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A lesson forever

T. V. Chandran's `Padhom Onnu: Oru Vilapam' focuses on some of the burning issues in Kerala society.

A scene from "Padhom Onnu: Oru Vilapam" premiered at the Cinefan festival in New Delhi.

WHEN ARYADAN Shaukath approached T. V. Chandran with "a story and funds to make a film", the director was not enthusiastic about the project.

But listening to the experiences of the young man, the filmmaker was moved to take it up.

`Padhom Onnu: Oru Vilapam' (Lesson One: A Wail), premiered at Cinefan, the festival of Asian Cinema, New Delhi, takes you to Malappuram district, where some Muslim girls become brides at 14 and grandmothers at 30. Since the dowry is doubled for girls who have finished school, some are pushed into hasty marriages.

The `Mysore marriage' is another option, wherein bridegrooms from Karnataka take their pick, with reduced dowries.

T. V. Chandran.

Sometimes the bride is not seen again. She might return a divorcee and with a child in her arms.

"When Aryadan Shaukath told me about such practices, I spent two months in that region, interacting with local people and listening to their stories.

The mullahs insisted that they were following the Koran in safeguarding women, who would go astray if they were educated. Still, I didn't know how to go about the theme," says T. V. Chandran.

The SSLC textbook provided a reference point, along with a story written by Vaikom Mohammed Basheer and a song of freedom by Tagore.

Meera Jasmine in the film.

Says Chandran, "For me, the film is about the denial of the basic human right to acquire knowledge." Shahina, the protagonist, is a schoolgirl who is forced into wedlock.

The film was shot in a Muslim colony.

"The young girl in the house where we worked hid herself from the unit until one day I managed to ask her why she was so shy. Imagine my horror when she disclosed that her story similar to the one we were filming," says Chandran.

Chandran says that even progressive writers in Malayalam had not dared to tackle the issues raised in his film, except K. T. Mohammed, whose queries were drowned in a storm of protest over his 1940 play, `Try to be a Good Human Being'.

"The intellectuals, who sympathise with women in Iran and Iraq, ignore the plight of women in their own State. The theme is taboo for the so-called secularists too, as it offends `sensitive minorities'," says Chandran.

Shaukath, son of the Congress leader, Aryadan Mohammed, monitors the post-divorce repayment of dowry to women in his hometown.

He had the shock of his life when a man made the payment, after a grace period of two days, announcing triumphantly, "I got married again yesterday -- with Rs. 1 lakh as dowry; so I have Rs. 25,000 left for myself after returning Rs 75,000 to my former wife."


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