Thursday, April 24, 2008

Surviving the Quarter-Life Crisis...

Before the "quarter life crisis" struck, I vaguely remember a young ambitious man, a recent engineering grad from a tough as nails Master's program, eager to work hard, make money, do his mba from an ivy league school in a few years, dreaming of marrying a beautiful girl, investing his money, traveling to exotic places, keeping his parents happy and well provided for, winning every struggle that came his way and living the life, middle-class youth of today's India can aspire for and be definitely able to reach. And then from a point where he thought everything was figured out, the plot to his life went awry. His dear and near ones helplessly watched the show as he gradually retreated into irritability, unhappiness and aloofness. Today, what he wonders though, is the crisis striking him late, say five years from now, and he turns a gun on himself, realizing it is too late to change tracks. I have heard many a Tom, Dick and Harry in my generation say they are in QLC and surprisingly their lives go on just how it was before their supposed crisis began, the lucky ones beat it by jumping jobs or going to B-School. Mine wasn't so easy - it lasted three years and changed me inside out, hopefully for the better.

When I left India it was an escape from the long looming shadow of my dad. I have believed that every generation born into a family which can provide for their education has the responsibility to go one step ahead of their parents. Making a new life in a new land was my idea of that step ahead. The quarter-life crisis changed everything for me. It all began on my first job out of university, a startup in San Diego. While my batchmates plumped for big companies, I opted for a job with subsistence-level basic minimum pay but with a tempting stock option offer, believing the day they went IPO I could retire with a six digit bank balance. The American Dream was about to sour. I realized I couldn't sit on a chair inside a cube for more than half an hour before the world outside beckoned me or in conference rooms where people deliberated solutions to business challenges while I nodded away to puppetic perfection. I was too restless beyond my own comprehension. My mind began to work in ways I couldn't control. Ideas of an alternate life, a rewarding life started entering my head. It took 1 1/2 years and four jobs with varying degrees of success and failure to help me take that first step. I gave the first of my childhood ambitions, the UPSC a shot. For close to a year, I had a semi-reprieve from my early-life crisis but it returned with a bang when I realized the civil service exam was an effort undertaken too late, too unprepared.

The US was my escape route again, to weave the next plan of action. I found a new field and a new job that I have been working at, for more than a year now. But the crisis continued with me - the comfort level with this job was just an illusion, it told me, and the way ahead offered me, just more of boredom and dissatisfaction. I penned down on a piece of paper all the careers that best fit me. It took me to a final answer after much frustration, enforced loneliness, soul-searching and soul-searing. The choice may not be the perfect fit but it shines a lamp, enough for me to see a narrow path to start walking on, knowing if I stay the course, wider roads will appear in their own sweet time. The crisis waned. I was at peace finally. I found my happiness again. I now look back and believe this was the best phase in my life. In my hardships and mental turmoil, I discovered my own thinking, lifestyle, personality and most importantly my writing voice that reflected on this blog. I get scared at times now, but a beginning has to be made. I am lucky. I have given myself a second chance in life. I thank my parents - they have backed me through it all. I should remember to give and afford my children the same freedom and courage to dream.

Last weekend, I was in Chicago with one of my closest friends from school and our parting revelry was broken by a brother of ours mailing in that he had resigned his high-profile job in Manhattan. The early life crisis was claiming another short-term casualty. I returned from the holiday thinking and believing he had done the right thing and deviously decided on sparking a fire in a college pal's smooth life. This was a guy who I thought would go on to become an entrepreneur and a leader of men and instead lived content with waiting for his green card and life as a programmer. Though I have no right to interfere in another person's life or be judgmental, I lost patience with the tepid ideas he kept suggesting and dropping, never to be heard again and offered him a piece of my mind, on the precious time he was losing and what a lazyass he was becoming. The crisis was good for me - it has given me dreams, it has given me a reason to work hard, it has made me strong. I don't know about success, but I will survive. I will be happy. But I am feeling guilty and horrible now - I hate this tendency in me to give advice and support when not solicited - why did I do it to him, will he go into that churn now, what if he had put a roof on his dreams to continue supporting his family, will a QLC do him good, was I being stupid? Time will tell...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Money Couldn't Buy Me Food...

Resurgent India has suddenly gone defensive. Is the euphoria with India's booming economy fading? Were we oozing confidence based on hollow growth numbers? At the Indian store today, they had no Nirapara kuthari to make kanji(porridge) that I suddenly had a craving for and the owner gravely tells me all non-basmatic rice exports from India have been banned following soaring rice prices. Is this the India that until a few months back proudly watched its stock exchanges break record after record? Will banning exports provide a short-term solution to inflation in India and the impending food crisis? Will Chidambaram's farmer friendly budget help in the long term? A country which serves notice on the world with Tata buying Jaguar should have nowhere to hide and deserves a round of booing for this shameless economic restriction. I had the money but I didn't get the rice I wanted to buy. I couldn't care less about exports but what if this inflation is a precursor to crippling food scarcity within the country? And my stuck-up, lazy self decided I needed to write on this.

