This Malayalam Film Will Enrage You For All The Right Reasons

I vividly remember the end scene of the film “Ka Bodyscapes” that was being shown at the Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF) 2016. Just as I entered the dark auditorium at Alliance Française de Bangalore,  the screen showed a man walking gradually towards the sea before disappearing out of sight as the sound of crashing waves resounded the room and the screen turned black. I checked the pamphlet that I had in my hand and looked for a name. “Ka Bodyscapes, Malayalam, 1h 30 mins,” it read. For some reason, I wanted to know what the film was about. But I couldn’t at that time.

Now that I have watched the movie, I tend to believe that I was meant to watch it. Call it fate or give it some other name, I am glad I got the chance. This film by Jayan K. Cheriyan has been fighting for a certification without any cuts from the CBFC for the past two and a half years. The movie has been screened privately in film festivals and has won immense praise and accolades, but hasn’t seen a formal release in this country.

One of the things that I loved in this movie is the absence of background music of any sort, except in the final scene before the credits roll out. It has comparatively few dialogues as well and is presented in a very raw, almost amateurish form when it comes to camera panning and the shift in scenes. Due to the content and ideology of the film, a prior statutory announcement was made before the screening, informing everyone that certain people with certain ideologies might find the film awkward or disturbing and that they can leave any moment they want to. Fortunately, nobody left.

“Ka Bodyscapes” is based in god’s own country, Kerala, in the town of Kozhikode. It primarily focuses on the life of Haris who is an aspiring gay painter, played by actor Jason Chacko and Vishnu, the subject of Haris’ paintings and his lover, played by Kannan Rajan. Along with them are stories revolving the life of Sia, played by Nasreena, who works for a footwear manufacturing company and is a vocal feminist. The film encapsulates a lot of subjects ranging from homophobia to violence against women and the ever infecting patriarchal and right-wing society.

Kerala, as far as I know, is ahead of many states in this country, in terms of education, equal rights for people belonging to different sexualities and everything in between. But the film showcases the conservative side of Kerala, the side which roots for Ghar Wapsi and the need for women to be home before the sun sets. It is a society where cribbing grandmothers with rosary beads wince at the sight of girls washing their feet and do not hesitate from calling them a wench. It is a society where fathers beat up their daughters when they raise their voices against patriarchy and the subjugation and degradation of the female body that it brings with itself. In short, it is a society where love and equality lie at opposite poles.

Haris brings Vishnu to Kozhikode where the latter gets a job as a graphics assistant in his uncle’s right-leaning newspaper Bharatbhoomi. His uncle believes that it is his duty to uphold and save his traditions from going to the dogs and disapproves the idea of Haris and Vishnu living together under one roof. The idea of Vishnu posing as a model for all of Haris’ “naked” paintings ignites him even more. Haris’s place has scores of paintings which he wants to showcase as a part of an art exhibition and he gets a chance to do the same.

A still from the film ‘Ka Bodyscapes’

Sia, his friend who goes by the name of ‘Sia Rational’ on Facebook is a strong advocate of female body rights but is subjected to daily criticism from her conservative Muslim family. She works under a misogynist, condescending boss. Things get bad when this repulsive boss finds bloodied pads in the factory washrooms and tells the female supervisor to take care of the culprit. The supervisor questions all of the workers but to no avail. This is when she grabs one of Sia’s friends and drags her to the washroom for a strip search. The ordeal ends with Sia coming to the girl’s rescue and resorts to calling the police. The police do not take any action, obviously.

Sia along with Haris and a few of their friends decide to stage a protest while Vishnu decides to stay out of it due to its risky nature. Sia Rational ends up putting a Facebook profile picture of her bloodied sanitary pad after which they organise a roadside protest with slogans of “My body, my choice”. While some goons wait on the other side of the road with batons and swords, the police intervene. This entire incident is based on a real-life. What happens next should be discovered by watching the film.

