Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Left Right Left

Man is part DNA, part unknown and part what he sees and goes through as a child – this message that rolls out in the opening credits forms the core philosophy in Arun Kumar Arvind-Murali Gopy’s fabulous political narrative that sketches the lives of three individuals, with the backdrop of Kerala’s red landscape. The duo take-off from where they left in Ee Adutha Kaalathu but this is a vastly different film and will surprise anyone who enters the theatre keeping EAK in mind.

The movie traces three men who grow up with a sense of loss, death and bitterness as each of them carves out his own path. One becomes a fire-brand Marxist leader Kaitheri Sahadevan (Hareesh Peeradi), another becomes an idealistic true Leftist ‘Che Guevera’ Roy Joseph (Murali Gopy – assuming true comrades exist outside cinema!) while the last one becomes an unscrupulous cop ‘Vattu’ Jayan (Indarjith) who cares two hoots about any ideology. They are bound together by the viciousness of the politics of the land that swallows them.

Sahadevan has seen his father and uncle slain by oppressors and has grown cold-hearted as a fiery leader in the RPM. He is convinced that the way ahead is not to fight capitalism but embrace it whole-heartedly (Boorshe jayikkan boorsha aayittu kaaryam illa; boorshayude achan aavanum). He isn't a villain in the truest of sense – when Jayan visits him to have his job back, there is no petty vengeance (paavam police puzhua, vittayikku), no insult, no big dialogues, just a matter-of-fact instruction on what is needed - an apology to the cadres. His loyalty is towards the party and it is the support of the party and its workers that give him the legitimacy to become one among its topmost leaders. It is another matter that despite Sahadevan being one among the three man characters in the story, LRL does not give us an opportunity to know him personally - it is as if the man never existed outside his political attire. Unfortunately, it robs him of the empathy that an audience could have felt for a principal character who is this way because of what he has gone through.

Roy Joseph may have been a ‘Che Guevera’ Roy once but he’s a much chastened communist ideologue now who still has faith in the communist cause. He agrees that the RPM has its faults nevertheless; it is the only true voice of the Left in the State and so he is not willing to shake its roots even when needed. He is naive enough to think that the party can weed out its deficiencies and grow but for those in the party, he is merely comrade Varghese’s son who is out of touch with the ground realities of politics. The brutal world of campus violence incapacitates him, leaving him with just his conscience to stand up for. This probably explains why during these later years, he is more inclined to speak a Gandhian language of compromise than a Che Guevera form of resistance against the leadership. It is ironic and symbolic that it is his left side that is incapacitated in this struggle to stand up for the cause that he believes in!

Jayan’s childhood experience when he loses his sister convinces him that to live in this unjust world, one needs money and has to be a policeman and he eventually becomes a madcap cop. He is a product of a much later era and has no faith in politics of any kind and is stupefied that Anitha (Lena) whom he considers has his sister would marry an incapacitated man like Roy. He is obsessed with a manipulative young nurse Jennifer (Remya Nambeesan) who is fleeing from an abusive husband. For all his brutal ways, the closest people in his lives are all women – his mother, Anitha and Jennifer. The angry young man has a soft confused side that he allows only the audience to see and you root for him, despite his shortfalls.

LRL is a lament on the fall of the Left from its presence as the party with a difference and the conscious-keeper of the state. The party has abandoned its old principles and is willing to bed the same bourgeoisie that it had loathed at one point of time. It brooks no dissent and has been reduced to just another political party whose aim is only to secure power – the end justifies its means. While the movie does not explicitly take sides, it blames a lot of the violence and bloodshed of the era to differences within the Left groups of the state itself and by doing that, it kind of absolves the other parties of their role in the polarized world of Kerala politics. For a movie that is so deeply entrenched in politics, I suppose it is difficult for the film-makers to be fence-sitters and be non-partisan. The writing is anti-Communist but am more inclined to look at as an expression of anguish and bitterness of a lost hope rather than critical of the movement perse.

More than the script what makes the movie memorable is the presence of real flesh and blood characters who remain in your mind for a long time. It isn’t just the three lead characters but the supporting cast, especially the long-suffering women, who carve a niche for themselves in the film. Whether it is Anita who has sacrificed a more comfortable life to be Roy’s soul-mate, Jayan’s mother who stands tall and bold despite facing turbulent situations in life, Jennifer who uses Jayan to escape from an abusive husband or Deepa (Anushree) who has to bear the brunt of her husband’s decision to expose Sahadevan, all of them are strong women characters capable of holding their own. As Anitha says towards the end, these fighting women ‘..are the real communists, We are brave, we are alone’.