Some years back, dad told me of the food scarcity in the '60s in the context of the influential Church in Kerala. His family had money, land and the cash crop of our times, rubber, but there was no food. They could atleast depend on tapioca, livestock, etc. Many people didn't have even that. The Church stepped in and became a public distribution system with contributions from abroad. They also earned goodwill and managed to convert many people in Kerala to Christianity. I asked my mom today what the food scarcity of the 60's meant to her family. They were paddy cultivators and grew most of the vegetables they needed. She also had an almost similar answer but her reply also highlighted a glaring irony, very relevant to today's times. They also subsisted on tapioca and everything else they raised because the rice they harvested yielded good prices in the market, so they consumed less of it! If there was a food scarcity today, what can people fall back on. Can money buy a commodity for which production and supply can't meet the demand? What will people have, to fall back on now that we are strangers to the soil, now that every inch of earth is fertile ground for production activities of modern man, save what its best suited for?

The food crisis has been building up over time and aggravated by the unbalanced growth India has been witnessing. From real estate eating up farmland in Hyderabad, Tata's auto-manufacturing company in Singur, the farm unions in Kuttanad, the uneconomical again thanks-to-globalization cotton crops in Vidarbha the challenges faced by agriculture in every part of India is different and at the same time has its origins in our apathy to recognize the importance of a healthy agricultural system. That our politicians have the solution to the food crisis in Kerala and intends to do something about this is obvious from this statement by the Food Minister, C.Divakaran. Why doesn't the honorable minister say that we depend for the milk, chicken and eggs on a state that blows hot and cold each time on the Mullaperiyar issue every time the demand for a new dam is raised!

At the junction closest to my house in Trivandrum, I was met this time by a crowd, a multitude of strange faces. People who were not residents or workers in the area until a few years before. These were not the elegantly dressed employees of the technopark, who find the locality a perfect place to live in and commute to work from. I despaired at this mini-Chandni Chowk my surroundings was becoming, I didn't know where those tired faces came from. Today I wonder if these are people who left their villages for a less-taxing, more yielding life in the cities? Gandhiji famously said "the soul of India lives in its villages". Was he not pepping up the farmer with that statement, was he making a long-run prophesy for the best future of the Indian state, or was he mourning the impending death of village life, and losing its charms to the superficial magnetism that city life had. For long, we have been worrying about the harmful effect on our cities caused by rural migration. Only a few like P.Sainath have the vision to direct our attention to the villages, the livelihood that these people turn their backs on and the reasons behind that.

A friend recently returned from a study tour to China and talked of farmer anger at officialdom which frequently uproots them from their land and plants them in factories amidst a sea of disciplined uniformed robotic men and women whose lives are as monotonous as the machines they assemble. Are we not doing something similar to the Indian farmer? We need to give back to the farmer his pride of place in society, otherwise we should soon be ready to grow on our backyards, frontyards and on every bit of soil we can find - the tapioca, poultry, cows and vegetables we badly need for our nourishment. Yes, this is a situation that will come to reality in our lifetimes, atleast in Kerala - make no mistake, like the professional beggars on our streets, an epithet - The Rich Beggar's Country - is waiting for us. We will have pockets flush with money, but stomachs as light as Somalians. Then we will surely learn our lesson - we will learn the dignity of labour and agriculture.

P.S - I dedicate this post to a friend who once tried/still tries too hard to change my thinking. He believed I had a human core which he could influence. His ideas were/are too militant for my "ghar ki safai me haath kaun gandha karein" middle-class moorings but I find myself beginning to share his thoughts. A quote in the film Kingdom of Heaven resonates within me all these years since I first heard it - "What man is a man who does not make the world better?" I know what man I am - I am a gold-digger who seems to have lost the lust for gold. What man are you?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Past Always Catches Up!

A close friend from my college days called up. He was very agitated. His parents had begun earnestly looking for a girl for him but nothing was working out.
He: Neeyokke blogil oro thonnivaasam ezhuthi vekkum. Athine anubhavikkunnathe njanum.
Me: Enna patti aliya.
He: Dey Thanthapadi vilichirunnu. Angere ennode chodikkuva enne kuriche naatukaarkke nalla mathippaanalle enne.
Me: Lol...I call this poetic justice! I am going to write about this!

And so I thought of all the times the past caught up with people around me, of course not excluding myself.

My dad's best friend in college was a class act in roguery like my pal above. He is still an eccentric character and I just adore this man. He runs two Indian restaurants in Rome and has called one of them Kama Sutra!
Once his wife returned to their native place for some family function. A villager approaches her.
He: Mole ethe kudumbathiletha?
She tells him.
He: Avide oru thaanthonni ondaayirunnallo aa kattakayathinte koodeyokke nadannirunnathe. Ayaalokke rekshapetto aavo!
She: Aa thaanthonniyude bhaaryayaanu njan!

We were doing our master's then, fresh off the boat and exploring america intently. That was when a friend's dad was visiting LA and we took him around the city. And of all places, he notices a strip club.
Uncle: Oh strip clubs! Must be very expensive.
Friend(in the spirit of tour-guiding): Oh not really. Just 20 dollars per song.
We glare at him. Friend locks his mouth with his hands.
Uncle(stunned, thwacks friend on his head): Saale, tu mera paisa aisa hi barbaad karega!
Friend(rubbing his head): Innocent fun, dad. Please don't tell mom.