The film is supposed to enrage you and it is successful in doing so. If you do not feel angry for the right reasons, you are not thinking rationally. Amidst all of that, you feel a certain form of helplessness, a very weak state of mind as you begin to realise how inconsiderate and close minded we are as a society and as people in general. You would feel the need to shout as you absorb the frustration and anger that the characters in the film go through while their worlds crash down, frame after frame. And this is reality, simple and unadulterated.

Many of us choose to be inside our cubicles, we don’t want to look at things and get our mind “dirty”. Many of us talk about same-sex marriages and equality but I think all of that is too distant for us. We live in times when misogynists feel disgusted at the sight of bloodied sanitary pads and when freedom of expression in the form of art is abhorred. We live in times when religious intolerance is met with death and centres to cure homosexuality operate in full bloom.

The despair that follows after watching a film like “Ka Bodyscapes” lives on for a long time, not because of what happens in the end of the movie but because of how there can never be a world where the need to make a film like this would ever arise.

P.S. If you want to catch a screening of Ka Bodyscapes, there is a screening on 5th August, 2017 at the same venue. Do follow Urban Solace on Facebook for more info.

Firing on all five ‘Piston’s

I had heard of this thrash metal band called Piston for quite some time now. The first time I came across the name was on a Facebook post by a friend who had watched them live and was writing about how ‘tight’ their performance was. And when I saw that they were going to perform at VR Mall on the 24th, I was all the more intrigued, mostly because of the venue. I called my sister up asking if she was interested but she sounded disgusted when I sounded thrash metal. “Not my scene bro” was all she said.

After a gruesome and traffucked two-hour drive with two uncles in an Uber, I reached Phoenix Marketcity. The courtyard is the place where all performances generally happen and I jogged my way to the venue only to find a reggae concert in action. People were cheering from their seats amidst the banging of djembes and other types of drums. The singer was telling the crowd to put their hands up. I looked around for help from someone to guide me at the right direction; mostly I was looking for someone wearing a metal t-shirt like me. I decided to go to VR Mall, which is right beside Phoenix Marketcity, maybe the show was happening inside the mall. It was already 7.30, the show was supposed to start from 7. I asked one of the security guards if a show was happening somewhere and he pointed towards the left. I followed his finger and saw a small platform that had been erected and some twenty clueless people lingering around. Some kind of a live EDM track was playing from the speakers, which was bizarre. The four people on stage were all clad in black, three of them having a guitar and one of them with glorious, curly long hair. Something I could only wish for.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Unlike most heavy metal concerts, nobody stood near the stage

Across the mixing table, I saw four guys wearing metal tees, looking all pumped up while the rest of the crowd murmured and continued to linger around. The weather was windy and chilly, after the rain. Someone from the mixing table started speaking on the mic. Took me a while to figure out where the sound was coming from. Salman U. Syed, the boss of Bangalore Open Air welcomed the gathering and talked about the ‘promotion’ that they were doing for the fest, by organising this show. The drummer of the band spoke next, introducing themselves and pointing out that this was the first time a metal band in Bangalore was playing in a mall. They played the first song and surprisingly, it was the drummer who was singing and not the guy with the long hair, who I presumed was the singer. Whoa moment, indeed. I know Rakshith on Facebook, because I went to ask for drum lessons from him a long time ago. That didn’t work out. The sound was achingly loud and distorted but that is what you get from an open air venue like this. Towards the end of their second song, Rakshith said that their singer was sick and couldn’t make it so he was taking up vocal duties for the day.

I was more interested to look at the crowd. Most of them had no idea what was going on. There were a few uncles and auntys who were making faces while Piston was covering Slayer. Five hands went up when the band announced if the crowd knew who Slayer was. Only those five hands clapped after the second song. “It’s very odd for us to play here. We usually play in places where people are drunk as f**k. I see a few people who look my parents and that is so weird because they have never approved this kind of music” Same story everywhere, I tell you.

