Showing posts with label study. Show all posts
Showing posts with label study. Show all posts

Friday, February 24, 2012

What is reality? A study

Sajit M.Mathews

What is Reality pertaining Photographs and Paintings?
Reality is a ‘concept’ which can be defined at various levels. A lay man’s definition of reality would be “that which is experienced with senses, as perceived in full consciousness.”
A level deeper, a philosopher could give us an ontological definition of reality. A flower I see can be real as much as a thought I have about that flower. Reality is subjective and objective. Objectively, a flower (in itself) is a reality, irrespective of the names given to it or the qualities attributed to it. Subjectively, a flower can be what I perceive the flower as. The same flower can be perceived and understood as a biological wonder and an aesthetic entity by two/the same observer.
At a level further, we can reflect upon the essence and esse of reality. There is a ‘flowerness’ in the flower which makes it the flower. Change in variety, colour, age, aroma, etc. are qualities added to the basic esse of the flower. We could say that is what a flower is.
Though we are aware of these philosophical facts about reality, we also know that a pragmatic way of looking at life and reality does not need deep thinking like this. Therefore, reality is what is perceived, for most of us.
Thoughts are representations of reality. But what is acutely real for me in thought may not be so real for another person. Thoughts of a person could be interpreted in various ways, as we discussed earlier. Just like thought, visuals (Photographs, Paintings, etc.) are also representations of reality. Only the mode does change. These representations too could be interpreted and understood at various levels.
A photograph captures the colours, light and shade of an object/scenery/animal with much technical accuracy. This accuracy can also be manipulated using special lenses, filters and computerized editing. The product of these processes of capturing, editing and reproducing portrays a slice of reality against a context which is almost always alien to the onlooker.
A photograph is as real as the original scene if only the context is already known to the observer. If it is known, a photograph could evoke the same emotions or responses as the original could have done. But the photograph - an extract from the reality - naturally loses continuity in both time and space.
Now let us consider a painting. A painting is an interpretation of what an artist sees in the world or in her/his mind, using imagination. It could be a real scene, or an imaginary scene or a mixture of both. The advantage of a painting is that the artist could mix colours and tell tales of life which (in a way) is impossible with photography. A painting may not always be understood by untrained eyes. There are codes of colours and light and shade embedded in it. Yet a painting is real as much as a photograph is. A painting can evoke the same responses as the original scene, if the background of the painting is known.
Paintings generally carry themes picked by artists and those themes are evidently manifest in them. A painter could bring in two opposing or contradicting ideas or objects into the same scene, which may be impossible for a photograph. Moreover, as a medium used by human beings from time immemorial, paintings have livelier relationship to us, humans.
When it comes to choosing which is nearer to reality- photograph or painting, I am confused. The reason is, to me, these both appear to be of the same level of reality. A photograph is better than a painting in terms of clarity, complete representation and technical perfection. A painting is better than a photograph in terms of imagination and creativity. Both photographs and paintings in their own way are close to reality. Both in one way or another are away from reality too.
            Yet, when a choice is necessary, a photograph could be much more realistic than a painting. Certain aspects of what is seen cannot be taken out of sight in case of photography. Whether photographer wishes or not, these inseparable aspects of visuals stick to the image. Quality reproduction keeps them intact and makes them all the more clear. The shape, size, contrast, etc. are some of such qualities. In that respect, the viewer cannot be completely alienated from a photograph’s reality. Whereas, this alienation is possible in case of a painting.
            Therefore, my vote goes to photograph as it has a higher degree of reality represented in it, than a painting.


A Critical Analysis of Arogyasri Health Insurance Scheme - A Project of Andhra Pradesh State Government

(A Project of Andhra Pradesh Government in India)

This study is published as a chapter in the book titled "Health and the Media:Essays on the Effects of Mass Communication."