A few years back, I was in TVM on my way to Delhi for the UPSC classes. My parents were sitting around me, I couldn't say if they were happy or sad but they were both tensed. Suddenly my mom speaks up.
Mom: Did you know, that 20 years back your dad was intent on quitting his university job and wanted to go back to Idukki and join politics! I took a strong stand and thankfully good sense prevailed.
Pops: Onne mindaathirikkaavo. Aavashyamillaathathokke pillere paranje keppikkaalle!
Mom: Illa avanum ariyatte, avante appante vazhikalil koodayaane avanteyum pokkenne.
Me: Really? That takes a big load off my back. I couldn't understand why all this was happening to me.
I looked at my dad. He replied with a sheepish grin. From father to son, the struggles with idealism had found new roots in the next generation too. My mom knew at that moment, that the inherent pragmatism of the Karoors had no place in me.

I had always thought our mom was a curious mix of conservatism and modern ideas. The hard part was always figuring out where she stood on our dealings with the opposite sex, and to be safe I always kept that part of my life masked from her.

There was this time when my sis was finding it awkward explaining to her why my bro-in-law had to visit her before the wedding. And as fate would have it sis heard a story from mom's best friend that made our ears pop!
It seems he had caught my parents hanging out together at the Indian Coffee House at Thampanoor and a few other places before their wedding.
When we questioned mom, she is shocked for a second, then blushes, a clear concession of defeat, then puts on the lawyer's robe and cunningly prods, "Ee kallangalokke aara ningalode paranjathe?"

Pops used to be a very rash driver. He had to be at the head of the traffic and he knew no rest till he passed every vehicle on the road. Once he drove my friend and me back from Nagercoil where we went to write the TN Entrance Exam in sharp 40 minutes(the distance is like 60kms). On returning my friend remarks, "Dey entrancinte result varunnathine munpe exit aakum enne njan vichaarichu, ho jeevan thiriche kittiya aashvaasam!"
Ironically, a few wise people in Trivandrum decided to form a Road Safety Council and guess who they put in the governing body! We ribbed Pops about it and he defended himself by saying he had changed. That is when mom remarks, "Speedil odikunnathinte perspective kodukkaanaayirikkum pappaye avare member aakiyathe!"

In our family taking the cars out and returning with minor dents or scratches is a common happening. Equally common is that none of the guilty parties, parents or children, will reveal their hand and try passing the blame on to others, if and when the laceration is detected. Last time I was home, I came back late at night and saw a ghastly dent on the rear bumper. My face fell. Just the other day, sis had taken the other car out, rammed into a roadside wall and landed the vehicle at the workshop. I knew I was in for trouble, but when did this happen - I just had one beer! So I tepidly walk in, tiptoed past my parents bedroom and then I hear whispers. What do I do? I eavesdrop, of course!
Mom: Avan Vannu
Pops: Inne vittekkam. Naale avante thalayil veche kodukkaam!

That's when I barge in.
Me: Ingane venam parents aayaal.
Mom(changes sides!): Eda pappa konde idichatha. vaikunneram enne prathi aakaan nokki, pakshe nadannilla!
Me: Deyvame, ingane aanalle enne pande pattunna ella poralinum ningal utharavaadi aakiyathu.(That day was my chance to play saint! :)

And finally my big moment!

I always used to boast to my friends that I had an unblemished reputation in front of my parents unlike all of them, until this happened. A few years back, my dad visited me in the US and we shared a few beers. I outrightly overtook him 3 beers to his 1. He went back and told this to my mom who got very concerned.
She: Ayyo avanode entha parayaathe kudi nirthaan?
He: Rekshayilla! Nammude mookinte keezhil ninne avan kaanicha paripaadi enthaananne ariyaamo?
She: Illa?
He: Ivide pottichirunna kuppikal ellaatheennum avan ooti, ennittu level correct aakaan vellavum narachu!

My sis heard this conversation and dutifully reported it to me. I couldn't figure out how Pops found out, nor do I have the courage to ask. My best guess is that one of his cousins had the drinks "on the rocks' and found it unnaturally dilute! Pops, I know you always suspected Appachan too for this, maybe he also tried it out, but I am a guilty party too. You must be wondering how you got caught between two errant generations! That was your college-going boy showing off to his friends, please don't take it to heart. Peace between men!

P.S - Well, there's no escaping the past. Some day in the future, even this post will come back from the past. I wrote only about the good times. About karma, my mom would tell me - if you don't suffer for your actions, it will be the next generation that has to. She would cite me numerous examples to build her case. Meanwhile, check out this blog for those interested in writing of a very high quality. Also my fave song of recent times is finally up on youtube. Happy Vishu to all!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Om Padmarajanaaya Namaha, Om Adooraaya Namaha, Om TVChandranaaya Namaha, Om Varuvaanirikkunnavaraaya Namaha...

I went to college in the 1998-2002 period. A phase which many have attributed to as the nadir of the malayalam industry. A time when the film industry survived on the slender shoulders of Dileep and the thunder thighs of Shakeela. Yet there were a few good movies then. I watched around 300 movies in the theatres then, but I never went for a film festival, never watched a movie that the parallel and middle of the road pioneers of Malayalam cinema made in those years. I was in the firm grip of a mob which thrived on mediocrity. Ten years hence I have changed. I am ashamed to say this but it took a foreign wind and foreign thought to change me. I am trying hard to make up for all those lost years. Maybe those years were not lost after all. That might have been my life on one road, the "naadu odumbol naduve odunna" road. Once again I write on movies. Fundamentally, I haven't changed. I still love well-made commercial films like Om Shanti Om, Jodhaa Akbar, Kathaparayumbol, Chocolate and Cycle which keeps me entertained.

