I was horribly sick the past couple of weeks, but more than the sickness, it was the horrible, empty feeling of the end of a semester. But yesterday I decided I was tired of spending my holidays in bed coughing and miserable, so I did what I do every such holiday: have a Friends marathon, and watch other movies late into the night.
I had watched Anjali Menon’s Banglore Days (more than) a couple of times, and had already forced some of my non-Malayalam speaking friends to watch it with me. And they’d loved it. We all spent hours discussing the nuances and little details that lead to an uncommon love for a regional movie. (You may want to judge me, but I’m one of those Angrez people who find American popular culture more relatable.) We spent hours questioning what Bollywood sells as great movies and why we spent money on mindless movies, when there were sensible alternatives available. It was then, when a movie transcended,linguistic and probably even cultural barriers, that I realized that the true art of cinema had reached its level of maturity through this phenomenal woman.
Naturally, I tried
stalking reading up on this person who made me drool over movies in general, and Malayalam movies in particular. It was really interesting to read of her journey. I remember telling my sister how she’s a determined filmmaker, who’s come in to revolutionize Malayalam Cinema. A couple of commentaries and posts have pointed out how she’s one of those rare female filmmakers who’ve put together a movie that is successful both with the masses, as well as with critics.
Bangalore Days then led me to watch other movies of her- Ustaad Hotel, Manjadikuru, and Kerala Cafe: Happy Journey. And each of them are beautiful in their own ways- exploring the theme of extend family, cousin-friendship, and the feeling of a home away from a home. It made me rethink about how much I miss Kerala- the place I was born in, sure, but not my home really. Or was it?
I have always found diasporic novels being more representative of who I am, than a purely Indian novel. Often have I wondered why. Was it the (mis)sense of identity-crisis? Was it the cultural contexts- of being lost in two cultures simultaneously? Or was it just better written in terms of style? Something that Diasporic novels share is the theme of generational differences-how the parents are not just stuck in their own culture, but also in their own time, while the child(ren) are battling for independence and identity through exploring what their parents think is right, versus what everybody else thinks is right.
What I experienced after watching Bangalore Days is a culture shock. How was this Kerala that I was told about since childhood and I have come to reject as too chauvinist, too traditional, and too nice be a place that was depicted in the film? How are there biker dudes who can speak Hindi and English without the typical accent even be? How could there be hot people in this place? (I’ve been there for 20 years at the rate of twice a year, and never have I spotted somebody remotely good looking as any of the people in the movie). How could there be such people in the Kerala my mum has been describing to me since I can remember? What happened to the “You will never survive if you cannot speak impeccable Malayalam?”
I realized then, that my mum, and I’m sure several others like her, including the diaspora, probably lived in the original place they belong to and are stuck in that time. I think they perhaps fail to see how times have changed this home that they grew up in. The only real sense they do get is the one in regional television and movies (the reliability of these are laughable, I’m sure). The concept of home for them, and the culture they are trying to pass on probably is the one they grew up in, without the temporal shift that the actual people in this home went through.
When I do watch Anjali Menon films, it is that truth that stares in my face- perhaps I might have grown up on British literature and American popular culture, that does not stop my contemporaries in my parents’ home from doing the same. As individuals, we probably were brought up with the same values, some more stringent than the other, but what they are experiencing is perhaps the same identity crisis and the same pressures-one from their own society, and the other from this other society that promises them individual freedom, if only they dare to break free from the apparent shackles of their own. And while both groups (myself and my counterparts in Kerala) are being compared to the other in terms of how one is easily better than the other, both groups are looking at the same goal- the dream of Bangalore, the place where their dreams come true, and they get to be their own damn selves and grow up and screw up in their own specific ways.
(I’ve been on this post since the past month or so. Never found the time, energy and the inclination together. But it’s Anjali Menon’s birthday today, so here’s one to one of the smartest, brightest, most amazing human being I have striven to know: Happiest Birthday, even though you’d never see this!)