God’s own country, as Kerala calls itself, has a deep culture, a unique cuisine and a landscape of great beauty. What makes it even more attractive during the month of December each year is the intellectual pursuit of cinema which over the years has been able to draw film buffs from all over the world to Thiruvantapuram, the cultural capital of Kerala. Organised by the Kerala Chalachitra Academy, the 18th edition of the Festival conferred a life time achievement award to Spain’s Carlos Saura and welcomed the maverick director Kim Ki Duk as the chief guest. The Festival also handpicked the best it can find of the local Malayalam cinema. For many years India has been largely represented abroad by the Bollywood. Yet the best films are not in Hindi but the regional films of Ray (Bengal), Adoor Gopalakrishnan (Malayalam) and others who have placed India on the world map with serious themes.
The seven feature films on the Malayalam programme were diverse in subject matter and treatment and reveal a lot about the talent these film makers have. It was a tough job for the FIPRESCI jury to decide on the best film in the section. Annayam Rasoolam is a brilliant film by veteran cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, in which the new superstar Fahad Fazil acts with great confidence and the non linear narrative makes the audience to do some thinking. Shyamaprasad is no new name for the serious audience since his Ore Kadal saw his rise as a good filmmaker. His latest English is well made but not as poignant as Artist, which was screened at the all-India festival in Goa. Youngest of a family of filmmakers, Sanjeev Sivan came up with the Endless Summer as his debut feature and had excellent performances from Salim Kumar and Seema Biswas. 5 Sundarikal is a bunch of short films by five prolific new generation directors. It is a set of women-centric films and has some heart rendering stories and an experimental film making style. CR 89 is a first feature film by Sudevan. The storyline is innovative so is his handling of the camera. Celluloid is about the father of Malayalam cinema, Dr. J. C. Daniel and Vighathakumaran, the first feature film in Malayalam” and the difficulties he had to undergo in his later career. Directed by Kamal, the film bears testimony to the acting prowess of a star of the Malayalam industry Prithviraj Sukumaran.
But the film which finally won the FIPRESCI award is Virgin Talkies (Kanyaka Talkies) directed by debut director K.R. Manoj who started his career as a journalist and gradually moved to the world of films under the film society movement of Kerala. The film deals with colonial rule in Kerala, the intricacies of religion and the magic of cinema coupled with the instinctive matrix of desire, pleasure and guilt. The film reaches past the less travelled landscapes of regional cinema and presents an intimate portrayal of its past and present. The filmmaker correctly pointed out that it is a non-western filmmakers attempt to encounter two significant imports of colonialism-Christianity and cinema and the interconnections between them. The last scene, where the priest protagonist wanders around a dilapidated church has an open ending and transcends the mundane, thereby making the film extraordinary. The story goes like this – A single screen cinema, often used for porn films, is demolished and a church has been built on the site. But the priest protagonist finds himself suffering from hallucinations. He postarts hearing voices, goes insane and visits the doctor frequently. The voices contain crude sexual content and murmurs often used in vernacular porn films in India. Based on a short story by P.V. Shajikumar, Virgin Talkies also deals with a nurse who turns into an actress of adult films. The director has described the film as a circle. Religion abhors pornography. Pornography adores body. Body attracts gazes. Gazes arouse desire. Desire induces guilt. Guilt anchors religion. And religion abhors pornography. “Virgin Talkies for me is an obsession about these interconnections which defy any kind of linearity and ideas of progression”, the director says.
Edited by Derek Malcolm
© FIPRESCI 2013