But have watched some awesome malayalam movies over the past one and a half years in the US and though I have made the mistake of not blogging them down immediately, there is an acute need on the internet for plot summaries and detailed reviews of many of malayalam cinema's finest. When I began this post, I was wondering if I was guilty of being a show-off, waxing eloquent on all these "class" movies. That thought sort of killed my enthusiasm, until I decided that writing is an act of faith in oneself and what I probably lacked was the confidence in doing justice to these films. While at Delhi, I was advised by a friend to give up my movie craze and start reading books. But the literary quality of these movies which I write of below has made up quite a bit for the lack of interest in reading. I don't expect anyone to read this whole post. Despite the length, it had to be one post as I might never have come back to finish this task, if left half way. My only regret is that I have devoted only a few sentences to these works of art which deserved a 1000 word article each, but I leave that blessing to others more competent than me. This is my small way of giving back to a medium that has helped continue my growth as an individual over the last one and a half years, while I mindlessly slaved for the dollar on a parallel track.

Six months back, I wrote a bitter post attacking the superstars of Malayalam Cinema and pleading for the arrival of young blood. As though to answer my prayers, 4 movies featuring youngsters, Chocolate, Cycle, Kangaroo and Malabar Wedding became hits or returned average collections. These movies will soon be forgotten but their success signifies with certainty a change in mentalities. It would be nothing short of a miracle, that having chronicled the movies below on my blog, a similar prayer is answered and we get good films again.


Adaminte Variyelle(1983) - A movie I saw long long back as a child, but couldn't appreciate then. This was another of K.G.George's middle-of-the-road films which found commercial success. Tells the travails of 3 women, in different social circumstances, one a socialite, another a working woman, and the third a house-maid and the indifferent men in their lives. The movie leads to a fitting end where the woman treated most unjustly by society takes her's and others like her's fates into their hands while the others succumb to the pressures of life. Also boasts of a title song, the lyrics of which make your heart cringe. Cast - Sreevidya, Suhasini, Soorya, Gopi, Mammootty, Venu Nagavally

Sreekrishna Parunthu(1984) - Like the above said film, another one seen long back, but which I couldn't remember, until a friend said this was his favorite malayalam movie in the horror genre. One of Mohanlal's first leading roles, it tells the story of a casanova who is forced to reform and take up the family's tradition of magic and faith-healing, but succumbs to temptations, gets increasingly corrupted and falls into a path of self-destruction from which he cannot find redemption. The song Mothira Kaiviralukalaal from this movie, is one of my favorites these days. Direction - Vincent. Script - John Paul

Chidambaram(1985) - G.Aravindan's biggest commercial success, possibly because of the presence of big names then like Gopi and Smita Patil, it tells a tale of a farm supervisor, Gopi who treats a lowly farmhand with respect and affection, and wins his trust but things get complicated when the farmhand, played by Sreenivasan marries and brings his wife, Smitha Patil to the farm. Gopi finds himself drawn towards the young woman, until one night he is caught red-handed by the farm-hand, who commits suicide. Overridden by guilt he tries his hand at alcohol, religion, spiritualism and wanderings to redeem himself without much success until he arrives at the temple at Chidambaram...

Vidheyan(1993) - Adoor adapts Zacharia's short story into a superb film on the relationship between a cruel and sadistic kannadiga feudal lord, Bhaskara Pattelar played by Mammootty and a christian share-cropper played by M.R.Gopakumar. The timid Gopakumar's life enters a turmoil when his beautiful wife catches Pattelar's roving eyes - on the one hand Pattelar becomes his benefactor but it conflicts with the shame he feels towards himself. But the tide begins to turn for the Pattelar when his wife stands up to him and local christians get fed up with his tyranny. Aptly cast in the title role, Gopakumar makes a splendid debut but never got such a plum role again in his career. Cast - Mammootty, Gopakumar, Tanvi Azmi, Sabitha Anand

Paadam Onne Oru Vilaapam(2004) - Over the years, T.V.Chandran has again and again delivered films which have wonderfully chronicled Kerala's past and present but unfortunately never found favour with the masses. I still remember watching my first art film, his Alicinte Anvekshanam on Doordarshan as a small boy and it leaving me with more questions than answers. Nowdays I would give anything to watch that movie once more. Paadam is about a 15 year old Muslim girl, but not yet a woman, played by Meera Jasmine, eager to study, but catches the fancy of an already married man, looking for dowry to get a visa to the Gulf, gets married to him and her spirited resistance to his advances. He succeeds in quenching his lust but adds one more number to a dreadful statistic in Kerala's backward Malappuram district. Aryadan Shoukath's bold script and K.G.Jayan's brilliant photography deserves utmost praise.

Oridathoru Phayalvan(1982) - The master storyteller Padmarajan, takes us to a village in Kerala where a wrestler(Rasheed) lands up on its shores, and gets involved in a petty local feud, with Nedumudi Venu playing the ace manipulator. He marries a pretty village belle, dashing the hopes of a few young men in the area, but as the girl soon finds out, marriage to a wrestler is not a bed of roses and her life goes astray. Padmarajan's films have settings, imagery, dialogues, characters and situations which make us feel like we are reading a short story than seeing a film. If ever I become a filmmaker, I would rather try to make films like he did, or make none at all.

