Friday, April 11, 2008

M.G. Sasi's Adayalangal: Hunger, Anger and Despair

By John Cheeran
I was among the crowd at Sridhar theatre in Ernakulam that watched M.G. Sasi's Adayalangal, the film chosen by Jahnu Barua-led jury as the best feature film in the Kerala State film awards.
M. G. Sasi has won the Kerala State award for best director, Adayalangal is the best film and the movie's cameraman Radhakrishnan is the best cinematographer.
The verdicat has shocked many, inlcuding directors Adoor Gopalakrishnan (Nalu Pennungal), Shyamaprasad (Ore Kadal), K.P. Kumaran (Akasha Gopuram) and P T Kunhumohammad (Paradesi who all had movies eyeing the award for the best feature film.
I began to watch Sasi's Adayalangal with dread. I even doubted whether it will be a documentary on Nanthanar (Ramakrishnan), the short story writer from Perinthalmanna, who committed suicide after a life of military angst. That I left the screening of Adayalangal without thinking that I wasted my three hours should have been enough to cheer up its director Sasi and the movie crew. How many recent Malayalam movies could produce similar feelings in the ticket-payer?
Adayalangal may not be a great film.
I still don't know whether Adayalangal deserved to be the best film. But havng seen Paradesi and Nalu Pennungal, I'm not surprised that Adayalangal won critical acclaim. All awards are subjective; their merits are relative most of the time. I haven't seen Akasha Gopuram and Ore Kadal, the other two serious contenders for the film awards.
In Adayalangal Sasi tackles a pretty ordinary struggle during the 60s when most of the Malayali families found it tough to keep hunger at bay. That hunger and helplesnness were acute in upper class households bereft of a breadwinner. And such situations have been portrayed in Malayalam letters and movies many times over.
Here a personal struggle, Nanthanar's, gets unswerving attention from the dierctor. Sasi has shown that he has the craft and calibre to tell a story that sticks to the viewer's bone long after the last reel is packed in.
And the real strength of Adayalangal lies in the realistic cinematography thanks to the twitching hands of Radhakrishnan.
The disappointment, though, was that Adayalangal tackled only the awakening of Nanthanar. (Though it has been pointed out that story is not on Nanthanar, but only on a story by Nanthanar. But I don't know how you can winnow the fact from Nanthanar's fiction). As Ramakrishnan (Nanthanar) himself realized at the cost of his life, the awakenings hardly matter in the whirligig of fortunes.

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