Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ividam Swargamanu

In Ividam Swargamanu, Roshan Andrews and Mohan Lal come together to weave a simple, honest tale tackling the menace of land mafia and the trials and tribulations of a farmer who struggles to save his land in the midst of a corrupt system, a decaying society and a world which is slowly losing its innocence. Roshan casts his net wide enough to bring to our attention many issues but fortunately, none of these deviate from the central theme.

Mathews (Mohanlal) is a farmer who loves his cattle more than anything else. Along with this dad Germias (Thilakan), he builds an ecological heaven for himself in the rustic lands of Kodanadu, after years of hard work. When the real estate ring under Aluva Chandy (Lalu Alex) starts eying his land, Mathews’ troubles start and how he deals with this issue is the core of the movie.

Recent Mohan Lal movies have presented simplistic solutions but thankfully, Kodanadu is no Mithilapuri and Mathews is no Kashinath as in Thandavam (and in many other movies) where the character takes on the mafia single handedly and grinds them to the ground. Instead Roshan Andrews brings on the Satyan Anthikad-Lal touch of the 80s and 90s immortalized by movies like Varavelppu, Gandhi Nagar 2nd Street and TP Balagopalan MA and creates a memorable story, ensuing that Mathews remains a character that we would remember in future too (Looking at its book office fate, I hope that it atleast succeeds in the DVD circuit).

Mathews does everything that he can to stop the sale of his land but Aluva Chandy’s men make life more and more difficult for his family. Eventually, he realises that he needs to be smarter to tackle him and beats him in his own game of conceit. The way this unravels is interesting but it kind of happens too fast and looks a bit too simple and reduces the group of villains to an almost buffonesque state (Reminds you of Khosla Ka Ghosla in this phase of the movie though it is much less dramatic here) . When court cases and procedures go on for centuries and the people involved are in high places (like the Revenue Secretary), it looks far too simple but credit must be given to the director for trying to bring about a solution using proper legal and judicial means, without any form of gimmickry.

The screenplay is concise and to the point, so every scene has relevance and justifies the way characters go about their business. Sunitha (Lakshmi Rai) takes up the case not only because she wants to get back to her trouble makers but also because for her this is linked to her cost of living (the scene where she haggles with a vegetable vendor on the prices is a subtle touch). Prabalan Vakil (Sreenivasan) is the Amicus Curiae and has a job to do but at the same time he is also driven by his concern towards the issue of the loss of agriculture lands to corporates. Betsy, a television reporter (Priyanka Nair) is fascinated by his farm and believes that this is a human interest story which would sell on TV and the fact that Mathews is her mother’s ex-student incentivises this further.

The villagers believe that a township can actually bring about changes – for somebody it is extra jobs, for somebody, it is additional business while for many, it is publicity for a village which has never made it big. The Communist Party initially supports Mathews’ cause but later abandons the cause when they realise that they do not have the backing of people. When a comrade says that the party should stick to its principles and not succumb to popular perceptions, the leader reminds him of the parliamentary elections and the effect of taking such a stand.

The high element of decentralization in Kerala has created a lot of power at the grass roots level and the movie takes us into the narrow corridors of corruption in these small offices. So, instead of taking the conventional route of Ministers and Chief Ministers being involved in big dramas, you have councillors, Church committees, trade unions, village panchayats, block development offices and myriads of governmental offices with all sorts of procedures which seem to have been created just to make our lives more and more difficult. Notice how the Collector realises that the peon has delayed despatching the official notice but is wary to take action because of his standing among the unions. This world never features in Bollywood but finds a prominent place in our cinema (a reflection of how the distinction between villages and towns has still not been perpetuated in most of Kerala).