Kallan Pavithran(1981) - Supposed to be loosely inspired by the story of Madhavan Thampi, Trivandrum's famed vessel house founder, Nedumudi Venu plays Kallan Pavithran, a small-time thief with two wives, who hits pay-dirt when he visits Adoor Bhasi, a wholesaler to trade in a few vessels he has stolen. There he discovers many old vessels in the warehouse, now blackened and dirty are actually made of gold. He returns from his discovery that night, to the low point of his life, having to see his second wife in bed with Gopi. He abandons her, and she eventually marries Gopi, a widowed rice miller. Pavithran's fortune increases day by day and incurs the jealousy of his second wife who pushes her younger sister into seducing him, all of which leads to his fall. Today it seems to me that Malayalis gave Padmarajan and Bharathan the license to make any movie they wanted. Many of their stories touched upon themes like adultery, betrayal, perversion and passion - I wonder if it was the quality of that age or their genius or their knowledge that malayalis would accept a forward looking film but go back to being conservative in their real lives that gave them the courage to make all those wonderful movies.

Padamudra(1988) - When I returned to the US in 2006, there were two Mohanlal movies, on my to-watch list for many years and I had given up all hope of finding them. Padamudra was one of them. Padamudra, tells the story of a lecherous pappadam-seller, Paandi who seduces another man's wife and as fate would have it she gives birth to a son who looks exactly like him. The paandi dies in remorse, the woman is helpless seeing the shame her son has to undergo from people making fun of him, and he gradually loses the reins to his life, all leading to a climax which sort of reminds you of Christ's end. It is a painful process, watching this film, Mohanlal puts in an intense performance that soaks through our insides with a negative energy which doesn't leave us for many days. Skillfully directed by M.D.Sukumaran. A must-watch film. Cast - Mohanlal, Nedumudi Venu, Seema

Odayil Ninne(1964?) - When some of the best talents of the age - Sathyan Master, Keshavadev and K.S.Sethumadhavan united, they gave us a movie which will stand tall in Malayalam Cinema's history through the ages. A black and white film, it tells the story of a rebel, Pappu played by Sathyan who has stood up against the injustices meted out to him from a very young age and lives life on his own terms. He reaches the city and settles down to a career as a rickshaw-puller(The way he handles the rickshaw you would think he has been doing it all his life). A young girl who falls into a ditch and her widowed mother enter his life, and he becomes a father to the child and a guardian to the woman. He works day and night to provide the girl a good education, and very soon falls prey to tuberculosis but can't afford to slow down as the girl enters college and her needs increase. He slowly becomes an encumbrance for her, but even in old age and sickness, he lives life as he started out, not ready to stoop to anyone, and the film ends with a fantastic visual which surely portended the heights Malayalam Cinema was about to reach with the impending arrival of fresh talents like MT, Adoor and Aravindan to name a few. Cast - Sathyan Master, Prem Nazeer, Kaviyoor Ponnamma, Thikkurussi Sukumaran Nair

Amritham Gamaya(1987) - MT Vasudevan Nair and Hariharan collaborated in this poignant tale of a principled young doctor indebted to his mother's rich but overbearing family for educating him, but in the land where he sets out to begin his career comes across a poor family which is suffering due to the callousness of his youth. His life takes a different turn, he loses all his near and dear ones but dedicates his life to making sure that he can find salvation in becoming the guardian to this family. Mohanlal virtually lives in the role of this drug-addicted doctor who loses everything but finds peace of mind in what must be called one of his career-best roles. Though I watched this movie more than a year back, this scene just doesn't fade from my mind. It is a wide angle shot of Mohanlal and Geetha(playing his fiance) looking at each other, with the distance between them signifying how far apart they have become. It is moments of silence, such pregnant pauses and stationary shots like these which so well show the character's state of mind, that is missing today. Everyone seems to want too much action nowadays. A little lingering and that becomes room for criticism...I am reminded of Aamir Khan's Taare Zameen Par and the criticism on its length! Cast - Mohanlal, Parvathi, Geetha, Vineeth, Thilakan, Devan

Meghamalhar(2000) - The last middle of the road Malayalam Cinema to run well at the Kerala box office, Meghamalhar tells the tale of two people, one an advocate with a love for hindustani music married to a bank officer, and the other a writer and journalist whose husband is working in the Gulf. Circumstances happen for the two people to meet and they find they share several common interests including a love for ghazals and literature. A beautiful kind of love develops until they realize the happy marriages, spouses and children that stand to be destroyed. Scripted and Directed by Kamal, a maker of several commercial hits, this film had Biju Menon and Samyukatha Varma underplay the protagonists to perfection, ably supported by Siddique and Poornima Indrajith as their spouses.

Deshadanam(1995) - One of the last malayalam films in the above said genre to succeed commrcically, this movie was aided by a touching storyline, A-class performances, haunting music and a director, Jayaraj, whose skills were at its zenith. Vijayaraghavan is a Kathakali artist in a loving family which comprises his father, wife and son. His only child is offered a life of sanyasa by the revered chief of a math and this throws them all into grief. They agree to let their son go, and turns their backs on him, and the turmoil of the child begins. Released in 1995, this film closed the period, we Malayalis till date call the golden period of Malayalam Cinema.

