Combining the voices of the film critic, director, historian and more simply a Malayali film buff, Biju’s Cinemayude Yaathrakal is a happy blend of critical, fan and artiste discourses of cinema. It is uncommonly intriguing for the fascinating insider perspectives on Malayalam Cinema as also both for what it says and leaves unsaid about the popular.
A myriad faceted book, it offers an interesting probe into the Korean auteur Kim Ki-Duk’s films, the lessons to be learnt from Iranian Cinema and a comparative perspective of the Tamil new generation movies, interspersed with highly original and thought provoking appraisals of Malayalam Cinema.
The first essay on how Malayalam cinema is perceived and evaluated globally is a fine piece of film criticism that does not limit itself to the aesthetics and texts of Malayalam Cinema but also analyses the bases of its production, circulation and reception. It is a trenchant critique of Kerala’s commercial film culture that makes largely formulaic but hugely popular cinema, coming with the necessary rider that one however ought not to confuse the cinema industry with the art of cinema.
The second essay raises the pertinent question of why so many films in Malayalam given the fact that in 2012 more than Rs. 300 crores was spent on making cinema for what Biju calls a miniscule state with a population of just 3.33 crores.
He deconstructs the often circuitous, clandestine and commodified routes and roles that the new commerce in satellite rights forces upon cinema, subverting both its moral integrity and artistic sensibility.
The argument regarding the gradual legitimisation of soft porn through new generation cinema (which in itself is a politically inaccurate term as Biju points out) however fails to take stock of the gendering of the screen, of active spectatorship and the viewing patterns and experiences of cinema in its social, historical and cultural contexts, all of which seem to elude even the most perceptive and discerning of male film critics in Kerala.
The deeply ironic essay on the relevance of cinema in film festivals, while offering a scathing criticism of the carnivalisation of film festivals, the vested interests of selection committees and flawed state machinery, puts forward opinions in a rather uncivil and individualistic tone.
Though some of the arguments are contradictory and seem to valorise elitist modes of film literacy, undermining the earlier narrative of commitment to the democratic and egalitarian base of cinema, yet the searing critique and the call for a social audit seem to echo the need of the hour.
Biju’s brief for art house cinemas and its crisis is poignant, especially in the light of rising commercialism and the politicisation of film associations and collectives.
Popular cinema in India is so much more the cinema of the star than the director and Biju, in an essay that offers a delightful read, analyses the complex linkage between commodified super-stardoms and its creation of a rather evanescent popular memory, and the exigency of art house movies in preserving public memories.
The essay that debunks the mythification of Adoor films in Kerala turns a keen critical eye on native modes of myth making that Malayalis are so adept at when it comes to the land, the language and the self.
However to say that Adoor movies lack any kind of social commitment is to push the argument too far and be blinded by the puncturing vituperativeness of one’s tirade rather than being governed by the logical cohesion of analysis displayed at the beginning of this essay.
Here is a book that yields readings that are at once fascinating, revelatory and sometimes embarrassing to the Malayali, a serendipitous encounter with the Malayali’s notion of fandom and superstardom, as also our misconceptions regarding cinema as art and industry, and our contemporary mythmaking tendencies. In the process it dissects our enchantment and our vehemence for the curious magic of cinema, something that we would like to shrug off but often can’t.
The book reminds one of the inexorable links between the study of cinema as an art that offers a political framework through which to see the world, and as a medium through which to traverse the experiential world of ideas, thoughts and sensations.
By placing itself squarely in the middle of many of the key debates in contemporary film cultures and practices in Kerala, this book makes itself a must-read for the common reader and the academically inclined.
CINEMAYUDE YAATHRAKAL, DR. BIJU, MATHRUBHUMI BOOKS, RS. 115