Food for thought

Different menu:(from left) Manjusha, Jyothi, Lakshmipriya, Rajeev and Krishna in 'Panthibhoojanam.'  


Sreebala Menon's 20-minute short film ‘Panthibhojanam' offers interesting fare for viewers to chew over.

Does a gene pool decide our culinary preferences? Have we ever stopped to think if these become markers in our social stratification? Drawing us to those epidermal layers of our ways of looking at the ‘Other' in life is what Sreebala Menon has attempted in her short film ‘Panthibhojanam.'

Mapping the mindscape

The 20-minute film takes us through the mindscape of five young advocates (four women and a man) to trigger some disturbing thoughts in the viewers, who would rather vehemently deny harbouring any such discrimination.

In ‘Panthibhojanam,' what begins as banter among three friends veers into a verbal battering of the Public Prosecutor, a Dalit. On one side is the trio of Christian, Menon and Nambudiri girls whose innuendos and snide comments point to the potential threat from the Dalit advocate. There is also the competition offered to the Nambudiri girl by the Dalit advocate by way of the attention received from the young Varma colleague, an eligible bachelor!

Sharing a meal together becomes an effort at rapprochement. Normal courtesies on display. But, the Nambudiri who relishes the beef fry from a Christian kitchen is unable to stomach the fish curry from the Dalit home. And there is loud thinking by the Dalit girl, “When will ‘they' come to our home for a meal?”

Santhosh Aechikanam's ‘Panthibhojanam' took a long gestation to achieve this visualisation. “The story did not recede from memory ever since I read it in the Mathrubhumi weekly two years ago. It kept recurring in my thoughts. Equally important was the fact that the story never came up for discussion anywhere despite the Dalit issues simmering in our literary or public debates,” explains Sreebala.

Scripting was the most difficult, says the director, because the original was intensely dialogue-centric and therefore called for re-working in the visual medium. The film conveys the elemental contradictions we harbour in our psyches. But the wordiness throughout the film needs some explaining.

“I did not want to keep it subtle, but wanted to make sure that the same thing be said in as many ways so that the message reaches. The verbosity in a way ensured that none could skim over the issue as is normally the case in a State like ours,” says Sreebala.

The use of Thanthoyam thanthoyam, thanthoyam maale, nammakum kshethratil pokam, daivathe thottu thozhave, in Kuttappan's voice works as a reminder of the epochal Temple Entry Proclamation. Mindsets, have they changed? Now it is Jathi chodikaruthu, parayaruthu. Anubhavichu ariyanam (Ask not caste, speak not caste, it has to be endured).

The entire cast consists of new faces. Technical support for the production came from Vinod Illampally (camera), Mahesh Narayan (editing), Manu Ramesan (lyrics) and Madanan (sketches).

‘Panthibhojanam' was screened at the Madurai Film Festival and the response was that it was not “loud enough.” Watching it the words that came to mind were “Hush! Hush! Not so loud!”