Click to Buy

The details are:

Title: Health and the Media: Essays on the Effects of Mass Communication
PublisherMcFarland (26 May 2016)Place: Jefferson, North CarolinaEditorsValentina Marinescu and Bianca MituPrint Length: 260 pages
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01GKC7HI4

Monday, February 20, 2012

Audience and Spectator in South India: A short Study

Sajit M. Mathews

With regard to South Indian cinema, the terms ‘audience’ and ‘spectator’ gain much importance as they determined and continue to determine the fate of the art and the course it should take in the future. From the times when cinema was silent, it was the role of the audience (in some cases, spectator) that remained stable and unchanging. Trends came and disappeared. Stars appeared and vanished. But audience remained. The interesting phenomenon of the audience in the South, which shares meanings with spectator, fan, citizen, admirer, rowdy, supporter and even protector is worth detailed study.
The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2003 Edition) defines ‘Audience’ as: ‘the group of people gathered in one place to watch or listen to a play, film, someone speaking, etc., or the (number of) people watching or listening to a particular television or radio programme, or reading a particular book’ and ‘Spectator’ as: ‘a person who watches an activity, especially a sports event, without taking part’.[1] Wikipedia’s definition of Audience is more elaborate and throws more light into our kind of study.[2] It says ‘An audience is a group of people who participate in a show or encounter a work of art, literature, theatre, music or academics in any medium. Audience participate in different ways in different kinds of art; some events invite overt audience participation and others allowing only modest clapping and criticism and reception. Media audiences are studied by academics in media audience studies. ‘Audience theory’ also offers scholarly insight into audiences in general. These insights shape our knowledge of just how audiences affect and are affected by different forms of art. A spectator is just an observer of an event or person who looks on or watches. Thus these terms differ in terms of involvement and participation.

Spectatorship and Audience

                Spectatorship within the film theory is a theoretical concept used to consider how film viewers are constituted and positioned by the textual and representational aspects of films. It is a fact that the theoretical construct of the spectator has always been different from the actual spectator in the social, empirical and historical understanding. Though films are able to dictate how spectator should view the film, it’s not the case always. Spectator is only a theoretical category idealized and homogenized as a logical subject produced by the film itself.[3] If such a reduction takes place, the question of emergence and engagement of audience becomes an impossible consideration.
In India, audience has always been outside this theoretical framework of spectator. From the time of silent cinema, spectator had been divided into strata. Elite crowd, the aspiring-to-be-elite crowd and the low class crowd always existed. Especially in South India, where politics and mass entertainment were always connected, there has been strong undercurrents which lead (or misled) cinema. Those who could afford to vocalize their admiration for cinema and the star were named rowdy. Those who dare not do that stayed elite or close to elite crowd, ‘untarnished’ by these uncouth spectators.

Citizen and audience

                Citizen is defined as member of the general public, possessing inalienable rights. Theoretically every citizen is entitled to be beneficiaries of these rights and privileges. But actually, only a minority enjoys these rights. That means there is a denial of rights to the majority. This majority is the so called ‘low class’ people of the periphery. These people who live on the fringes of the society are also human beings who long for fulfillment and power. One such kind of satisfaction is offered by films. The subaltern hero of the film who commands upper class men and challenges evil social systems and takes a beautiful upper class woman as his bride certainly lives up to the aspirations of the ‘low class.’ They long to destabilize the system that demoralizes and impoverishes them. And in these films, they find their wishes come true in the words and actions of a star. They admire this representative of theirs. Citizen figure (hero) in the film represents these people. The star thus is a means of addressing the anxiety and anger of being outside the domain of rights.
            An interesting point to be noted here is that the citizen in the film is not like the people who watch him. The hero begins like an ordinary subaltern ‘low class.’ Later, he rises to the capability of a citizen. But all through the transformation, the audience is kept reminded of the fact that hero is a star. This gives him the necessary power to stand up against power of the upper class.[4] This gives him the authority to fall in love with an upper class woman. This also keeps the audience reminded that they are ‘subaltern’ and the star is not and that such things happen only in films. The status of star automatically raises the hero above the handicap imposed by community and class identities and gains ‘citizen’ status for him.
            Thus though the star fulfills the desire of the audience to be citizens, the audience continues to be alien to their rights, affirmed by the filmic narration.

Who is a ‘fan’ then?

