Time for change. Time to change.

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The Nirbhaya incident changed something inside many of us. I think it shook up our hopes and belief in an equal opportunity world. I remember feeling so angry yet so helpless as violations seemed to surface all around me.

Violation of one person by another. Of space, of body, of mind, of respect, of identity. On screen – off screen – everywhere.

Now as another woman braves her experience, I am a mute witness once again. For every such incident that is reported, thousands of violating moments remain unreported every day. How many girls have bitten back anger and tears even as they have been touched or commented upon in public spaces by strangers? Isn’t molestation, rape and sexual assault  an extension of such violating behavior? If one is condoned, the other is bound to follow.

After the heinous acts, further violation comes from individuals who shamelessly air on media their chauvinistic perspectives about the incidents. They puke all over on social media staining public thought with their yellowed insides. Equal rights, gender sensitivity and bias awareness seem beyond their grey cells but what about basic humaneness?

And finally when it comes to solutions – most advice is about how women should behave, dress, act, speak, react, or not react to such situations. Most families tell their girls not to react for fear of stigma – families who are supposed to nurture children and help them grow. So what are we really telling our future generations about courage & cowardice? Amongst all this am thankful for men & women who speak up against bias and call for corrective action.

But isn’t it time to look at WHO is committing the violations? Are these aliens who are violating our vulnerable ones? NO. They are persons who are born among us, live among us, look like us and are in many ways like us. We need to recognize the problem lies with us. We need to recognize that it is not about just targeting one gender as both genders have played roles in the creation of this monster. We may have inherited an unequal world but as long as we haven’t done anything to change it, we are part of the problem.

The latest report of such violation is yet another slap in our faces. She has faced it with real courage and done her part to report the perpetrators. But even with all this anger and desperation for change, what have we done?

Yet again,

Are we going to sit as spectators to the ensuing discussion circus?

Are we going to rant & rave on social media and then simply… sign out?

Or are we going to do something to make a difference?

Some of us are getting together to make a small start in Kerala. A start from the root of the problem. A start that involves bringing empowerment to girls and empathy to boys. School by school, family by family. If you would like to be part of the change, write to us on parasparamkerala@gmail.com.

If we don’t find the courage now, we will remain among those cowards.

 

 

Kavalam Narayana Panikkar Sir

I found myself bereft of words. Unable to even write a tribute but the truth is – he doesn’t need anyone else’s words. His own words will keep him alive forever.

Kavalam Narayana Panikkar.

I first met him as a newbie writer with her screenplay. A typical film-school-product I was probably too clear about the film in my head, but not entirely confident about the language and cultural ethos. I wanted his opinion on this aspect but what I got was so much more. Not for him were the needlessly intellectualized or the pretentious. His search was for simplicity and complexity in stories finding myths that swim through them in time and space. He said – “Myths are important because they remain relevant in any age. Exploring the myth in your story will reveal many layers. Let the audience have a chance to discover them.” He reminded me of stories I had heard as a  child, in  my mother’s voice and through classical dance and music. I had pushed them into the backroom of my sub-conscience in the rush to forge my identity as a filmmaker. He urged me to connect everything.

Our mediums were different – the stage and the frame, but the tools were not. I had the privilege to know him, to be guided by him and the special opportunity to witness his process as a director while we visually documented his theatre work. I remember my cameraman Tribhuvan Babu suddenly turning around before a shot to say- “so much in you has changed since we started shooting with Kavalam Sir.” Yes, it is true, and I shall always be thankful to Sir for it. That was ten years ago and I have many experiences of his personal warmth, guidance and creative inputs but most importantly, he was inspiration in the most concentrated form.  Even though I last saw Sir lying in state at the kalari, my memory of him is one of heightened energy with a twinkle in his eye.

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He treated his work like poetry. Each thing mattered – every word, every prop, every movement. The significance of each component and the meaning it adds up to; Finding opportunity in every aspect of the stage to create the world and the communicate a thought; Being aware of subtext in words, visual and sound and the tales it tells to our subconscience; the childlike exploration of a concept, a theme and finding its nuances. Misc-en-scene lessons at film school didn’t hold a candle to how he went about his work in theatre. I was first surprised and then amazed by his attention to minutest detail.

He never believed in a monolithic audience. He would say “if there are hundred audience members, there will hundred receptive levels. Every one will never experience a performance at the same level. It varies… how does it vary? And on what basis it varies? It varies only on the basis of their own individual cultural quality.” He respected the audience as the one who participates in the creative artiste’s work. “Na hi rasadrite kaschidarthah pravartate” i.e., Without evoking rasa (the emotional engagement of the audience), no meaningful idea is transmitted. His interpretation of the Natyashastra and the Rasa theory were not limited to academics but were part of his practice for thirty-five years.