Nizhalkuthu(2001) - Adoor returned after Vidheyan with the role of a lifetime for the talented Oduvil Unnikrishnan, as the last hangman of Travancore. Having lived a life of comparative affluence, thanks to the benevolence of the king, the impending freedom and the erosion of royal decree has affected the hangman but more critical to him than the troubles of his family, is the guilt that he carries, having to partake all responsibility for the executions and thus absolving the king of blame. And thus, in old age and amidst great anguish, he undertakes the journey to Ananthapuri, from his home in Kanyakumari, accompanied by his Gandhian son to complete his last undertaking. Adoor has very ably mixed myth and fantasy in a very realistic storyline. The camera work by Mankada Ravi Varma is recognition of the reason why Adoor never had anyone else visualize his scripts.

Vanaprastham(2000) - Shaji N. Karun gave Mohanlal his first pure arthouse role after Vasthuhara and exacted a superlative performance from him that we seldom saw for many years before and after it. Mohanlal plays a supremely talented Kathakali artist, who fuels his creativity with alcohol, unable to give answers to his suffering wife for their penurious existence, and incapable of doting on his daughter who loves him a lot. His life takes a positive turn for a while, when the rich heiress of a royal family falls for him, but fate has a cruel surprise in store for this man who begins to lose the love for the mask which keeps him alive. Zakir Husain's background music and Santhosh Sivan's camera takes this film up several notches to a world classic.

Oridathe(1986) - Aravindan tells us a tale of electricity arriving in a village in Kerala and the immediate changes that happen to its people. In today's age we will look at the fear, wonder, distrust and hatred for this modern convenience called electricity at this village with disdain but Aravindan has masterfully captured these scenes while telling in parallel a tale of fawning, lust, betrayal and murder involving Nedumudi Venu, the contractor and Sreenivasan, the local who cozies up to Venu.

Perumazhakaalam(2004) - A tragic incident kills one man and threatens the life of another. A muslim woman from the banks of the Kallayi river journeys to a Brahmin woman living on the banks of the Kalpathi river, in the knowledge that this woman holds the tender thread to her husband's life. What follows is a tale of anger, despair and redemption told with great empathy and skill by Kamal in the scripts of T.A.Razak, for whom the seeds of this story originated from a newspaper clipping telling a similar story. Beautiful music, superb camera work including a breathtaking shot of a gnat clinging tightly to a leaf, while it rains heavily, possibly symbolizing the desperate struggle that Meera Jasmine takes on to save her husband. Kavya Madhavan as the Brahmin woman and Meera have given performances that will be remembered long after they leave the stage,

Idavela(1982) - Four college students, lead by Ashokan bunk an NCC camp and travel to a tourist destination for a few days of fun. Desperate to get laid, but frustrated in their efforts, they narrow down their prey to a girl of their age, who is also vacationing there with her family. She takes a liking for one of the boys, played by Idavela Babu, but things take a tragic turn when ego and lust creep up and changes all their lives forever. Scripted by Padmarajan and directed by Mohan, these were films without any star power or great acting but stood tall just on the strength of a great writer's storyline.

Arapatta Kettiya Gramathil(1986) - Three young men wake up on the morning after a night of drunken revelry and decide to ring in the New Year(Vishu) by visiting a brothel in a far away village. They land there amidst simmering social tensions between the Muslims and Nairs of the village, whose chieftains vie for a virgin who has arrived at the brothel. One of the young men however fall for the girl and he resolves to save her, complicating the situation. Sukumari plays the money motivated yet human in many ways madam, Mammootty, Nedumudi Venu and Ashokan play the three young men with Mammooty putting in the first of many strong performances as an aimless but proud man whose only love is towards liquor, that paved his way to superstardom, Venu plays a light-hearted advocate who is not serious about life, and Ashokan the youngest plays a man eagerly looking forward to his initiation to manhood but finds it in his desire to save the girl. Padmarajan takes us on a journey to a village, seemingly far away from civilization but showing through his characters how universal the noble and the base intentions of mankind are. The best part of this movie however is the character played by Mammootty...Padmarajan leaves space for us viewers to make our own understanding of him and his actions.

Thinkalazcha Nalla Divasam(1985) - A film I saw years back and revisited just because I forgot the climax. Padmarajan proved he could write on any subject under the sun, dealing here with the matriarch of an affluent family forced to move to an old age home. A simple story but told with great sensitivity and with interesting characters, it was a movie which really launched Padmarajan's directorial craft to a level equal to his story-telling skills. Kaviyoor Ponnamma played the matriarch to perfection, a role she has reprised countless times since, Mammootty and Karamana Janardhanan Nair put in strong performances as the clashing sons, Sreevidya and Unni Mary play the influential daughters-in-law and to complete the stellar cast, Ashokan and Kukku Parameshwaran play two cousins on the verge of love. I have read recently that Padmarajan gave standing orders to the crew to be ready anytime to get the camera and lights ready to shoot the pregnant cow going to labour and delivering and it finally happened on the last day of the shoot!