            How do we define a fan? The whole argument about fan and the way of looking at fan depends on how we define a fan. It is no wonder that we see a fan as a non-educated lower middle class male admirer of a film star. But we should not forget the fact that fan associations were creations of the film industry itself as logical extensions of star systems. It was motivated by profit. The idea was to make use of fans to provide free publicity to actors and their projects. Actually, fan played a major role in the financial success of films. Every ardent fan would be present at the opening show of a film and they would continue to watch the film repeatedly, so that their star’s film is a success. The fan participation also showed whether the film was good or bad.
            Though fans were created by the industry, they have come a long way from being unpaid servants of the industry.[5] Fans at times have gone away from the stars and declared their independence. Most of the fans associations do not stop with mere slogan shouting and poster publicity. Fans associations had major role in Tamil and Telugu Politics and Kannada Linguistic Nationalism. They also undertake charitable work and social work. They have networks sometimes countrywide and sometimes even international. Thus, the old definitions no more fit today’s fan.


Audience, Star and Fan: Behind and Beyond the Silver Screen

            What then is the relationship between the audience and star? As history tells us, stars as well as fans were created by the industry. But audience is not the creation of anyone. Here I would like to create a distinction between audience and fan. Fan is also part of the audience. But those other than the fan do not want them to be with counted as audience. Fan thus is pushed a step down the rung. Audience thus creates another class called fans. Thus, more than fan, Audience needs attention in this discussion. Audience is the middle class crowd that names fans ‘fans.’ Audience looks down upon fan for their over-reaction: Excess. According to audience, fans are thugs, goons and an unruly group. This audience doesn’t want to get in touch with fans for fear of appropriation. They criticize them from a distance.
            Audience is not under compulsion. They are not bothered about whether the film succeeds in the box office or not. They don’t bother about the image of the star. All they look for is entertainment (generally). As long as they get it, they are satisfied. They criticize when the film fails to satisfy their taste and expectation. When the audience is mostly admirers or fans, they see the star more than the character. When there is an expectation about the actor, the actor is bound to act according to the expectations of the crowd. Unless the actor rises up to these aspirations, he will be put down. Therefore the star, within his constraints, portrays a character which neither thwarts the demands of the fan, nor irritates the ‘audience’. In short, it is the fan who decides what kind of role the actor plays on screen.
             Where does the audience- other than the fan- stand in relation with the star? Films have often diffused through the fabric of the society and created a social image of stars. Consumption of star is not limited to films. We are able to see stars all around us: in advertisements, news reports, politics, social gatherings, etc. Cinema magazines are read not only by fans, but also by the general public, providing space for an ‘off-screen’ life of the star. The image of star, even in the imagination of the general public is a constructed one. Star has a social image. Everyone wants to connect to this image. This image is against the divinized image of the star somewhere far away. Here star is the next door man or woman. In some cases, audience tries more than identification or escaping into the stars world, by bringing the star home. In this way, the audience keeps themselves away from fans and near to the star.
The difference between fan and audience is subtle. Fan expressions are always in the excess form (as observed by the audience) - unnecessarily extravagant and hyperbolic whereas audience’s expressions are in a muted and sober fashion. They show rationality with purpose. That which the middle class ‘audience’ doesn’t want to be identified as, is termed fan. Fan thus is a mental projection of the fears and anxieties of the ‘audience’ of being incorporated into the ‘low class’ crowd who yells and howls in the cinema hall. This low class audience is also termed as ‘rowdy’ and is kept at a distance. Since audience cannot follow the star as fans do the demarcation helps.


            Cinema exists as a sign of creative and innovative spirit of human beings. Within the space of this creative space, we find side roads where strands of human weaknesses. Here, some powerful people make use of the unprivileged, for their gains. This kind of manipulation occurs in cinema on and off the screen. In short, the drama goes on behind and beyond the screen. Audience is the component, perpetrator and victim of all these complex mechanisms. As times progress and human spirit thrives towards the ultimate spirit as Hegel puts it, we can expect pure engagements with society and its creative expressions like cinema. Audience has a major role in leading film industry into intellectual arenas unexplored and to bring entertainment and education into cinema halls.

[1] Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2003, Version 1.0
[3] Hughes, Stephen. P. Unsettling Cinema: a symposium on the place of cinema in India, Pride of Place, # 525, May 2003.
[4] Srinivas, S.V. Citizens and Subjects of Telugu Cinema, Deep Focus: A Film Quarterly, March 2002. P. 63-67.
[5] Srinivas, S. V. Devotion and Defiance in Fan Activity. Making Meaning In Indian Cinema. Oxford University Press,  USA, 2001.

