19(1)(a) A Strong Social Drama with Feminist Lenses

in 27th International Film Festival of Kerala

by Narendra Bandabe

Indhu VS’s movie 19(1)(a) won the FIPRESCI Award for Best Malayalam Film from the first or second film of a Director from Malayalam Cinema Today sections at the International Film Festival of Kerala 2022, Thiruanantpuram, Kerala, India. FIPRESCI Member’s citations for movie were :

“Indhu VS’ promising, competent debut feature 19(1)(a) lays bare the necessity for intellectual discourse and inquiry amidst the rising wave of intolerance everywhere. Cleverly written and conceived and, it gives hope to the common people across the world, to take conscious decisions and understand the weight of responsibility on their shoulders. Although the status quo in all their machinations will continue to suppress voices of dissent, the freedom of speech and expression remains a fundamental right of every human being and 19(1)(a) makes a strong case for it.”

Film 19(1)(a) as a social drama highlighted many issues in India. The story was told through a young woman Penkutty who owns a photocopy shop and loves driving her bike.. Her monotonous life tumble when a revolutionary writer, Gauri Shanker leaves his unpublished novel with her and gets killed by an unidentified gunmen on the same night. It is alleged that he was eliminated for having the difference of opinion with Hindu hardliners who are in power. His murder created the heat in the social circle of  the southern states of India. Protagonist Penkutty came to know about the killing through TV news and was shocked. She was not aware of his work and novels. Shocked and curious, Penkutty started understanding the issues raised by Gauri Shankar and its importance for the common man in India. Now she decided to reveal his last novel Kurup which deals with the darkness and evils in the Indian society. The process of awakening of common man to raise the concerned about wrong doings in the society is  done with a feminist approach by director Indhu VS.

The film has a connection to the four revolutionary writer’s murders in India in recent time. Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, Comrade Govind Pansare, Gauri Lankesh and Dr M M Karburgi were killed in India. All are known for their writing and criticism on the  saffronisation of society after the rightist party with Hindu ideology came to the power in 2014 in India. Four of them were killed in daylight while doing their work fearlessly. No case was solved till now. More than half dozens of intellectuals including writer, academics and social workers  were put in the jail recently alleging them as sympathizer of the Naxals. Many are in their seventies; they are not allowed for bail or parole.

19(1)(a) is well related to these incidences. It shows how such kind of incidences are unknowingly related to common man. The feminist approach is subtle. It gives emotional touch to the narrative. 19(1)(a) article in the Indian constitution is about the freedom of speech and expression. The film highlighted how  the system has been suppressing the rights of citizen and with such incidences mundane life of common man changes drastically.  Watching the film The common man gets the sense of responsibility and he/she bound to perform his/her duty to highlight the wrong doing in the society.. This process was well conveyed through one of the song in the film with lines, “A lone wind blow into her, like a weary traveler looking for shade, found she comes alive. The trap door to the memory shut to light, slowly open golden with life.” 

Actors Nithya Menon as Penkutty and Vijay Sethupathy as the revolutionary writer, have shown the reality to the Indian society. Indhu VS ,a first time director proclaims herself a feminist. With the strong woman character, which shows the complex and rigid society of the in India, Indhu VS help global audience to understand the issues of modern India. Apart from its political subtext, it delves into the issues of climate change, womens rights and patriarchal gender politics. 

The One hour and forty-eight minute film starts with the simple woman, Ms.Penkutty, who is immersed in her own life. As conflict developed, a simple woman becomes a responsible citizen. That is the highlight of the movie.

Narendra Bandabe 
Edited by Ron Fogel