Movies, Religion and Malayalam

There was so much my husband and I didnt see eye to eye when it came to cinema, when we met, There was the obvious mohanlal-rajni tiff and believe it or not even at 22 years I crushed on srk, which he didnt get. Well! to think about it, I don’t get it anymore either. I will save that for later. Strike that. I am too embarrassed to even saving it for later!

But over the years of courtship, drama, marriage and parenthood, our convictions have loosened. I have watched one too many rajni, bhagyaraj and kamal movies, so I can no longer say ‘I don’t get the hype anymore’ and he has watched few movies, mostly lal-ettan’s and sort of gets the ethos; but still there are a gazillion things he ponders over about mallu-land and its cinema.

Some questions he asks have indeed made me look for an answer too; for what I consider normal may not seem so for an outsider. Malayalis seamlessly tolerate religion co-existence. Or so it is nearly all the time. We have beloved yesudas (often called das-ettan) who has rendered the best and favorite divine hindu songs. It is debatable that he isn’t allowed to enter guruvayoor for not being a hindu; then again which land doesnt have quirks.

Last time I visited Kerala, I noticed the churches have the kodi-maram with a cross on top, akin to the kodi-marams in temples. I learnt that vidya-arambham, the first alphabets of a child during navaratri season is also now practiced in churches. The edapalli punyalan st. george riding a horse is considered an incarnation of the snake god the hindus revere. I have watched my grandfather and parents make a stop there to light a candle and tell a short prayer everytime we travel to cochin from trivandrum. He is also the protector of the traveler. One definitely needs that in the kind of traffic and rash driving the state has. The trisshur puram elephants usually have a busy year too. They shuttle between various temples and churches for festivals that are conducted all year round.

I can tell you more unbelievable stories. I personally know three reasonably smooth with initial hiccups, marriages between a hindu and muslim, who raised kids and lived in the state. Our muslim neighbors in Cochin, who were from kottarakara, which is well known for the ganapati temple there, didnt think twice to send offerings with us, when we told them we are visiting. They believed in their town’s popular deity too. The picture that is often shared during independance day of muslim parents dressing their child as krishna is sort of a true picture in kerala.

These things baffled my husband, especially his stint in the VT area in Bombay wasnt communal tension free. Going by this rather effortless blanket of peace, malayalam movies are also strewn with characters and protagonists of these three religions equally and of course the palakkad iyer is featured every now and then too! One of my favorite characters of lal-ettan is sunny-chayan in manichitratazhu, achayan as the christians are often referred to.

Of course marriages are an exception. Even with few success inter religion stories, I am sure there are a bigger percentage that doesnt work for the same reason. One answer I offered my husband was “the food”. The non Brahmin hindus of kerala eat beef. Enough said? Somehow we Indians gel over food; When my tam-bram friend found a gujju spouse, the final consensus was “vegetarian ah pidichurikan. adhe pesuru” ( it is great that he has at least found a vegetarian )

“The love for gold” is something I suppose no malayali can deny. And the industry is equally held by affluent families of all three religions. Sometimes money and common interests let’s religion take a back stage. Or so is my comprehension from what I have known and only saw how the gold buying has snowballed across the state in my last visit.

And the third reason, I offered my husband is “Kerelaites follow the marxist religion above all else”. Now this culture of parties, elections, strikes and hartals confuses any non-malayali to no end. Probably a bengali may understand the passion. While N enjoyed the movie “Classmates” which sent kerala into a frenzy of reunion meetings and poignant college years, he was completely thrown off by the need for elections and parties in a college.

The communist dream was beautifully portrayed in little nuances in the recent movie I watched of vineeth sreenivasan – ” thattathin marayathu”.
A Nair boy growing up in a predominantly Muslim area who has Muslim best friends and falls in love with ( no surprises here) a ummachi-kutti ( Muslim girl ). The director has kept the story pretty much communal free with humor that’s becoming. I laughed so much for ” symmonds inde wicket kittiya sreesanath ine pole njan endokeyo kanichu”. Translation may probably kill the humor, but nevertheless — ” I behaved wild like how sreesanath had when he got symmonds wicket ”

The pictures of Che Guevara the Marxist god one may say ( the irony! ) are subtly made backgrounds in many scenes. So is how Muslim members of the communist party don’t blink an eye to think of rooting against another Muslim leader of a different party. It simply reinforces that the communist dream can keep a keralite true to himself.

The movie otherwise has a Fantastical touch, and the little screen space sreenivasan has takes the cake. All in all I would say it is a master stroke second directorial venture by young vineeth sreenivasan and Malayalam cinema is truly going places after an awkward transition phase to modern portrayal.

Malayalam movies are no longer all with anti climaxes and ripping your heart out renditions. The feel good, thrillers, historicals are all making their way pretty beautifully with many new and young actors and directors.

The thrillers to definitely watch is mohanlal’s “drishyam” and “22 female kottayam” while drishyam Kept me on the edge of my seat the latter left me stoic. Salt and pepper of Lal and Sweta menon was oh! So wonderfully portrayed love story through the love for cooking and taste. Syncing the story of the making of the rainbow cake to the protagonists was my favorite part.

I still have a huge list of movies to catch up on. I have been hooked to the music of “Ustad hotel” and probably one of last of tilakan’s movies I definitely want to watch. 22 north katham of my new favorite actor fahad, based on OCD is also on my list. Someday I will get to catch up on lots of these movies.

So if you are cribbing about the lack of ideas and change in the movie industry you otherwise follow; stop. Give Malayalam movies a try. Start off with subtitles. Our humor is a little hard to warm up to. Our tongue annoying even. And our culture and settings probably harder. But you will be hooked no doubt.

Appo varate. Pinne kannum vare!

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