Monday, November 21, 2005

Malayalam Literature/Cinema.

Amit Varma, in a series of posts, links to and talks about writers in local languages and problems that they face, especially increasing "globalisation" trends, due to which people now consider knowledge of English a "superior" trait ! I think the argument may be extrapolated for local language movie industries as well...for all, except probably one particular indian language...

While I do believe that many excellent authors who write in their local languages face a diminishing readership, malayalam literature (another link), with its vast array of talented writers, is still able to hold its own. Stalwarts in malayalam literature such as MT Vasudevan Nair, OV Vijayan, Thakazhi Sivasankaran Pillai, Vayalar Ramavarma, Changampuzha Krishna Pillai, Vaikkom Mohammad Basheer, etc., still command enormous respect and readership across all age groups of Kerala (and expat, fraud* malayalees) -- in fact, perhaps more than indian authors who write in English (yes, definitely more popular than Arundhati Roy), or popular english language books. Many have gone on to win great literary awards (including the Jnanpith Award). While some of these writers have passed on, their works and movies/television serials/plays/etc. inspired by their works, still remain immensely popular - within cities and towns as well as the rustic countryside of Kerala. To find someone who lives there and has not heard of or even read and admired at least one of the seminal works of any of the above authors, is well, a next-to-impossible task, in my opinion. In fact, they have inspired many authors in succeeding generations, (V C Sreejayan comes immediately to my mind), who are also popular.

A related topic, perhaps, is malayalam cinema. While malayalam has seen its share of "blockbusters" and lavish locales and song-and-dance sequences that are prevalent throughout most of Indian cinema, most popular movies have been of the intelligent, thought-provoking variety. They encompass the complete spectrum of movie-making -- social issues, personal relationships, soul-searching and character studies, comedies, intense tragedies, family entertainers, literary adaptations, and even action movies ! And very rarely will you find tacky movies being produced in this film industry. The most interesting part, is that what the rest of the world would consider "art"/"off-beat" cinema will run to packed movie halls in Kerala, which has been proven time and again, by Adoor Gopalakrishnan (IMDB link), who has been a prominent influence in the industry for decades now, and has been responsible for many films (Elippathayam, Mathilukal, Vidheyan, etc.) that have brought national and international repute to Malayalam and Indian cinema in general. Jayaraaj, with his vast array of relatively low-budget, intense, social movies, is in my opinion, one of the finest directors of all time. Many of his movies (Paithrekam, Kaliyattam, 4 the People, etc.) have not only been fantastic movies with cult followings, but have also topped box-office charts and find a special place in our hearts. Other prominent filmmakers include -- Fazil, I. V. Sasi, Priyadarshan, Sreenivasan, etc. (the list of talented directors is really long actually). Various malayalam actors, actresses, directors, musicians, etc. have received state, national and international awards for their performances/creativity on numerous occasions (Mammootty, Mohanlal, Suresh Gopi, Shobhana, Yesudas, etc.).

Be warned though, that the public in Kerala is highly intelligent, educated and well-read. Mediocre or sub-standard efforts are treated with as much disdain as in the rest of the country - perhaps even more. In fact, a big name does not equate to instantaneous success -- many of the people mentioned above have had to find out the hard way !

So what makes Kerala and malayalis in general different ? If I were to venture a guess (an educated one at that), I'd say it is
  • the high rate of literacy -higher than 90% in most places, and as high as 100% in some villages and districts
  • education at the primary level in the local language (which not only provides increased knowledge about the cultural, literary and historical traditions of the state, but also instills a sense of pride in them).
So, while I do believe that many indian languages are under threat from English and may be pushed into inferior roles in the cultural domain, what is perhaps necessary, is not just translations to make the works available to wider audiences, but to ensure that people from each state are made aware of depth of their cultures from the grassroots level. Even schools that are "english-medium" must make an effort to educate children about their local cultures. This is perhaps the only way to ensure that the English langauge does not corrode the vast cultural history of India.

* fraud malayalis - people who were raised outside of the state of Kerala (yours truly included) !


Anonymous said...

huh!U r a die-hard mallu(fan) rnt u?? :)..well i do agree with the theme of ur blog but these r only the 'pros' what about the 'cons'??lost in ur raging :)
-yet another fraud mallu!

Sib said...

Ha ! Ha ! Ha ! Well put Smitha...

Its not that I'm a die-had mallu fan...

I just happen to like and admite Malayalam movies and literature and I was actually using that as an example to show how grassroots level movements as well as literacy are very important to improve knowledge, understanding and pride in local cultures !

Malayalam writers said...

its rare that blogs on this kind of subjects. this is a good one

Anonymous said...

Happy vishu to all readers of this blog. May this vishu brings you luck and prospertiy

vishu greetings

bhattathiri said...

Excellent blog.One of the greatest poetess, story writer and novelists in Kerala is Lalithambika Antherjanam who can be called and a literary historian and her writings are a heavily debated topic. Because of her earnest effort today women are largely educated and daughters are thought to be as prized as sons. Kerala has been praised for its treatment of women because of characteristics such as these. However, Lalithambika Antherjanam's writing speaks to some of the problems for Malayali women especially namboodiri women were often forced into seclusion in their homes, especially during adolescence. If they went out they would have to cover themselves. Even among other castes, the place of women in Kerala society is questioned. While women have had the opportunity to be educated for many years in Kerala, this education has not necessarily meant an elevated position in society Kerala society. Her independent -view and their realistic style make them part of a broader phenomenon of modernity through which, writers and thinkers around the world have tried to move away from the traditional cultural paradigms into the certainties of the age of the scientific temper. Although she was part of the most powerful priest cum landlord Brahmin caste of Kerala, her life-work was the exposure and destruction of the hypocrisy, violence and injustice with which women were treated in Namboodiri society. She was not allowed to study in school, and could only glean scraps of information about the outside world through male relatives who were kind enough to tell her about current affairs. "The stories and the autobiographical fragments in this collection are engaged and critical accounts of life in Namboodiri households. Set in the thirties, forties and fifties, these texts bring alive the world into which Lalithambika Antherjanam (1909-1985) was born. They record in vivid detail the physical incarceration, the mental agony and the terrorizing disciplinary holds of rituals of purity with an intimacy that can only come from one who writes from experience. Yet these stories are also accounts of individual women's protests, and these range from the ones that shake the polity, to ones that subtly re-order the immediate world. Surprisingly little known outside Kerala, her work provides invaluable insight into the little documented social reform and nationalist movements of Kerala. The introduction places the author and her work in the cultural history of Kerala." Her stories throb with the tormented reality of the Namboodiri illam or household: unbearable social restriction, rigid sexual mores, lives ruled by the maintenance of ritual purity, the extreme oppression of widows