He had a gentle approach to nudge people and help them grow towards a certain direction; His family includes the theatre group Sopanam where artistes have played every role, done every job and remain ready to do his bidding. But never have I seen him command them. It has always been “angane cheythu nokaamo?” /“shall we try that?” The tone was always respectful, collaborative and blameless. The egoless nature of the process is truly remarkable. With some pushy artistes he let them make their own mistakes but was always around to help find a new solution.

He constantly explored new ideas, often throwing the question out into the open at his kalari – “how shall we do this?” He patiently heard suggestions from anyone and everyone, and evaluated the suggestion in absolute value not bothered about where it came from. His creativity was a journey of improvisation and interpretation and not some fixed destination. During performances I have seen him run from the backstage to the audience seats, back to the wings, to convey a last minute adjustment.This could happen even if this was a play that that his troupe had been staging for more than a decade!

He embraced Kerala by immersing the stories in her culture, language, music, movements, beliefs, colours, landscape and therefore her people. “Doesn’t this hold true for the land of every story that has to be told?” He made it sound so simple even when it wasn’t. Our film Manjadikuru begins with a song that Sir wrote and sang –

Manne nambi elelo, verirukku ailasa,

vere nambi elelo, maramirukku ailasa,

marathe nambi elelo, ilayirukku ailasa,

ilaye nambi elelo, pazham irukku ailasa,

pazhathe nambi elelo, vithu irukku ailasa,

vithe nambi elelo, mannu irukku ailasa.

The cyclical dynamics of both nature and families, couldn’t have been expressed better.

He was never one to stand opposite you to teach. He was one who stood by you, even behind you and urged you to keep looking, keep seeking your own way.

I am not sure I have even a photograph with him. But does it matter? For he had more to teach me than any teacher I have had. His imprint of grace, learning and energy, is not one that will fade. Deepest gratitude and respect.

Hats off to Nair Sir

“So when did you decide to become a filmmaker?” I do not have this one eureka moment where such a decision was made. While I was at Pune University doing my post-grad in Communication Studies, we used to go to the National Film Archive of India for screenings of splendid films – Indian and international. Here is where I first witnessed the works of Kieslowski, Kurosawa, Fellini, Bunuel, Tarkovsky and so many inspiring others.  We would reach early, remove our shoes at the entrance and then keep as silent as possible -almost like we were entering some sacrosanct place of worship. And it was worship of a different sort that started there. Something that continued into our post screening discussions for the next few days. But the most impactful movies would leave us speechless. Usually the screenings started at about 5:30 PM so when they ended it would be dark outside. I remember quietly carrying the film in my head as I walked back with my group into the street-lamp lit Law College Road and then turned into the darker longer Senapathy Bapat Road – at the far end of which I lived. That walk was filled with thoughts and emotions injected by the film and somewhere on those walks, the idea of becoming a filmmaker sedimented within me. As Wikipedia says, the NFAI “was developed from scratch by Mr.P.K.Nair”, so he has to receive some credit for the transformation of the many who found inspiration there.

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Nair Sir has done wonders for cinema in India. Please read here to know more : P.K.Nair – the Quint article But over and above that he was a truly warm and wonderful person.

I am fortunate to have been taught by Nair Sir both inside a classroom and outside. The classroom lectures were at the Pune University where he was among the guest faculty at our Department of Communication Studies. But I learned much more from him later. When I was trying to put together my first film Manjadikuru, I met Nair Sir at IFFI Goa. He read my script and gave me some precious feedback. But most importantly he said – “Anjali, you have to decide if you are making the film for a Malayalee audience or an international audience. It will affect every decision you make.” In two lines he had summed up the value of “sensibility” while making a film. I learned how right he was at every stage of making the film. It is a lesson I have held close to heart.

He was the first person to see Manjadikuru, in a dark edit room at Chitranjali. The audio work was not done and he minced no words about having to see it half-done. Yet when Manjadikuru had its premiere at IFFK Thiruvananthapuram, he was among the audience at Kalabhavan. I was thrilled to see him there and ran back inside to get his feedback. I still remember his wide smile and the warm clasp of his hands as he expressed his happiness – he didn’t mince words this time either. That was him. Only the film mattered.

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One of the special sights at IFFI & IFFK was to find Nair Sir seated somewhere on a chair, accompanied by his daughter, holding his audience of people who went to greet him. I was touched every time he recognized me and asked me about my work. His passion for cinema was truly phenomenal and am so glad that “Celluloid Man” was made. Yet he deserved so much more for all that he has done.

However this is not a condolence note, I believe we need to celebrate his life, his zeal. I quote Anil Zankar – “Nairsaab has not left a void… he laid a strong foundation for the preservation of Indian film that must be made more robust in the years ahead – award or no award.”

Hats off to Nair Sir. Respect.