The quintet went on to play a few more songs and covers while the crowd slowly got the hang of their “no core, no fiction and only 80s thrash metal inspired by real life events” music. Rakshith kept alive the profanity and made the crowd realise that the music is a bit difficult to take in and also pointing out facts like God indeed is dead. Their rendition of Slayer’s Disciple proved the statement for them. For a moment, I was worried if this venue was appropriate for such subtle blasphemy but luckily there wasn’t any divine intervention. I, for one, was happy that this music was being introduced to an oblivious population. I heard a few girls admiring the rhythm guitarist’s long hair, an aunty telling her husband “aise gaane sunta kaun hai bhai?” (Who listens to music like this?) and a father coaxing her five year old daughter to dance to it while he tried to click a few pictures of her. The drummer was the only person who did all of the talking on behalf of the band and apart from giving reality checks like of how the world is a living misery, he did a pretty good job on the drums. Personally, I was left with a constant ringing in my ears after the show was over, mostly because I was standing too close to the speakers and guitars were too distorted. All in all, it was a good show, the first of its kind. People were affected by it, in both ways. And yes, metal is pretty much alive in this city.

 

 

//

// I have come to realise that human touch is important. Being isolated for a long time messes up the psyche quite significantly. More than anything, you feel extremely bored and mundane. For the first few days, it feels quite peaceful to retract away from the general, everyday maddening crowd. But then, this retraction becomes sort of a permanent phase and that’s when you realise that this is not what you asked for. For me, periodical isolation is fine but a prolong state of that starts eating me up as you crave for some human company. Sure, I can immerse myself into all forms of technology and back-lit screens to fill the time up or work on writing a piece or get busy with some internship work but no matter how much you try to divert away from the fact that you actually want to hang out with your friends or just anyone for that matter and no one is actually available, all of your diversion methods become futile. Even the PC games that you love playing so much become unappealing. //

// My teacher told me to write about sounds that you hear in summer. The sound that I can mostly hear when it’s summer is the whirring of the fan above my head although I can hear it throughout the year. But I guess the sound matters more when it is summer. I also hear the sound of ACs when I walk in alleys or beside buildings from where the AC exhaust boxes jut out. The loud whirring sound is accompanied by occasional pouring of water from it. I used to hear the sound of the blowhorn of the Ice Cream vendor who came on a small three wheeler with a box attached to the rear side in the afternoons when I was back home in Tezpur, and how the kid in front of our house always threw tantrums whenever he came. I also remember how the Ice Cream vendor used to deliberately slow down in front of our house as a result. I remember how people sighed and moaned whenever there was a sudden power cut and the entire area was momentarily filled with darkness until some of the backup generators came on. But the world used to be so calm during that flash of a moment of total darkness. //

Family anecdotes (Pt. II)

She died when I was in 3rd standard so I didn’t get to spend much time with her properly. The only vague memories which I have about her are from two incidents. The first one is one from my cousin sister’s marriage and the second one is from her funeral. She was always sick. She had been sick since my mother was born, who was the sixth child in the family. My mother told me that she became ‘mad’ after her birth and that she was almost totally bed ridden all the time. She used to do the chores and scream and talk to herself. Things got even worse after my grandfather died when my mom was just 16 years old. It was an unexpected death; an accidental death caused due to an injection containing the wrong medication. He was the breadwinner of the house and his death nearly made the family homeless. They had to vacant the quarters they were living in. Hopefully, there were a few of my relatives who helped and supported them in getting a house for my mother and her siblings to live.

I remember my maternal grandmother as a short, frail lady with an expressionless face. She was somehow frowning all the time; about what I never knew. I do not remember her being amused by anything in the period of time I got to spend with her. She was toothless and she had a hunched back. Her eyes were devoid of any light and I don’t remember how she sounded like. I don’t remember her ever speaking to me. There is a group photo which we have from my cousin’s marriage where she is seen sitting on a chair, eyebrows furrowed and without any expression at all, while I am standing with my cousin and two other people but right now, I do not remember who they are. I was wearing a red t-shirt with cream coloured shorts and I am shielding the sunlight from my eyes. The photo was taken one afternoon in the month of June and if you look at the photo, you can see all of our faces gleaming with the sweat. Apart from this photo, I don’t remember anything about her from the wedding.

