Sunday, 16 May 2021

Toxicity of Nayattu, saved by Kerala's lovely geography and visual aesthetics

After the passing away of the venerable SP Jananathan, I’ve been watching his speeches, speeches about him by many and interviews of him one after the other. Through these videos, I’ve been able to understand and converse about the virtue of his limitless knowledge, the manner by which he has inlaid his socialistic thought-process in his visual language and many more.

But recently when I watched the film 'Nayattu', what struck me over and over was one unanimous opinion about Jananathan. He had mentioned once that he took up this art form only to politicise the simple people and the laymen through his visual language. 

Many had remarked that hence, in his films, he hadn't invested great effort into ensuring that they had exceptional aesthetics or elegant film technology. Despite this conviction, be it the cinematography in the film 'Iyarkkai' or the production design in the films 'Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai' or 'E', they contained all the characteristic richnesses of the visual language. But above all these, what influenced the most in all of these films is Jananathan’s original intention of 'politicising the people'.

If one measures 'Nayattu' by the same standards, only the film’s many ironies remain. The movie, along with its heavy criticism of the united functioning of oppressed classes, fervently believes that “nothing is completely pure” but, ironically chooses to cast that belief only on one group. 

The film seems to focus intently on expressing once every five minutes or so that “not all those who are oppressed are innocent”. At the same time, the film chooses to appeal that in the chess between those in power and the oppressed classes’ united protest for justice, the entire police department is the hapless pawns butchered owing to the manoeuvring and selfishness of both parties, thus normalising the whole group and sanctifying them. Bear in mind the ‘Sathankulam’ incident at this juncture.

Director Vetri Maaran once said in an interview that films that talk about society or politics should never typecast a particular group, sect or class.  

He adheres and showcases his statement in his films as well. The protagonist in any of Vetri Maaran’s films would not be entirely good-hearted or completely evil. Similarly, in the movie 'Asuran', he depicts both good-hearted of the dominant classes as well as the black-hearted of the oppressed classes.

Be it the villager who blocks Sivasami and gives him water when Sivasaami’s prostrates before every male resident of the Vadakoor village as reparation, the elders of Vadakoor or the lawyer fighting for the rights of oppressed families, such people are found throughout the film. 

Similarly, though Narasimhan who plots to kill Sivasami’s son Murugan belongs to Vadakoor, the assassins hired was from Sivasami’s community. In 'Pariyerum Perumal', the depiction of Pariyan’s friends Jo and Anand can also be added to this list. Such examples can be observed in many socio-political films.

But Nayattu stands far apart when it comes to this elementary artistic ethics. Throughout India, there have been very few films such as 'Visaranai', 'Newton' criticising the system. While professing that the intention of this film is the very same, Nayattu instead portrays an absurd ironical depiction of the primary political form of the oppressed classes - ‘organised revolt’.

It can even be the director and the scriptwriter’s belief that the police department is completely noble or that there exists that high a political influence of the political community, but what we need to closely observe here is this mockery only. 

Using Kerala’s beautiful geographical structure and visual language to support and hide this irony on one hand and on the other, by conveying that two of the three affected police officers belong to the same oppressed community, the screenplay employs ‘escapism’ and evades scrutiny.

Despite showing its potential of creating world-class and intensely visual films on topics such as inter-relationship complexities, patriarchy and more, Malayalam cinema every once in a while lets down by creating half baked socio-political films like ‘CIA’,’ Kappela’, ‘Nayattu’ thus spewing venom through aesthetic version of Draupadi-esque films.

During such junctures is when “Between choosing excellence or ethics in his films, which did Jananadhan prioritise?” needs to be pondered over and over again

- Santhosh Mathevan,

Chennai, May 14, 2021.

Note: All pictures were taken from the internet!

A part or complete version of this opinion column by Santhosh Mathevan has appeared in Tamil on the same website. This column is completely based on the perceptions of Santhosh Mathevan alone. This does not reflect the views of two or more people or a community. Queries and criticism shall be addressed to the writer only.

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