Chillu(1982) - Lenin Rajendran's first film holds a mirror to the college campus of the late 70's and early 80's which were totally different from the campus's we studied in. Everywhere, there are chain smoking, bearded intellectuals who are called "bujis"(yeah the term originated long back!) unlike the one or two we would find today. The Trivandrum depicted in the film, has its citizens living a laidback life, totally unlike today. There are hardly any vehicles or people on the road and the city is a picture of cleanliness. The film tells the tale of a tender-hearted young man(Ronnie Vincent) who despairs at the affection his sweetheart played by Shanthi Krishna showers on her classmate, played by Venu Nagavalli. Ronnie is perfectly cast as the child-like Manu, Shanthi as the vivacious and strong girl was a revelation and went on to play several strong characters in Malayalam Cinema and Venu as the suffering poet and painter is a study in tenderness and you feel for his plight at being just a mute observer. The film ends with a perfect symbolization of his mind with Ronnie staring at a glass paned coffin. Also deserving praise is the music, set to ONV's lyrics which are still popular.

Danny(2005) - How could a man who lived through some of the big life changing political events of the 20th century not be impacted by any of them? The film begins with a narration that gives the impression, that we are about to see the life of a great man of our times, but what a pleasant surprise we are in for! Mammootty plays Daniel Thompson, an uneducated simple man whose first wife leaves him taking his daughter along, and ends up marrying a rich educated woman who is pregnant with another's child. He submits to his wife's authority, learns English, is confined to their house and watches mutely as people and things around him change. His only companion is his saxophone, which is also taken away and he ends up in a nursing home, where he strikes up a warm friendship with an old woman who also gets admitted there. T.V.Chandran has lead Kerala's art film movement from the 90's and here he proves for the umpteenth time what a master he is at his craft. The film also presents some unforgettable moments of humour, the kind we probably will never get to see again in Malayalam cinema, the subtle real kind.

Vasthuhara(1990) - The last Mohanlal film which waited so long for me! A young bureaucrat(Mohanlal) arrives in Calcutta to help resettle long-stranded refugees who belong to farming castes from Bangladesh to the Andamans. There he chances on a bengali woman living in difficult circumstances who he realizes is the wife of his mother's brother. He sets out to help them but finds his hands tied. Her children are in trouble for taking radical political stands. He gets close to the woman,played by Neelanjana Mitra and her children(the daughter played by Neena Gupta) but they find the temporary relief in their situation provided by his arrival short-lived, as he has to leave. In one of the last scenes in the movie, we see a study in contrast, a scared and lonely Neena Gupta cries out to a helpless Mohanlal("Dada, write to me, Dada. Address, Arathy Panicker c/o Alipore Central Jail") while her mother who has struggled all her life calmly looks on. The movie, Aravindan's last, he died before he could promote the film, shows the life of Bengal's dispossessed and their hopes for a new promised land leaving behind the promise that communist West Bengal offered but never gave.

Mazha(2002) - Mazha is about a young girl blessed with happiness, poetry, music and love growing into a woman who struggles to come to terms with the uprootment inflicted on her and her inability to plug the poetry, music and love within her or be able to hate her cruel husband. Lenin Rajendran has managed to extract powerful performances from a stellar cast which includes Samyuktha Varma, Biju Menon, Lal, Thilakan and Jagathi. The highlights of the movie are the very deep characters he has created and the complex relationship which plays out between Samyuktha and Lal. Like T.V.Chandran, Lenin's oeuvre of films places him on a pedestal much higher than the ones the masses have placed many of our commercial hitmakers on, who peddle crass wares today, on mere past glory.

Sukrutham(1994) - Probably the most autobiographical of MT's scripts(MT fell sick in the 80's and thought he would die), this film is about an acclaimed writer played by Mammootty, suffering from an incurable disease, who begins to lose hope in survival until he arrives at a clinic run by Narendra Prasad. The writer ends up complicating the lives of the people he holds dear like his wife, friend and old lover and when he finally recovers, the realization of his act dawns on him. Mammootty put in one of his career best performances in a movie directed brilliantly by newcomer, Harikumar who sadly never returned to make another film.

Panchavadi Paalam(1984) - In a village, called Airavathakuzhi with equally notorious(and hilarious) names from mythology for its residents like Dushasana Kurup, Bhoothana, Karkodakan Nair, Yoodas Tharakan, etc where every person competes with the other to show who is the most decadent, the feudalist of the region who is also the panchayat president, played by Gopi decides to rebuild an existing bridge which is in fine condition to sustain his name after his time and also to steal money, prodded by his shrewd ally(Nedumudi Venu), supposedly a social worker and his greedy wife(Sreevidya). A stinging satire on the state of our politics, this film probably marked a period in the high point of the middle of the road cinema movement, as it equally satisfied the tastes of the masses too. Unfortunately for our cinema, K.G.George soon ran out of steam following the success of this film and never again found the commercial success he previously enjoyed.

Kodiyettam(1978) - A coming of age story told in the backdrop of a rural setting. A lazy village bum comes to terms with the realities of adult life belatedly through his exposure to the institution of marriage, adultery, loneliness and his fears arising out of what he sees around himself. Bharat Gopi delivered a standout debut performance as the sluggish Shankarankutty, propelling him overnight from obscurity to fame, even garnering the the National Best Actor Award. Adoor Gopalakrishnan's second film after Swayamvaram stands out for very minute and precise observations and picturization of rural life told through several well-rounded characters interspersed with brilliant yet realistic dialogues. K.P.A.C Lalitha also shows glimpses of the acting genius, most of which probably went untapped by cinema.

