Sunday, July 16, 2017

REPETITION: An Old Story

"Champions keep playing until they get it right.” - Billie Jean King
 
In repetition lies the reality of success. Repetition without total commitment and passion is, however, a waste of time.

Often, in classrooms, I give repetitive writing exercises to my students. Most of them would certainly show a tired face or boo my instruction right away. I always take it as a good occasion to tell them the significance of repeating words and sentences on paper.

I unveiled the same measure in an English Literature classroom about six months ago.
I saw the tired faces. I saw the silent frustration and the booing from the backbench.

“All great writers did this exercise. This is the rhythm of creation. Write, repeat… write, repeat.” I sing sang my words into that chaos of conflicting interests in front of me. 

“Didn’t you get the reason why I want you people to do this?” I asked.

“No,” they said. “Why do we care?”

I looked into their faces. Innocent, yet affirmative. I thought, why on earth did I become a teacher!

What they said was their honest response. However, their words were sharp. It hurt the teacher in me… or should I say the ego of the teacher in me?

“Sir, do you have any printed notes for us?” suddenly, someone stood up and saved me from the state of embarrassment. 

“Why do you want printed notes?” I enquired, a little frustrated because, in the previous class, I had told them that by doing the classroom assignments they’d be able to answer all question in their examinations. There need not be any note-giving in this class. They simply did not need it, I had arrogantly concluded.

It was a girl student named B. I had thought that she was saving me from the embarrassment of facing the earlier response of the students. But it was clear now that she was only stabbing me behind my back.

“Printed notes are for losers,” I said aloud. “They will destroy your ability to think and write for yourself. Write. Find your own voice.”

“Sir,” the girl student who sat next to B, named F stood up. 
“Yes,” I looked at her, regretting that I shouted, perhaps unnecessarily, at my good student B.
F looked around and asked hesitantly, “Can you dictate those printed notes for us, then? We will write it down in our notebooks.”

Saturday, July 15, 2017

ACTOR DILEEP: When the Mob Dictates the Punishment

Events like what has transpired in the previous few weeks related to the arrest of Actor Dileep used to be rare in Kerala society about a couple of decades ago. With the growth in visual media and the arrival of digital media, the news has metamorphosed into a show. If it’s a show, there must be a director. Who is the direction of this grand show?

The police have taken actor Dileep to various places for evidence collection. Various media reported that mobs have chased the crew with angry slogans. Perhaps, this is the bottom end of the mountain of showbiz looks like. It’s a deep bottom filled with dark irony.

The value of any actor in Malayalam cinema is based on the number people who cheer for him or her. This is the same criteria for much of Indian cinema. The irony is that the same number of people make a mob that pursue someone, whatever the reason is.

When a mob dictates punishment, the potential to postpone justice for the given culture increases. We have seen the same in Northern states where mobs kill individuals in the name of caste, keeping beef, or stealing money. We are a republic, a civilised society, with our very own judicial system. When a mob conceives the right to deliver punishment, the system breaks down.

Actor Dileep is accused of conspiring to assault and rape an actor. Let the judiciary decide what punishment it thinks relevant this man is to be delivered to. Let the trials happen.

A group of people seems to win any argument in Kerala. Various groups have wiped out many murders, political or apolitical. This must change.

Crimes are abominable. Every crime is. The system must be able to prevent each of these crimes. If the system fails to prevent crimes from happening, if the system fails to instil in the subjects of a state the security and confidence it deserves, then people will rise up and take the necessary measures to prevent future crimes by committing more crimes. They will also take revenge against crimes that were left unchecked in the past.

The mob eruption in the actor assault case has a historicity. The culture has a history of many such cases where women were assaulted and the culprits remained either unpunished or found ways to dilute the punishment by playing the judiciary. For example, the Soumya murder case.

When the society fails to win the trust of its subjects, the culture rises up against the social system. One of the many reasons for the presence of these large mobs in the actor issue is due to such a failure of the society. Mob justice is not a solution. It’s a problem.

When a woman is assaulted, we must take part actively in relocating our priorities through bringing the discussion to the forefront of the society. However, a group of people, under a flag or a label, should not be lead to demolish properties or kill other people in the name of justice. We cannot all be criminals. Criminals should be punished. But by punishing them, we cannot afford to lose our sense of justice. That would bring total disaster to the thin line that separates justice and injustice.   

Friday, July 14, 2017

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO FOLLOW YOUR DREAM?

If you have a dream that keeps you awake all night, that inspires you, motivates you, fills you with enthusiasm and hope, gives you the courage to face any challenge, then you must do something to materialise it. Enthusiasm is a language that our soul understands. It’s an instruction from the realm beyond ours.

If a dream, a desire, or a thought fills us up with enthusiasm, that dream, desire, or thought deserves to be actualized. It is meant to actualize anyway. Whether you would become its bridge to this world or not, is the question.