The writer, James Albert, gives us a bird eye view of the corruption that happens in real estate deals. Jagathy in an excellent cameo as Bhuvanachandran, a document forgery expert, shows how documents are manipulated – despite our cynicism, it is still an eye opener. So, you have mechanisms to forge signatures and Voter IDs, make alterations on the paper through natural means, and make documents look older than they are through innovative methods (The use of various fountain pens for each decade and Chelpark ink to provide that authentication shows the research done). Isn’t it amazing to know that when Government gifts free land to poor people, many of these people do not even exist? Later, a real estate shark like Aluva Chandy forges documents to prove that the land has been sold to him (from people who only exist on paper) and sells/develops the land to make money.

When the movie showcases Mathews’ farm (his farm makes use of intelligent use of natural bio-techniques and avoids the use of pesticides; there is a proper waste management system and the drainage flow is well regulated) and there are rumours of real estate interest being shown in the area, there is a hint that the movie may look at the issue of Nature Vs Development or even the Right to Property but the director quickly settles down for a more conventional script dealing with a farmer fighting the land mafia, making it a Good Guy Vs Bad Guy story. While this is not exactly a cop out, it could have made for a more interesting clash. After all everyone in the real estate business is not a villain; there is a genuine argument to bring about a middle ground in this discussion – but Aluva Chandy is a caricature in that sense, he is a scheming villain who is out to swindle the entire population.

But that should not take away the credits of the movie and these are abundant. Mohan Lal returns to his roots and steals the show with his wonderful presence and he is ably supported by an excellent set of characters. The humour is natural and gladly devoid of Suraj, Harishree Asokan and the rest who have been plaguing most movies nowadays. The script is the hero and while the length of the movie may bother a few people, I was pretty comfortable with it. But what does it say of the Kerala cine goer who is glad to watch Happy Husbands and Chattambi Nadu but shying away from endorsing movies like Ividam Swargamanu, Paleri Manikyam and Bhramram? If even a superstar cannot bring crowds to good cinema, is there a reason to be hopeful?

P.S. This movie also has a personal interest for me. My wife’s tharavadu (with an Anjaneya temple and pond in its precincts) is among the very few places in the heart of Palakkad town, which has not been sold. A couple of years back, their neighbour passed away and his land which comprised many trees and a pond was bought by the Pavizham Group, which has bought many tracts of land around the place. All the trees were cut and the pond was dried out and now, you have the Jobys Mall there – supposedly the first shopping mall in the district. The gentle breeze and cool shade brought about these lovely surroundings has now been replaced by the noisy din of the construction and buzz of the people visiting the mall. Hopefully, our tharavadu will continue to flourish, as it has been doing all these years but when the entire populace is changing, how long can we stop this, especially with the next generation losing interest in maintaining them?

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Case of the Missing Pakistanis

Diplomacy is a tough nut to crack, especially when the issue is an Indo-Pak issue. It takes a small snub (even imaginary) for the so called peace between India and Pakistan to shred. Every “window of opportunity” opens both ways – either into chaos or peace and inevitably, it is the chaos that makes it mark when it comes to our grand relationship with our neighbours. Lalit Modi, Vice-President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) runs this cash cow called IPL, which incidentally also indulges in cricket as a major past time and is now single-handedly responsible for hijacking India-Pakistan relations!!!

The IPL-3 issue that is being treated as a setback to Indo-Pak diplomacy is at best a business decision where the franchisees who put in the money decided to hedge their bets, play safe and not risk bringing in Pakistani cricketers. Sure, they could have been more taut and diplomatic and put up an honest face saying that looking at the state of affairs in the sub-continent, they were not too keen on promoting Aman ki Aasha here. Isn’t this a rational decision where investors with limited money put in the money, keeping in mind the maximization of their returns?

But then cricket in India’s been a simple game – it is a kind of diplomatic chessboard where every guy has a word on how to play one’s moves. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) claims that the move was a deliberate snub by India and that the Modi must apologize for hurting the sentiments of thousands of Pakistanis. The way I see it, the IPL and India have made fun of us and our country by treating us this way," Afridi said. 'I am very disappointed,' said all-rounder Abdul Razzaq. 'This is a conspiracy to malign us... It was their plan.' Pakistan Sports Minister Jhakhrani told Indian Sports Minister M.S. Gill that it was 'utterly disappointing that not a single Pakistani was auctioned for the cash lucrative IPL'.

