HONEY BEE 2: The Angels and Subalterns of Malayalam Cinema
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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.