If it is, a dream about writing a book that fills you with enthusiasm, that book must be written. That book is meant to be written. Someone will write it if it’s not you. But where is the magic if it’s not you who is writing the book?

I have seen people whose life standard could officially be classified ‘pathetic’ in terms of our general culture. But some of these people have a radiance about them. I cannot name these. They are in search of their key moments, to open the door to their dream realm. Any mention of their names could jeopardise their journey.

The intention with which they serve the dream fills them with radiance and liveliness.

If you don’t follow your enthusiasm your mind would rebel and this will lead you to many troubles. Soon your body would mimic the madness of your mind and this will reflect in the breaking down of your physiology. By not following a dream, you gain nothing. The way to stay healthy and alive is to follow that incessant calling that you heard from the deep recesses of your subconscious mind. Follow the call of enthusiasm. Follow your dreams.   

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

DILEEP, MALAYALAM CINEMA, AND THE FUTURE OF A MEMORY

How well the episode of public scrutiny played out through the past few weeks if not months in the media! “The Actress Abduction Case” was relayed in the media as if it was a mega reality show. The investigation and the various twists that followed were all showcased for the hungry audiences. It was a classic thriller of a certain variety, which even nullified all other competitions and nailed the attention of the audience.

There was a victim. There was a perpetrator, (who for some people, due to some reason, was also a scapegoat). There was a show.

What Kerala witnessed though the past few weeks is the ultimate pinnacle of the showbiz. I say ‘ultimate pinnacle’ because show business has attained new heights in this mega reality show. The showbiz entered into the discourse of morality and ethics, not on a silver screen, as usual. The difference, this time, is that the showbiz entered into the realm of reality and played foul and is caught in doing so, on screen.

In the age of camera and digital distribution, an event on screen is a scene engraved for millions of eyes, for an infinite repetitive performance. Each day, the news bulletins are full of content on the abduction issue repeating the same faces and finding new angles for the event. Dileep, the culprit, according to the Kerala Police, has already undergone punishment. Remember, punishment is a loaded term. The term has a history that meant torture techniques like flagellation, crucifixion, hanging till death, etc. In the digital era, punishment apparently means a psychological torture through moral scrutiny in public. The culprit simply could not deny his involvement in such an event because the event and the many events that lead to the major event are all recorded. These records are audio-visual, mostly. 

Dileep has already been undergoing a punishment. The society of media and the followers of the media at large have a major role in enacting this punishment. The Indian legal system is yet to decide on shreds of evidence and punishment through its judgment. As per the rule of law, the conclusion of this event is yet to appear. Justice to the molested actress is yet to be delivered. But that is the legal side. The social side of this event has already announced its concluding verdict. The man behind the conspiracy is revealed. His acts are the centre of all scrutiny.

Such a scrutiny in public is the punishment. This man has a family, relatives, and friends. All his social relations along with the others will suffer a great deal in this public scrutiny. One man’s action is burning the whole family down. Thinking and visualising how those others will suffer may surely have an impact on the psyche of the culprit who is undergoing public scrutiny. His punishment is psychological not just in facing his own humiliation in public, but also in knowing that his beloved ones are being cornered and suffering due to his own actions.  

Now the question comes to whether Dileep could make a comeback to Malayalam cinema and to the media society of Kerala in general. It seems dubious, but not impossible. However, this possibility exists only if he could keep himself out of jail by playing legal games. They say that if the police could establish his crime in court, he may even get a life sentence. This could be a very serious problem for him. However, he has advocates like Adv. Ram Kumar appearing for him. This could give him a slight advantage.

How could Malayalam cinema get rid of the influence of Dileep? Not in the artistic sense. Dileep definitely has a significant space in the history of Malayalam cinema. At least, he would be the first lead actor in Malayalam cinema to be arrested on the charges of conspiring to abduct and rape an actress. So the history of Malayalam cinema wouldn’t be written without his name in it. What about the other influence, then?

The influence this man has in Malayalam film industry was evident in one of the previous meeting organised by the major union of actors. Even the mainstream major actors kept silence in front of the questions from journalists on the actress abduction case and Dileep’s involvement in it. A few of them even used caustic language at the journalists and attempted to divert the issue into one where one of their male members was being victimised for the mishap in the life of one of their female members.

From the body language of the members of this organisation of actors in Malayalam cinema, it was clear that they were under the influence of a powerful and corrupt system. Some newspapers and television channels attributed the term “mafia” for this system. It isn’t a secret that many senior actors in Malayalam cinema have formed their own ‘teams’ or ‘lobbies’. Malayalam cinema isn’t a totality. Everyone knows that it is fragmented in many ways: the Trivandrum lobby of upper-caste members, the mid-Travancore lobby of egotists and businessmen, the third lobby of Other Backward Caste members, etc. Dileep is not the first person who established such a ‘system’ in Malayalam cinema. He merely used one of these systems or the ideology of these systems that are already in existence for his purpose.

