do not hold the land.

I am also beginning to extend this logic to politicians and bureaucrats. They may continue on whatever delusional paths of imagined power they are on, but I am more certain now that I want no part of their story. I know where I have to bow my head and I know what I have to pray to!

The Experience of Bharatiyata

Recently I was at a function where there was a lot of talk about Bharatiyata. It struck me suddenly that everyone had a different understanding of what the word meant. Like the story of the blind men and the elephant. I thought of doing a survey, asking many people what they meant when they used the word. I asked a question on WhatsApp and on our Telegram channel.

‘I am doing a survey with people I know. What does ‘Bharatiyata’ mean for you? What defines it, what all meaning does the word capture for you? Can you write a short paragraph of 3-4 sentences about it? Please keep it informal and write what immediately comes up in your mind.’

The responses I got were like:
‘Connection with what we may call as ‘Source’ I think is a characteristic of Bharatiyata.’

It looked like almost everyone was answering either in the ‘doing’ realm or the realm of ideas and ideologies. Very few people talked about what Bharatiyata meant in their lived experience. This I thought was because of my inability to communicate my query properly. I rephrased the question as:

‘I am doing a survey with people I know. How do you experience ‘Bharatiyata’? Can you write a short paragraph of 3-4 sentences about it? Please do not write about the experience of others or of what you have read or heard. In other words, the question is not about what you think but what you experience. Not your vichar but your anubhav. Thanks in advance for your response.’

The responses I got were like:
‘भारतीयता धार्मिकता है| यह “होने” में है…’

Much better, but this looked like something that needed going into a little bit more, and I thought that doing a ‘Dayaron se pare’ video recording with Pawanji would help. I think some important insights came up when we recorded the video. I will upload it on the SIDH channel next Saturday.

I also got a response that this is a serious question that is impossible to answer in a casual survey and that educated people like us have no experience of Bharat. The injunction was that we need to ask some expert like Samdhong Rinpocheji. This seemed a little extreme to me. My logic was that I have lived here my entire life, I have been steeped in the sights and sounds of this country, my physical body is made of this soil, I (more-or-less) speak four Indian languages, my thoughts and emotions are moulded by this land, I am deeply moved by the people, places, flora and fauna of this land. How is it that I am unqualified to talk about my experience of Bharat and Bharatiyata? 

In other words, Bharatiyata is part of my daily lived experience. Even if it is a distorted version of some ideal of what Bharatiyata should mean. What do you think?