I remember the day my grandmother died. It was another sweltering day and I had no idea why me and my mom were travelling on a bus to Biswanath Chariali. This is my mother’s native place which was around 400 kilometres from Duliajan, where we lived back then. It was a tiring 8 hour journey on a yellow coloured bus and I remember feeling nauseated by the end of it. I do not remember if I puked but I do remember that I stepped on cow dung and decorated the entire bus floor with it. My mother and the conductor were annoyed and the latter was ranting about the mess I had made and the poor guy had to wash the entire floor when we stopped at a restaurant to have lunch.

I had no idea whatsoever that we were going for my grandmother’s funeral, that she was already dead and that my relatives were waiting for my mother to arrive so that she could have a last look at her. That was perhaps the first day when I saw my mother cry. And she was crying hysterically while I was too petrified to react. It was my first time seeing a dead body and seeing people grieving. I was unsure as to how I was expected to react over this. All my relatives appeared crestfallen and my maternal uncle was holding my mother while weeping silently. I went and stood near the gate and cried a little but I didn’t know why I did that. I didn’t even properly know the lady who died. Perhaps it was because my mother cried. My mother stopped crying after the body was taken away to be cremated while I asked one of my relatives for some water to drink. I don’t remember much as to what happened afterwards.

This doesn’t happen often

Yesterday evening brought a strange feeling within me. I had just woken up from my afternoon slumber to remember that we didn’t have any food for the next day. That meant going out again and buying more junk to have a bowl of breakfast. The room was dark because it was almost 6.30PM and my roommate hadn’t bothered to switch the light on. The fan was whirring on top of us but that didn’t make much of a difference because I felt the stickiness on my body as I tossed and turned. The room was warm and the windows were shut. The door was ajar. I tried to get hold of my phone to check if I had any notifications. I had been waiting for an email to arrive but for the time being all I got was some SMS from BOX8, asking me to use my coupon.

I exhaled and the reminder to buy breakfast came back to prick. Typical breakfast for me when there is no college mainly comprises of one thing – instant noodles. It is absolute junk and highly unhealthy but it is cheap and it is food. The logic makes no sense whatsoever but it is breakfast, although it fails to qualify as one. I craned my neck to look over at my roommate. His face was illuminated by the light pinkish screen light from the laptop. He was living elsewhere, as usual. I turned back and stared at the ceiling. For the first time in quite some time I wanted to go home. Just throw everything and go home. I was tired of going through the whole cycle of buying Wai Wai everyday and filling myself with junk, whether it was in the canteen or the spiced up Biriyani. It all seemed unnecessary for me to go through all of this. For a split second I wondered if I should book a ticket and head home in May. Screw the internship and everything else; sometimes home food is all that matters. This was happening after a long time as I do not feel homesick every now and then. Perhaps, it was because life wasn’t hectic for a few days now. The mind wasn’t preoccupied with things to do and so it was occupying itself with things like this, which you thought about only when you’re staring at the ceiling without the lights.

As I felt my stomach grumbling, the thoughts shifted away and realization dawned upon me. I had to get food and that meant I had to go out and feed myself some junk, obviously. I decided to think practically, like we are always taught, and dismiss everything by repeating to myself that this is all part of the struggle. That, skipping a visit to home for a month will be fruitful in the long run, and that sometimes you have to just eat Wai Wai for days on end because we all compromise on things and prioritise accordingly. I decided to not think about it again and felt that getting some fresh air would help. I got up, dressed and went out to get some breakfast for the next day.

Mother called after an hour but everything was soon forgotten by then.

Family anecdotes (Pt. I)