Would it even be thinkable for people who control the business of cinema in Kerala to break down this system itself? Can they dismantle all these lobbies?

The memory of the actress abduction incident is the only backdrop against which one could, at least, discuss these issues. Therefore, the memory of this event is the beacon that our culture has, at the moment, to cleanse Malayalam cinema of these malign influences.


This memory is etched across the culture of cameras and digital transmission. Everyone has seen the culprit and the way he attempted to save himself. Instead of saving himself, all his attempts made his fall even more sinister and amoral. If Malayalam cinema is to exist, it has to actively keep the memory of this crime against a woman, alive for the future.  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

HONEY BEE 2: The Angels and Subalterns of Malayalam Cinema

Image Courtesy: Google
More than the success of this film, a controversial day made it appear on my radar. A prominent actress was abducted and attacked in Kochi. Among the reports that poured in after the assault, someone mentioned that the actress had played the female lead in Honey Bee 2. Someone had used this as an instance to criticize the society and culture in general for promoting such films. This scene occurred in a mainstream news show. The discourse was later repeated in various news shows. When a woman is attacked on the streets of Kochi, Kerala’s financial capital, a different sort of moral consciousness rose up.

The discussion of morality that is foregrounded here is not that same stand of moral policing that shamelessly dances on the streets of Kerala when a man and a woman share an intimate moment in public. This moral show is a different one. The whole culture takes part in it and a sexist bias takes over the discussions that follows. The victim is victimized further to the point that the status of the victim grows larger than the real-life victim. The culprit, at this juncture, where too much media discussion explodes the topic on the face of the culture, takes up the role of the victim and cries for mercy. Once this scenario is born, no one is sure who the victim is and who the culprit.

I noticed the name of this film way back when its first part was released in 2013. Honey Bee is a popular brand of liquor in Kerala. As a young boy, I remember seeing bottles of Honey Bee strewn across the hidden open spaces around every bush on the dirt road that meets Edayannur, where my post office is situated, from the South. In Kannur, Mahe, which is a territory part of Pondicherry, is the centre of alcohol availability.

In the selective process that marks the tradition in any given culture, this film was sidelined as a handicapped production. The reviewers were never considerate towards a film with booze as it major theme. The so-called “serious film critics” only treated Honey Bee as a mass entertainer with a major flaw in the message it delivered to the public. In Kerala, the moral code suggests that all can write or make films against booze consumption, but no one could go pro. Spirit, released in 2012, written and directed by Ranjith is one among many anti-alcoholism films.

When one goes through the history of Malayalam cinema in terms of its subject matters and symbolism, one may observe an irony. It is rather fear of showing pro-alcoholism and its aftermath than the concern towards health that makes Malayalam film makers to produces movies that appease this anti-alcoholistic moral code. It is fear, not genuine concern for constructing a healthy society. Alcohol consumption has always been the symbol for masculinity in malayalam cinema, among many such symbols. A popular example is the super hit film Devasuram (1993) in which the protagonist portrayed by Mohanlal consumes alcohol with tender coconut water.

Within this cliche of moral codes, Honey Bee 2 (2017) occupies the ‘asylum’ reserved for the deviant member in public discourse, especially among the talk shows on popular news channels. Recently, in a classroom, I inquired the students if they could suggest some films that have any social influence. “This could be negative influence. Don’t just stick with the pleasant movies”, I clarified. I posed this question with the premise that films and art in general have some influence in society. It’s a debatable point. However, I do consider such an influence to be real. Sometimes, such an influence could go in harmony with the moral codes in a society. Occasionally, this harmony is broken.

The students were vibrant. They started discussing among themselves. When I opened the discussion, many names came up. All of the films referred to were in perfect harmony with the moral code that ruled the society of Kerala. I stressed the point that this balance could be reversed, sometimes. I did not, at that point, in my mind the name of Honey Bee film. And there it comes.

A students stood up and said, “Honey Bee.”

If a film disturbs the harmony that is regulated by some moral code, is it necessary to eliminate that film from the documentation of our tradition of serious art? Let me take this argument further by expanding the space for all of artistic productions. Is it necessary to kill a particular form of art, simply because it denies the existing moral standard? If that is so, Where does this code come from? This society, as I mentioned earlier, does not have an essential code of morality. The code in existence is amoral, as grotesque as the reality portrayed in the film, whether it’s the case of alcohol consumption or unbridled violence. Thus, Honey Bee 2 becomes a reflection of a social imbalance in its theme.

The broken English used by the characters as well as the lengthy babble made by Harisree Ashokan’s character, Potti Master Uri, on the culinary bias of the modern-day Malayalees also deserve a close observation.
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