Kummatti(1980) - G.Aravindan adapted Kavalayam Narayana Panicker's story based on the myth of the Kummatti into a visually delightful children's film. The kummatti arrives in a village where the parents make young children obey them by scaring them of the kummatti. A group of kids watch the Kummatti with curiosity and trepidation until they find out that he loves them. He magically transforms them into animals and back into human form but one child who was made a dog misses the transformation back to humanity and has to live a year in this fashion, until the Kummatti returns next year. The kummatti returns next year and converts him back to child, but the torrid experience has wisened the boy and he performs an act of brotherhood for a fellow animal. Shaji Karun's camera brilliantly captures the arid beauty of Palakkad. The film is also a treasure trove of folk songs written by Kavalam.

Oridam(2005) - The film tells the story of a prostitute struggling to come out of her profession. She is a young woman with a lot of aspirations and dreams which don't die despite countless disappointments and frustrations. Geethu Mohandas who speaks English with a western accent in real life, plays this woman who spends her nights on the street and services craven men of all classes with boldness and brilliance that has to be seen to be believed. Her body language and expressions are flawless whether stifling her tears and anger to stich together a plastic smile or while lounging on the roadside imagining herself to be one of the fancy faces on the billboard. The presence of an NGO which inculcates into these helpless women the nobility of their profession adds a tinge of satire to the proceedings. I saw ads on Manoramaonline requesting public support to complete filming of this work...kudos to director cum producer, Pradeep Nair for finally managing to fulfill his creation.

Eli Pathayam(1981) - Karamana got the role of a lifetime to play the last link in a crumbling feudal system, unable to accept, comprehend, adjust or rebel against the changes happening to him and the society around him. He is obediently served by a younger sister(Sharada), fated to remain a spinster, who breaks down gradually under the weight of physical and mental exertions leaving her brother to fend for himself. He miserably gives up without a fight. Adoor brilliantly uses a rat trapped in a mousetrap to signify the microcosm of Karamana's universe and the ancient tharavadu and the people living within it as a bigger mousetrap to signify the macrocosm of Karamana's deteriorating existence. Possibly, Adoor's best film ever, this was the time the parallel malayalam cinema reached the zenith of its artistic brilliance, and even came to represent the face of Indian cinema to art lovers, the world over.

Kathavasheshan(2004) - Very fittingly, the last film I watched. This is a movie every man has to watch. This is cinematic art at its pinnacle. A young man, played by Dileep commits suicide. His fiance(Jyothirmayi) has met him just once but that tells her he is not a man who could commit suicide. She is interested in finding about his past. She meets his family and the friends he made in the places he lived and pieces together the picture of a lively man with a sense of humour but who believes he has to react to injustices and alleviate the misfortunes of others. All this takes him to his logical end, an end which puts all of us who make the society he lived in, on the dock. T.V.Chandran's peerless direction and skillful scripting which expertly combines the best multi-person narrative ever depicted on screen with interesting flashbacks that takes the story forward to the present, Isaac Thomas Kottukapally's melodious background music which melts seamlessly into the images on screen, K.G.Jayan's camera which brilliantly captures the director's vision have given us a classic we are in danger of forgetting. On the acting front, Dileep banishes all doubts in my head of his being able to play a character with several shades to him, supported ably by several actors of immense capability. The movie shifts seamlessly from locations as diverse as rural Kerala, Trivandrum, Andhra, Gujarat and Calcutta. Listen to the song, Mere Duniya Mein from this movie on musicindiaonline. Possibly, the best malayalam film I have watched!

P.S - The most difficult post I have had to write in this blog. I kept pushing off this task because I felt like a small child staring at a mountain and unsure of being able to climb it. The movies I have chronicled are milestones in Kerala's cultural history, and the men behind it giants in intellect. I asked myself if I am competent enough to comment on these great works. But having finished this task, I keep thinking, how good are we as a people if we keep saying these works cannot be bettered? How much can we achieve if we shudder at the inability to continue their glorious legacy? Aren't we all taking the easy way out when we deal with the talents bestowed on us? Each time I sit to blog and give up, a serpentine question rears its inescapable head and asks me,"Dum nahi he kya bache?" That difficulty with self-doubting has helped me realize that unless I write and put it out to the world, I will always feel like the small child who keeps wondering what it would be like, to look from the peak. Several times in this post, my memory failed me and probably so did my analysis. Going back and watching the movies was also not an option as I didn't have the time. So please feel free to correct me, in places I may have gone wrong. Am dedicating this post to all the great malayalam film directors and scriptwriters of another age who would be saddened at the fall of today's cinema and our people's cultural standards. If there are lovers of good cinema around and are bloggers, let us give confidence and encouragement to the good malayalam films that are coming out today and give them maximum publicity on our blogs. This is of utmost importance because all offbeat films fall awfully short on budgets, by the time they are ready for release, to be able to do the crucial advertising that is so necessary in today's world to succeed. And so ends my movie watching spree - hindi, english and tamil movies too were part of this. There are lakhs of bloggers out there to write about those. But we are only a few thousand malayali bloggers. Growth starts from the roots. Our aspirations have helped us branch out in all directions. A time has come to feed the leaves we sprouted, back to our roots. In the midst of all this overwhelming materialism, can the youth of Kerala manage a return to intellectualism?