Cidade de Deus - City of God: Film Review

A film by Fernando Heirlles

                Rio de Janeiro (meaning, River of January) in my mind was a city of god. It was a city of joy, excitement, modernity and plenty. Any search on internet will give one, a perfect picture of a city that is affluent, colourful, joyous and plentiful. But as is the case with any city, there is an underside to this developed face of Rio too. The blue seas and the cool breeze of the city are actually a facade that covers up a bunch of stark truths.
            Rocket’s life is the life of a city dweller. City for him is home. And his home is not in the colourful part of the city. Where Rocket lived, city was coloured grey and sometimes RED with blood. It is the city of god still, because a number of human beings could make a living in the grey part of the city. What makes a city that of god is love towards life. What made the city grey and red was in fact its affinity for life. In Rio’s grey colonies, its crowds and the hoodlums were all trying to make a living.
            Made in a very different style, City of God shows glimpses of real life from the city. The film made me look away from the screen many times. Though violence and sex are part of life as is politics and love, such stark depictions are rare in Indian films. The language used by the hoodlums’ language, constant fear of death, search for adventure and money, etc. come out well in the film. I don’t think I would be able to sit through the film even if I wish to. I will have to train myself to enjoy such film too.
            If I made this film, there would be more of suggestions of violence and death, than actual on screen scenes. The reasons are: either that Indian culture is mild or that Indian culture tries to look away from harsh realities- a kind of escapism!

Sajit M. Mathews

Politics in South Indian Cinema: A study of the use of films for political communication