I feel that I should write about my paternal grandmother. She is around 72 years old. Both me and my sister aren’t emotionally attached to her in any way. She is not like the grandmother that you hear stories about from your classmates. I somehow refuse to believe that she was emotionally connected to her children, to say the least. She is one of the most complex characters I have ever encountered within my family, a person who is undecipherable. Whenever we used to go to Jorhat, where our grandparents used to live, we rarely used to spend time with her. My grandfather was a jolly and cheerful person while she was always a hazy being who managed her time between the kitchen, doing chores and looking after the cows with whom she used to talk a lot. Human interaction was somewhat a rarity for her. Somehow, I feel that the cows understood her as well. She used to milk them and take care of their food. We never heard any stories from her nor any lullabies. She was a lady who always had a serious look on her face as she passed her days, rarely smiled or looked amused by anything. She was always old, as long as I can remember. She rarely went out of her house to go anywhere until and unless it was absolutely necessary.  She is a woman who never mingled with anyone in particular. I once asked my mother if she ever had any friends in her life and to my utter surprise she said yes. She told me of the time when she had a friend who was the polar opposite to her, who used to talk a lot with everyone while my grandmother used to stay quiet most of the time. It is a mystery to me as to how they got along with each other but I guess the friendship didn’t last long because we don’t know that friend’s whereabouts and nor has my grandma mentioned anything about her. This wasn’t surprising to me. My mom got to know this story from my father apparently.

My grandmother was superstitious and believed in magic and voodoo that other people could apparently do to harm someone. I am not sure how she feels about it now. My mother told me about this one time when someone got a dress for my sister when she was very young. At that time, my parents used to live in Jorhat. This relative got a red dress for my sister. After the relative left, my grandmother took the dress from my mom, poured some kerosene and turned it into ashes saying that it had black magic in it. No further explanation was given. I remember my mother saying to me that it was a very beautiful dress, something which caught her eye on the first sight. Many such instances have happened. She has ended up blaming the maid countless times for indigestion that occurs after eating something too spicy. All this sounds too bizarre for us but we cannot do much about it. She belongs from a different era and we can only nod in disdain.

Her life revolved in a monotonous cycle which she followed ever day. She never read anything, never sang, never went out, never showed excitement  over anything, and never showed happiness or any kind of expression of love towards anyone. She is cold and somewhat devoid of emotions. I do not know if she has the characteristics of an introvert. Maybe she has. But it became more profound after my grandfather died. She somehow made up her mind that she won’t do anything for the rest of her life except the basic human processes. She gave up cooking, interaction with people unless it is absolutely necessary and important or if someone is willing to interact with her. She left her home where she lived for around 60 years, left her cows without thinking twice, forever.

An impetus for change

Yesterday, I witnessed a very interesting public event. I haven’t been to many political events or gatherings in my life; I have rarely attended political talks by ministers, student leaders and activists. But yesterday was different. My friend B told me a few days back that he would be coming to Bengaluru but he was unsure as to where the event would be held. We knew that he was coming yesterday though. Three people in class were quite excited about it. The rest of them had no idea that he was coming.

I forgot that the event was happening yesterday. Classes ended and I was walking towards the auditorium while reading Animal Farm. I was down to the last 20 pages and was impatient to finish it off for good. The day had already been filled with frenzy and I just wanted to sit somewhere and read until my friend’s classes ended. The phone buzzed and I heard my name being called at the same time. I turned around and saw B speed walking towards me, his phone on his ears. I checked the phone and saw him calling me. “Kanhaiya is giving a speech at Ulsoor. You wanna come?” “Really? Where?”  I asked back. “St. Aloysius College” he said. S was walking a few steps ahead of us and I thought I should ask her if she would want to tag along. She might be interested, I thought. “Wait, I will ask S and come back” I said to him and jogged towards S. S declined the invitation as she had to meet someone at 5, she said with a shy grin. The talk had already started at 3 and now it was close to 3.40PM. Without wasting another moment, we hopped on an auto, gave directions with the help of Google Maps and were on our way to see Kanhaiya Kumar.

