"Lucky Red Seeds": The Double Look By Chris Fujiwara

in 13rd Kerala International Film Festival

by Chris Fujiwara

In Lucky Red Seeds (Manjadikkuru), the cruel workings of capitalism, through their effects on an extended family that has gathered at their dead patriarch’s home in rural Kerala for the reading of the will that is to decide the disposition of the family fortune, are perceived through two filters. One filter is the consciousness of the hero, a ten-year-old boy, the most promising member of the family’s youngest generation, who narrates the story (in voice-over) from his later perspective as an adult looking back on these days of childhood as a turning point in his life.

The second filter is harder to locate and works in a less direct manner. It has to do with the desires of the audience. Even though the boy’s point of view dominates, it doesn’t entirely restrict the film. We are shown glimpses of interactions that take place only among the adults, from which the boy and his young companions (two other family members and a young servant girl) are excluded; we are given enough information to assess the real stakes in the drama that is taking place and the real motives and biases of the actors in the drama. If we choose, however, to pretend that we are seeing events from the point of view of the boy, let’s not be under illusions about this choice. There is a connection between childhood and cinema (think of Night of the Hunter, Moonfleet, Les 400 coups, Spirit of the Beehive…), which first-time director Anjali Menon exploits beautifully, knowing she can count on the audience to follow the path that leads back from adulthood, with its calculations of profit and loss, to the pure risk and adventure of childhood, by way of the rhapsodic and seductive image on which she expends so much skill.

The film is at its most poignant in dealing with the young servant girl. It’s in relation to her that the hero’s song of innocence darkens into a song of experience. In a sense, this girl is a closer surrogate for the viewer than the hero, or, perhaps, a different, more modern kind of surrogate. For whereas the hero represents the viewer as split into two people, the innocent boy living his adventures and the experienced man ruminating on them, the girl is both these people at once: the person who knows (she is a little older than the other children, and the slight gap in ages is decisive) the truth about caste division and social injustice, and who perhaps (the film doesn’t apparently insist on this, but allows us to imagine) already knows or divines more than the other children about how gender and sexuality inform the adult world, but also the one who allows herself to be seduced back, almost against her will and against her better judgment (because she knows it will end badly), into the childhood world of limitless possibility, the idyllic landscape that existed before the adults set up their walls that cast their long shadows over everything.

The two beautiful and haunting climaxes of the film are the moments when these audience-surrogates — the boy and the girl — face each other across the space of a cut, in shot/reverse-shot. The first time, they are inside an illusion: the girl on a bus, escaping her grim fate as a domestic slave and on her way back to the lost paradise of her own family; the boy staying behind, a little sad over their separation but proud of his part in helping her win her freedom. The second time, they are inside reality: the girl delivered back to servitude, bruised and smarting from severe blows; the boy suddenly realizing, from her eyes, that in having seduced her into a false innocence he committed the worst crime against her. Here is not just a lesson in the ways of society but a metaphorical lesson for the audience, the kind of lesson that (as one imagines, or remembers, while watching Lucky Red Seeds) the cinema was invented to teach.