Sajit M. Mathews
            As we are exposed to the realities regarding the South Indian Cinema and related political equations through the readings and class discussions, I think it would be a fruitful exercise to dwell upon the question, ‘why politics in South Indian Cinema?’ This question is important as long as we try to understand the phenomenon of South Indian film industry and South Indian Politics under the same head.
Political background
            India is a democratic republic nation where people decide who will rule when and whom. Under such democratic circumstances, almost all those who are interested in handling power will try to influence the masses using all the available means. This is a fundamental right of every Indian citizen. This influence can be obvious when someone uses a speech to persuade people and not so obvious when someone already in power uses government machinery to please people and subtle when someone cleverly uses innovative means like the media to manipulate the masses. India gained independence from colonial rule in 1947. Much before that, political polarization started gaining momentum. The Congress Party had a well established network of activists all over the country, set up to struggle for freedom. And there were many other smaller factions of organized and unorganized set-ups which came to the lime light after the independence.
Filmy background
            Films came to India within a year of its invention- in July 1896. The new entertainment was received with mixed feelings at all quarters of the nation. Within a short time, Madras developed its own films. “The silent cinema, though it did not have any pretentions to ideological or political content, certainly had clear overtones of political consciousness.”[1] During freedom struggle, Gandhi gave emphasis to eradication of social evils, making social uplift part of political activism. Thus, films that contained social themes were clearly political in orientation. Madras films started ‘talking’ in 1931 when Kalidas was released. That marked the beginning of the production of an anthology of Tamil movies. In the beginning, all the movies were head-on shootings of the existing company drama performances. In that way, we can’t see much creativity entering studios. The first Tamil talkie with a contemporary theme was Menaka (1935). Slowly, social themes which had a special significance in the pre-independence Indian scenario gained in number, even under strict censorship of the British.[2] Cinema was seen as a danger to their power by the British and as a new opportunity to speak to the masses, by the freedom fighters.
Tamil cinema and the DMK
            DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam) was formed in 1949. The conscious use of films for political purpose began with C. N. Annadurai’s film ‘Velaikkari’ (1948). With this, the socio-political demands of the region began to be expressed through the medium of cinema. The films made by DMK had explicit atheistic and anarchic dialogues, criticizing existing religion, beliefs, political system and social evils. ‘Velaikkari’ and ‘Parasakthi’ are two of the best examples, scripted by Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi respectively.
            The DMK involvement with the film as a medium had two distinguishable phases, the first phase (1948-1957) dominated by the film scripts of Annadurai and Karunanidhi (note that it was in 1957 that DMK entered electoral politics) and a second one dominated by M.G. Ramachandran. [3] In the first phase, the oppressive character of both the society and the government was always highlighted. This was the time when villages were electrified. This paved the way for the spread of DMK ideology to every nook and corner of the state, through cinema.
            Madhava Prasad has an interesting argument regarding representation. Representation can be political and aesthetic. Political representation is a leader ‘represent’ing people in the parliament. Aesthetic or cultural representation is in the realm of discourse, texts and images, in which we ‘re-present’ our world. Such representations are within the frame of a variety of constraints and thus they neither provide direct access to reality nor are neutral. They always carry their own ideological biases and emphases.[4] Films fall under this kind of representation.
            There always existed a symbolic relationship between films and political parties in Tamil Nadu. Films were used in three ways by political parties: direct political propaganda, reference to party symbols, leaders etc and mixing of documentary footage with shots of actual film. Therefore, no wonder why actors were crowd pullers especially to party conferences.[5]      
Within films, there are subtle developments. The actors, who develop into stars govern another realm- fan following. Stars always exceed the narrative framework of the film as a story. The star exists apart from the film and depends only partially on the story. There are roles played and characters portrayed in a film. Star plays a role and portrays a character. In the end, star becomes a representation, above the role and the roles themselves begin to exceed the requirements of the characterization.[6]
            Considering what constituted the growth of MGR as an icon and idol in Tamil Nadu, we could very well say that films are much more than mere representations of social realities. MGR who believed that every man had to have an image, consciously and shrewdly drew up his own image based on the popular ballads, which appealed to the people. In his own words, “You put forward an image of yourself if you want to get anywhere.”[7] Therefore, using the popular images of heroes to reconstitute image that served elite interests, MGR reached every part of Tamil Nadu through films as a wish fulfilling hero of the masses. Adding to these, widespread popularization of him as an icon through biographies, newspapers, pamphlets and posters served in identifying the person of MGR to the images he put up on the screen.
Politicisation of films
            The article on Parasakthi tells us clearly that the film succeeded in its pro-DMK campaign. “Its anti-Congress and anti-religious postures went down well with the enthusiastic audience.”[8] People went to theatres to listen to the dialogues of M. Karunanidhi, rather than to watch the movie. Cinema hall almost fell apart with loud applause, whenever there were references to the politics of Annadurai. Particularly this film used many symbols to criticise the existing social system and government. There are references to idolatry, corrupt politicians, merchant, insincere religious, immoral society and the general degradation of once prosperous and highly moral Tamil Society (Nadu).
            Thus, a trend started with Velaikkari (1948) and Parasakthi (1952). The transition from a social movement to a political party, from DK to DMK is what Parasakthi helped in bringing about. We could see a lot of sharp criticism as well as ideological compromises, depicted cleverly in the film. These compromises were forerunners of the new political appearance of the Kazhakam. The film stood as a signboard in the historical course of the Dravidian Movement, pointing to the consensual politics DMK was destined to play in Tamil Nadu.[9]
            The political communication rendered by the DMK was political communication as persuasion, when they did not enjoy political power. This persuasion was to urge the hitherto stable masses to take a political stand in voting for the party- a kind of suggestive communication. by definition, feature films have two levels of meaning: one within the film and another in relation to the political reality of the day. DMK used the second level meaning in dramatic narrative films, without openly portraying oppresionist situations. These films had powerful psychological influence on the audience. They left cinemas with clear ideological realisations.
            These films revolutionised the structure and content of Tamil films by portraying the dynamism of the downtrodden through the fists of MGR and words of Karunanidhi. In other words, Karunanidhi gave arguments and MGR gave the ‘how’ of uplift of the downtrodden. These films, while criticising the social oppression and exploitation, also underscored the necessity to bring back those ancient virtues enshrined in Tamil culture. [10]
            In short, Tamil films stand as a historical image which used a popular medium for political communication. Political and literary genius acting together to influence the psyche of the masses! And the continued reign of DMK, ADMK and AIADMK tells us that this innovative method works and is very powerful. A long time film star reigned the state for over ten years. Still the memories of those subaltern heroes linger in the emotional and physical terrain of Tamil Nadu. Thus Tamil ideological front used film as an effective medium to communicate with masses.