Both of us were sure that this chance shouldn’t be missed. I was quite dejected when he didn’t show up for Bangalore Literature Fest last year, for which me and my friends waited the whole day till 5PM, hoping that he would show up. But he didn’t. Also, B told me that this event would be a good chance to get close to him and invite him for META 2017. I, for one, was quote charmed by Kanhaiya’s charisma and his oratory skills. It took me some time to understand what he was actually trying to do with the current political scenario in this country, what his point was and how he was trying to put sense into our minds; especially the youth. And, it was fascinating. Both of us were quite pumped up and B told me that AM asked him why he didn’t go for the event. It was almost evening and the streets were full of traffic. After encountering multiple red lights, we reached Ulsoor. I had never seen the Ulsoor Lake up close and it seemed like any other lake. The waters seemed clean and devoid of garbage. I didn’t pay much attention though. We stopped near the back gate of the college, adjacent to the playground. I saw a police bus and a few cops roaming nearby. They told us to go to the front gate, the one we had crossed seconds ago. We started jogging towards the gate which was a few yards away. We encountered more cops and they told us to go to the ‘front-front gate’. We decided to run this time because it was really getting late. Me and B laughed while we ran, our excitement running wild. We reached the front-front gate and I saw more cops and NCC cadets. We should our IDs and asked for directions. “3rd floor. Hurry up, it’s ending soon!” the guy at the gate said. We ran three flights of stairs and my legs were numb from running all that distance. I hadn’t run for around six months and my lungs were answering. We entered the auditorium huffing and puffing and there he was, standing on the podium, giving his speech. The place was filled with people, all of them seated on benches, a few cameras hovering around here and there. The first thing I heard him saying was how communism has been maligned by people in this country. “They think the communists are a nasty bunch. That they indulge in all kinds of bad activities, have group sex, and propagate antisocial views. This is a grave misunderstanding and it needs to change.” Me and B shared a quick smile at each other as people clapped and cheered along. I started looking around for familiar faces but I couldn’t find any. Spotting an empty bench instead, I went forward and sat down. I could feel my heart pounding from all that reckless running. My mother’s advices related to physical exercise started ringing on my mind. I realized that I should run more every now and then. I stared hard at the floor.

Kanhaiya went on talking about how the youth play a crucial role in changing the political structure of a country. How the youth has to take action instead of just being vote banks for the country. He talked about the skewed ideology of the RSS and how it has been metamorphosising this country based on nationalistic ideals.  “Nau jawan ko sarak pe utarna parega (The youth has to come out to the streets)” More cheering and applause followed. Someone from the audience raised a question, “Will Kanhaiya Kumar be the next Prime Minister?” More cheering and applause. “I don’t know that, I have no idea” was his reply with a smile. He was speaking in Hindi as well as in English. I had never seen him speak in English before on TV. He spoke slowly and composed himself well, that made you want to listen to him because it felt like he was directly speaking with you. The session was coming to an end when a guy much like me stood up and asked Kanhaiya to chant his ‘infamous’ anthem of Azadi. A sudden uproar emerged, a few people stood up, Kanhaiya slowly moved towards the mic. “Aap sabko bhi bhaag lena parega isme ab toh (Everyone has to take part in this with me)” More people stood up, including me. The guy sitting next to me continued to stare at his phone. I tried to lean and check out what he was doing but I was unable to figure it out. There was a lot of murmuring in the room by now. The chants of “Azadi!” boomed across the room as Kanhaiya went on, fist pumping high. All dynamic. All energetic.

It was motivating. I won’t deny that. The event ended and his personal group of bodyguards from AISF barricaded him as he came down from the dais and smiled and clicked photos with the crowd that was by now throwing themselves over him. Some shook hands and talked for a few seconds. The red t-shirt clad AISF men cleared the way as the pushed through. My friend B managed to get in and told him about our purpose and took a few selfies. I refrained from taking selfies as it’s not my thing, although I took a few pictures while he was speaking. People were waiting outside with motives of their own. I saw a few reporters as well. Kanhaiya was ushered inside a room with the college officials and a few special people who sat down and drank tea and took even more pictures and gifted him an executive diary with a calendar from the college. We meanwhile patiently waited outside. A guy poked me from behind and asked, “Which one of them is Kanhaiya?” “Uh, the one drinking tea. See! He just stood up” I said. “Oh! That’s him? Okay, thanks” He went off without saying anything more.

I counted two more police buses after we came out, along with three police jeeps. There were approximately one hundred policemen outside for his security. As he whizzed away in a grey Swift Dzire followed by his platoon of bodyguards, it didn’t take me long to realize how important this guy, who faced jail time for reasons everyone knows about, is and the impact he has managed to create among the masses. He is an impetus for change.