The Government also decided to put in feeble comments on how eager they were all to watch the Pakistani players and how Modi and Co had missed this window of opportunity. Rediff reports - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is believed to be extremely upset -- some say even livid -- over the manner in which Indian Premier League boss Lalit Modi has ensured that Pakistan players are kept out of the latest edition of the Twenty20 extravaganza. The Indian PM actually spoke, without asking for madam’s instructions!!!! Wish he explained what window of opportunity is it that has been squandered? Maybe it’s time we had a few cricketers to handle our foreign affairs – would be so much easier to shut down terrorist camps and bring about peace.

Union Minister for Youth and Sports M.S. Gill said I trust, that the IPL corporate owners of cricket, have also taken a small lesson, from all this. Everyone must realize, that sports are the bedrock, of people-to-people contact, which we need to promote, with our neighbours. Can someone remind him to try and resolve the sad state of affairs facing hockey in India, with the impending World Cup in February, instead of promoting world peace? Women’s hockey is in a worse situation and the Commonwealth is around the corner but we have left it to the Gods to complete the work on time.

Earlier, Home Minister P Chidambaram had also chided the IPL franchisees, saying the franchisees had done a "disservice" to the game by ignoring the Pakistani players. Chidambaram said the cricket lovers were disappointed by the franchisees' behaviour and felt the entire controversy was avoidable. Of course, if there are any untoward events that would happen, don’t expect the government to gear up to handle the situation? SRK (trying to sound more intelligent than Aamir) chipped in that saying it is sad that Pakistani players were not picked for the event but also adds that such a climate needs to be created for Pakistani players to play (since such a climate does not exist, why the so-called feeling of humiliation at not inviting them?)

The Home Ministry says that there has been a greater outbreak of hostilities lately and the chances of terrorist activities have grown multi-fold in the recent past? Under such circumstances, if some terrorist activity were to happen, what would be the reactions of Indians and Pakistanis here? Can the government promise that Pakistani players would be safe here under any circumstances and protect them (and even Aussies now) from the madness of Shiv Sainiks, who know that they can make the ugliest of remarks and exhibit violence against anyone Bal Thackeray points at and get away with it because the spineless government cannot stop these buffoons?

Skipping an IPL is a snub to Pakistani cricket and has damaged it, says sources. So, if a handful of players make millions, would Pakistani cricket actually be better off? The Pakistani players ignored at the auction were justified in feeling humiliated because they were obviously not judged on merit. But they could have also handled it quietly and taken the moral higher ground but then that’s clearly asking too much from them. By taking measures like cancellation of the visit to India by parliamentarians and the election commissioner and making calls to boycott all sports events scheduled to be held in India, they have merely aggravated the issue.

The IPL is just an investment for the parties who have put crores into it and want to play it safe? How different is it if a private entity decides to start a company in India and decides to play safe and cut all risks. If there were to be a situation like a 26/11 again, will the franchises be able to play the Pakistanis in India (After all, the same Pakistan Governemnt banned its players from playing in IPL-2 stating the same reason)? So, the franchises took a practical call that having Pakistani players in their sides could lead to potential problems. But judging by reactions, the franchises have in one stroke hurt Indo-Pak relations, insulted cricket fans worldwide, embarrassed the country and even brought India and Pakistan to a potential war (What the Mumbai terror attacks could not achieve — an Indo-Pak war — this fresh row could well do that – yes, Pradeep Magazine actually wrote that in The Hindustan Times!!!)

Cricket has, unfortunately, this wonderful responsibility to bring world peace and people still dream that it will bring people together. I must confess that I harboured such thoughts at the height of the Agra Summit hype but as time passes, I have stopped allowing myself to indulge in such inane fantasies. The IPL is a commercial enterprise run by a group of savvy businessmen who can see the fiscal potential of the game; attributing larger virtues of brotherhood is simply foolhardy.