Bangalore Naatkal

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On the day Bangalore Days released, I put up a Facebook post “Our Bangalore Days are now yours”, and luckily the audience did actually make the film their own. 🙂 Over the past few weeks I have received so many messages and questions about my thoughts on the adaptation/remake of BD.

An adaptation is a fresh interpretation of an original story. It’s easy to draw comparisons but it takes extra courage and conviction and skill to make an adaptation. As a writer, it is exciting to see a new take on the characters and story for a different audience. And it is heartening to see a whole new team inspired to make it happen.

Here’s wishing Bhaskar, his team and PVP, the best of luck for the release of “Bangalore Naatkal” tomorrow. A special wish for some of the BD team members who are among the cast & crew of BN  🙂

Coming Full Circle

The ‘so-called nostalgic’ among us wait for special days — when we dress up a particular way, eat certain foods and practice certain customs, and watch TV shows discussing our valuable culture. But isn’t that mistaking the wood for the trees? That is merely celebration of a certain culture. Real culture comprises of the thoughts and action and words we engage with every day. Language is said to reflect culture, the more evolved ones reflecting the sophistication, the simpler ones reflecting the pragmatism. The mother tongue is supposed to be our first language, spoken to us by our mothers as we surface out of baby babble.

TOI Article

My mother has always spoken to me in Malayalam and continues to do so. I remember my first day to nursery school distinctly. At age 3, it was the day I met two new languages. Our driver Laksha who took me to school was from Baluchistan and spoke a very rough Urdu-Hindi dialect while everyone at the nursery school spoke in English. Of course I didn’t understand a thing! The school went about their traditional manner of teaching ABCs and numbers hoping we’d pick up the language as time went on. I continued to happily speak in Malayalam while my patient, pretty teacher replied in English.

But with Laksha the interaction was so much more. He was garrulous in nature and insisted on having a conversation one way or the other. So I was keen to pick up words to communicate with him. A loving man but with considerable road rage. I specifically remember how I would be standing between the front seats while he drove. Anyone who cut Laksha’s way would receive some high decibel compliments. Parents with toddlers will know how words are collected like shiny pebbles. Once we were in the car with my father in the front beside Laksha and Amma seated behind with me. Some rash driver cut across and Laksha had to slam the brakes to prevent an accident. He kept his temper in check but at the right moment, out flew the quintessential Urdu cuss word from my tiny lips “C******!”

I still remember the horror on my dad’s face as he turned around to me. Our trip was cut short and Laksha had a earful from Achan. After that Laksha took trouble to explain to me that I was not to use such words “in company” and especially not in the company of my parents! And yes, he stopped swearing on the road, at least in my presence. At school things were different, I was incredibly slow with letters and words. They started to give us dictation for three-letter words. I never understood the concept of dictation. I’d sit with the class and when everyone scrambled to write so would I. But everyday I’d get a zero on five or a zero on ten. Only the denominator would change. Until one day I realized that they want me to write the word that the teacher was calling out. Oh that was it! Silly me complied and then the numerator changed too. 🙂

So those were my inauspicious beginnings with Hindi and English but having grown up in the Middle East, Malayalam was left where it was – at home. I was super comfortable watching Malayalam movies, listening to Malayalam songs but not to read, write or speak it in public. The few years I studied in Kerala did nothing to improve my Malayalam but did plenty to erode any confidence I might have had with regard to the language. Relentless teasing and mocking from schoolmates and teachers sent me swerving away from Malayalam towards Additional English and Hindi classes.

Fast forward to film school days where I was dreaming of making a feature film. Ardently wishing to make my first one in Malayalam since it was Malayalam cinema that made me love the movies first. I went ahead and wrote the screenplay in English. For years I had gotten familiar with shapes of Malayalam letters but never taken the effort to befriend them. And now all of a sudden, I want to type on a Malayalam keyboard? This wasn’t going to be easy. I had to start with Thara, Para….

That was ten years ago. To me culture is a set of shared values. Shared values that are constantly evolving and synergistic with a tendency to gather as much as give out. Much like layers that gather together to eventually become an entity by themselves. Much like our state and country that are actually a thousand multiplicities absorbed into our collective conscience. The synthesis of these influences with our contemporary practices is what our culture is today. In the purist tussle between the present and the past, there lives a tendency to view the past through a softer lens of nostalgia. Where the grass was greener, language was purer and the world was better. But is it true? Not always so. There are and will be precious elements of the past that one should treasure and possibly protect and preserve. But blocking out further influences and refusing to remain open turns culture into a weighty heirloom hanging heavy around the neck. The best reason to study and understand culture is to be sensitive to differences and embrace the diversity. Being cultured is being inclusive. Yes my Malayalam is of an “avial” nature, yes I write in “Manglish”. Yes I am a cultural hybrid. I may still be the outsider but I have found my own way to connect with the speakers of the language I inherited. And that for me is an honour.

(This article was first published in Times of India as part of its Malayalam Mission section)