1 Sivathamby, Karthigesu. The Tamil Film as a Medium of Political Communication. p: 6. New Century Book House Pvt. Ltd.; Madras, 1981.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid, p:10.
[4] Prasad, Madhava. M. Cine-Politics: On the Political Significance of Cinema in South India, Journal of Moving Images, P: 51.
[5] Pandian, M.S.S. Culture and Subaltern Consciousness: An Aspect of MGR Phenomenon, Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 24, No. 30, July 29, 1989. P: 63.
[6] Prasad, Madhava. P: 51.
[7] Pandian, M.S.S. P: 64.
[8] Pandian, M.S.S. Parasakthi: Life and Times of  DMK Film, Making Meaning in Indian Cinema, P. 74.
[9] Ibid. P:93.
[10] Sivathamby, P: 10.

Tradition Vs. Modernity: A few reflections based on films

       Kallan Pavithran is a film by Padmarajan. The story is about a village burglar who turns rich after selling an antique Indian statue which he steals. Here the antique Golden statue enters the story as a trigger which brings in modernity. The peaceful life of Mammachan- the mill owner is turned upside down when this statue enters Pavithran’s life. The golden statue fetches him money, prosperity and status. He starts another mill in the village which represents a threat to the life and livelihood of Mammachan. The story is narrated in a realistic manner in a village set up. What interests me in the narration is the entry of the golden statue which also brings in all the pretentions and intrigue which navigate Pavithran’s life into the jail. Though the immediate cause for the ruin of Pavithran is his interest in women, that golden statue is the ultimate/distant cause.

       The mill Pavithran builds, the car he buys, his shining clothes and the aura of new money- all these stands tall representing the entry of an alien element. The soul of the village is not able to digest this, though apparently they have no problem in accepting him as a rich man. Padmarajan’s message may have been a different one. But what I gather from the movie is that modernity is not part of the village. In the end, it is the true tradition that wins. Pavithran as a poor thief was a well accepted element of the society. Without him the village was an
incomplete entity. But when he was corrupted by the golden statue’s money (modernity) he becomes an alien. He necessarily had to be dealt with. That is why, in the end when he was arrested, there was no reaction from the people as if it was the natural outcome of Pavithran’s life.

       Another instance from the same movie is when Pavithran takes his ex-wife’s sister into the city to flirt with her. He sees city as a safe place to do this. Village is home. Home is not the place to flirt. He could do this only in a place where anything is right. City is the place for this. City thus represents modernity. It is a den of all the
activists who dare not flirt at home. It is a hiding place. It is afree zone to be ‘genuine’- since they cannot be ‘genuine’ at home, in the village.

       If tradition is seen as opposite to modernity, there are many instances in our films. But if tradition is seen as more than merelythe state of being modern, or the opposition between old and new, it would be quite a task to analyze and filter instances of their coming together. Modernity is a welcoming state to development, change and new elements. It is about the creation of conditions where progress and change in culture and art are visibly made. It is about changing the attitudes and lives of human beings from within, often without their consent or willing knowledge. This lack of volition makes modernity a target of skepticism and suspicion. And it is true that
our times have seen such unwilling inflections in millions. Globalization and market culture are backed by the ideals of modernity. No wonder our films always have such elements.

       India as a ‘national’ entity has been seeing new elements being introduced into its blood for centuries. This became pronounced and painful when the colonial conquerors used our benevolence to bring us to their will. From that time onward, life for us Indians was on the pretext of the presence of foreigners in our land. The cultural, emotional, economic and psychological crisis created at the introduction of a foreign element thus is very well know to us.

       In a recent film by director ‘Santhosh Sivan’- Before the rains, this crisis is well enunciated. The plot is set in early 1930s, when freedom struggle is gaining momentum. In an interior Kerala village, there is an estate owned and managed by a British man- Henry Moores, played by Linus Roache. He lives alone. There are two native characters who help him with his life and work. One is a male assistant- Neelan played by Nahul Boss, a young bachelor. The other is a young married women- Sajani, played by Nandita Das.

