Movies

‘Gramavrikshathile Kuyil’ follows the poetic and personal journey of Kumaran Asan, says director KP Kumaran

Sreevalsan J Menon as Kumaran Asan in a scene from ‘Gramavrikshathile Kuyil’

Sreevalsan J Menon as Kumaran Asan in a scene from ‘Gramavrikshathile Kuyil’   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The film stars composer-singer Sreevalsan J Menon as the poet

Although Kumaran Asan is one of Kerala’s greatest poets, no feature film has been made on his life. KP Kumaran’s Gramavrikshathile Kuyil is the first film on the legendary poet and social reformer. The film, which has KG Jayan and Santhosh Raman behind the camera, sees singer and music composer Sreevalsan J Menon donning the role of Asan. The project that has long been on the mind of the director “took its present shape during the last one year, especially after the socio-political turbulences relating to caste, religious beliefs and rituals that shook Kerala society. Till then, it was kept in abeyance due to reasons like funds, the generation gap that divides the present generation from Asan, and so on. But in the present-day Kerala context, I felt a kind of urgency to talk about this man. I was always fascinated by poetry, especially that of Kumaran Asan and Vyloppilly. But beyond Asan’s scholarship and poetic contributions, it is Asan the individual who enchanted me,” says Kumaran. Excerpts from an interview with the director:

Why Kumaran Asan and why now?

As a person following the socio-cultural and political happenings in Kerala, I am amazed by the way he saw and confronted the world of his times. Asan was born in 1873 and his creative life began at the beginning of the 20th century. It was during the period between 1903 and 1924 that he was most active and rose into prominence. He translated Soundaryalahari, Vivekananda’s Rajayoga, the play Vichitravijayam and so on. He was the editor of Vivekodayam magazine for 15 years and was a member of Praja Sabha and later the Legislative Assembly. He also ran a tile factory. He was close to Sree Narayana Guru and almost became a sanyasin, but opted for married life.

He engaged in all of these while writing some of the greatest poetic works and playing a crucial role in the establishment and development of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), for which he travelled extensively across Travancore, Kochi and Malabar. He was also someone who always lived amidst enemies, especially from his own community. It is all these factors that prompted me to make a film on Asan, despite the hurdles of finance and market.

KP Kumaran and KG Jayan on the sets of ‘Gramavrikshathile Kuyil’

KP Kumaran and KG Jayan on the sets of ‘Gramavrikshathile Kuyil’   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

This is not a conventional biopic in the sense of a chronological account of his life, but depicts his inner life and struggles.

It is impossible to bring in all the aspects of Asan’s life into one film. Moreover, we don’t have enough authoritative and reliable information about his personal life. People know him primarily through his poems and his personality is very much present there, especially in his later poems. It is debatable whether my film is a biopic. I have, however, brought in all the important events in his life: his early education, his encounter with Guru and his life after that, and major events in the last years of his life. A major part of the film is about the last few years of his life. This period is crucial on various counts: firstly, he gets married, which is a turning point in his personal life, and his relationship with Guru. By opting for marriage, Asan ventures into another phase of his life and is on his own, he has neither Guru or the Yogam to fall back upon.

Why the title Gramavrikshathile Kuyil?

I took the title from a poem by Asan, a metaphorical poem about his life, where he is the bird, and the village tree is the Yogam, and the sage is Guru. In this film I use four of his major poems written during this period: Chinthavishtayaya Sita written in 1919, Duravastha, Chandala Bhikshuki and Karuna. These are very important poems; their content is radically political and they are poetic. The film follows the poetic and personal journey of Asan through all these poems.

So, Asan’s poetry constitutes a prominent thread of this film?

To make a film by including all the facets of a personality like Asan and all the people and events he was associated with is either impossible or absurd. A film demands a certain kind of narrative precision and expression through visual and oral elements. When you are portraying a poet through film, his poems should be central. But how do you represent present poetry in film? My focus was on creating evocative visuals that would resonate Asan’s poetry: it could be landscapes, waterfalls, the sea, lakes, paintings... For instance there is a poem titled ‘Garisopa’ where the poet, along with Dr Palpu’s family, journeys to see a waterfall. Here the basic visual elements are the waterfalls and the forest. Likewise there is reference to the sculptures at Ajanta and Ellora, which I have used in the film. So, my attempt was to combine words and images in an evocative manner and thus to find a new narrative and visual synergy, rather than one representing the other ‘faithfully’. Though I had a complete script with me, I had to find evocative visuals to go with it. So I used paintings and sketches, archival footage on Calcutta [Kolkata] city of that period etc.

One major visual motif of the film is water. Was it a conscious choice?

Yes, it was. There is even a specific mention about that in the film, where Asan talks about his lifelong relationship with water. Moreover, the use of water bodies and their shimmering presence in various forms also give the film a certain visual feel and mood. Asan was born near the sea, the name of his native place is ‘Kayikkara’ which is a combination of kayal (backwaters) and kara (land). Later when he joined Guru, the Aruvippuram ashram too was along the Neyyar river. Finally, he met with his death in the waters. In a scene, Asan says, ‘Periyar river looks placid on the surface, but carries many turbulences beneath’. So, water acts not only as a visual motif but also flows as a philosophical and metaphorical undercurrent through the film.

Asan is a poet who taught us to love, for love in various forms and moods are present in Asan poems...

Yes, Asan is a poet of love, who dealt with love in various contexts and expressions. He also used an array of terms like premam, anuragam, sneham, priyam, anpu, pranayam and so on to denote the various shades of love. But in my film, the focus is more on the political and humanitarian issues that Asan’s poetry dealt with.

For instance, he made a frontal attack on caste system much before Ambedkar. There is a scene in my film where Asan ruminates upon his condition while walking along the walls of the Fort in Thiruvananthapuram. He says I am a well-known poet and member of the Praja Sabha, but I am not allowed entry into the Fort, and I quote his poem where he asks how many Perumals, Sankaracharyas, Thunchans and Kunjans will it need to liberate his land from casteism. So my focus is on how Asan used his energies as a poet, social activist and legislator to fight the evil of caste.

In your film there are no well-known actors... most of them come from different backgrounds and are new to cinema. Was it a conscious decision?

I made a conscious choice of casting fresh talents, as I didn’t want any kind of star image to eclipse that of Asan. Luckily Sreevalsan Menon resembles Asan. The heroine of this film is also a fresh face; she has acted only in one film before this. Pramod Raman, television journalist and writer, plays the role of Murkoth Kumaran in the film. So there are familiar faces in the film. I avoided the stars as I wanted Asan to be the central character and the only star in this film.

How do you think this film about a great poet will be received by the contemporary Malayali audience?

Actually we have forgotten Kumaran Asan. I think there is no other Malayali who has contributed so deeply to our culture and politics like Asan. I consider the film a curtain raiser to the rich and complex personality of Kumaran Asan.

Where do you place this film in your oeuvre?

It is a film that gave me great satisfaction. Through this film I intend to address a generation of Malayalis who grew up listening to or reading Asan’s poetry.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 2:53:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/kp-kumaran-on-his-movie-about-poet-kumaran-asan-gramavrikshathile-kuyil/article30981669.ece

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