       The story revolves around the construction of a road leading to the estate, which has to be completed before the rains. The presence of the English man is an uncomfortable factor in the village since he is not of the village. Especially for Sajani’s husband, who has to send his wife to Mr. Moores who lives alone, the Mr. Moores is a threat and a source of shame and suspicion. Between Sajani and the Mr. Moores, there was a warm but illicit relationship growing day by day. When the Mr. Moores’ wife comes, he had to keep her away against her will. In
the wake of events, she kills herself. But the blame falls on Neelan. Here, the village interferes, since the rules of the village is visibly infringed and its sanctity, under sacrilege. Gradually, the village elders find that the fault is with Mr. Moores. With this, village rests back in sanctity, though hurt and bleeding at the intruder’s violent and insensitive act and the loss of one of its daughters. Neelan who set out to kill Mr. Moores decides to let him go
after keeping him at gun point. The film ends when rain pours down on Mr. Moores and the incomplete road, washing away his dreams and fortune, as well as the shame of the village.

       In this movie, modernity as part of colonial power created havoc in the heart of the traditional village. They are not visibly opposed to the foreign element. But when it upsets the normal flow of the village’s life, they spring into angry but controlled action. They are engaged in an endeavour of restabilising the society- bringing
traditional society into its powerful status again. Neelan is put under trial and is asked to prove his innocence.

       It is important to note that the two characters who were in constant touch with the modernity element were always looked at with suspicion. Neelan was seen almost as a traitor. Sajani was suspected by her husband. Thus, a normal reaction to modernity that is ‘introduced’ into ‘tradition’ is suspicion.

       What is intriguing in such a discussion is the ability of people to detect what belongs to their tradition and what is alien (or modern)- in other words, what is tradition and what is modernity. It may be is subtle as in Kallan Pavithran or visible as in Before the rains. But people are able to spot it at first sight. I observe that this is because anyone can distinguish between what is one’s own self and what is alien.

       Again I am not sure whether this argument can be applied to the people and movies of our age. 21st century is changing at a pace which was never imagined by the 20th. Technology and complexity becomes surprisingly simple. Space and time are tackled through innovations. What was alien and foreign 10 year ago is part of my spirit, body and mind today. When the scenario changes like this, a study of modernity and tradition becomes even more challenging. 

       But on a second thought, I realize that nothing has actually changed. There is an exchange of roles. The oppressor and invader are not the same as in former centuries. But the concept of modernity remains the
same. In the early 1900s when film was introduced in the subcontinent, our audience was looked down upon by the people of the west as people of no taste for cultured things. Backward economic status combined
with that of a colony made Indians appear uncivilized for the oppressors. Today, more than 60 years after they have left us, we still feel colonized in many aspects of life- not because we cannot break fetters, but because we don’t want to! This is an unfortunate state of affairs. Indian society today is making an economic leap
towards becoming a super power. Technology and military power backs this leap. But the western economic and technological supremacy limits our horizons.

       Modernity is not an outsider today. What the state represents is an aggregate of all the philosophies down the centuries. Democracy serves as a safe platform wherefrom the legitimate rights of adivasis and tribals and those on the peripheries- the subalterns- can be legally denied. Rich become richer, middle class remain comfortable and the poor become poorer. This is the curse of 21st century. Polarisation of the world happens as never before. Every region on earth has a section of people who work for the rich. This was the case with colonies of last century. But its difference between today’s colonialism is that today, everybody accepts this condition.

       Mainstream films of today’s India (majority) do not reflect real asto evoke social change. These films work from the platform of a modern outlook. The camera looks from above, from the perspective of the modernity. Since the base itself is modernity it goes without saying that the values propagated are that of modernity. The most popular and money-gathering film of the year so far- ‘Three Idiots’ speaks of the necessity to let children find their own vocation- a noble ideal indeed. But the way it portrays a poor family (that of Mr. Rastogi)
tells a lot to the intelligentsia about the outlook of the movie. I was annoyed at the way it was screened. It would not have done any harm if not good to the movie if the director had given a positive impression of how a family lives in dignity and hope even when they had little to eat. It’s a matter of perspective. That is what happened
to our filmdom. Perspectives are changing. When films are made spending millions, profit is important. When profit is important, many other issues like social concern and genuineness become less important.

       That is what makes many of us look away from Malayalam movies of the day. There is a visible shift of perspective in Malayalam movies of the last decade. Elements of films have changed considerably. From
being one of the best industries, we have managed to reach a stage where we have movies with no messages at all. Adopting Hollywood assembly line technology and Bollywood dance-fight sequences made us forget quality in terms of storyline and value systems. 

Sajit M. Mathews