The emotional landscape is harsh and unforgiving but there is tenderness in the relationships that unfold. For all the recklessness of Jayan, he shares a warm relationship with his mother – the emotions are not expressed but deep down you know that there is deep bond that binds them. Roy and Anitha have a difficult life as an idealistic couple but they carry each other in all situations, acting as shade to each other’s problems. It is an atypical political film – it is the individuals that matter, the demagogues are not archetypal villains but products of their experiences. 

In a movie that draws too many parallels from real life, there are bound to be questions as to the extent to which it borders reality. It escapes no one that VS and Pinnarayi are two leaders who are shown in the movie and neither of them comes across with a clean slate (especially Sahadevan as Pinnarayi is too close to real life). While Sahadevan is shown as being driven by the urge to secure power at any costs, SR uses the corruption allegations leveled to merely settle scores with Sahadevan and the one who suffers are the poor whistle-blowers. The character of Roy is also possibly inspired by the brave Simon Britto but with such similarities, is it ok to fictionalize events and show the Lefties as the villains while being silent on the role of the other parties?

One area where LRL succumbs is its temptation to act as a mirror to too many evils around us. This works at times like when it exposes the myopic nature of media stories as it stumbles from a high-profile corruption case to a murder case within a span of a few hours (urumbu chathal thavala chaavum vare, thavala chathal paambu chavum vare, paambu chathal parunth chavum vare) but Suraaj Venjaramoodu and his mythology serials add no value to the proceedings. Roy and Anitha may be ‘yathaartha’ communists but does it have to be at the expense of showing the doctor as a contrasting character, who earns in crores? Ahmed Sidhique (of KT Mirash fame) as the travel agent also only serves the purpose of raising laughs.

If I were to zoom at that one specific scene (s) that hooked me totally, it has to be the conversation between Sahadevan and Roy near a remote tea stall on the highway.  It is a well-composed sequence which begins with a long shot of cars moving and a figure of a solitary man trying to stop the convoy. What follows is a long, drawn out conversation, accentuated by a throbbing BGM as Sahadevan passionately extols the reason to think beyond communist ideals in order to survive in this tough world. Haresh Peeradi sparkles in this tete-a-tete (rather a monologue); he believes in a pragmatic philosophy (Idathu kaalu kondu panthadikkanamenkil valathu kaalil nilkkanam) where the passive communist resistance of Roy has no relevance. As a scene, I think it goes beyond what must have been written on paper and makes you feel more intensely involved with it.

The climax of the film also is filmed unusually as it blacks out the final assassination that culminates the proceedings. The murder isn't unexpected but the way it is shot, you are left asking for more. This finale is presented merely as a political murder, simply eliminating the emotional outage that the audience could experience with the death of a lead character. Jayan achieves a sense of redemption and happily traces his path to the gallows while life goes on for the people who survive the impact of those last few days. Even as he seeks his redemption, it is worth asking whether the killing really achieves anything concrete or whether even in this salvation, he merely ends being a pawn in the hands of the party cadres who are inimical to the leader!

LRL is a movie bursting with very powerful acting performances and Indrajith as 'Vattu' Jayan leads the pack with a bristling performance as the audacious cop who's taken for a ride. Hareesh Peeradi is a surprise element as he muscles his way through with minimum effort, even though he has a few scenes only to make a presence felt (the dialogues and BGM also contributed immensely in his performance). Lena continues to shine in new age cinema with the the various roles that she performs but the real surprise performance of the film comes from Sethulakshmi as Jayan’s mother, as she buries her grief and accepts the realities of her distressed life as a strong brave women. Take the scene how spontaneously dead pan she reacts to Jayan’s query after he weeps his tears and emerges from the bathroom.

Murali Gopy has come a long way from Rasikan and after EAK and LRL, there isn't an iota of doubt that Malayalam cinema has found a scriptwriter to reckon with. I found his performance in EAK a little over the top but he has an assured and quiet presence here – the actor in him is here to stay while Gopi Sundar also exploits his singing skills in his rousing rendition of the stunning viplava LRL anthem, Kaal Kuzhanju. The film would have not had the kind of tremendous impact that it has now, without Gopi Sundar’s outstanding BGM score (especially loved the note that accompanies Sahadevan whenever he enters the scene).

You may question the intention of the film-maker who does not mince words in his criticism of the Left but then I suppose why should the intention of the director matter anyway? Aren't our perceptions also clouded by our preferences, then why demand neutrality from an auteur? He has put in his perspective and it is definitely works for me. Left Right Left is an intensely political movie and it is impossible to look at the characters without viewing them through their political affiliations. Nevertheless, like the other famous Red Movie Lal Salaam, LRL deals first and foremost with individuals and not politics. You can replace the Communist Party with the Right or the Congress and still tell the same story but there is a sense of nostalgia and lament that Keralites associate with the Left which no other party enjoys….

Tail piece: It appears that there is an unofficial ban on the screening of LRL in parts of Kerala, especially the Malabar region. The movie has been taken off after a couple of weeks in quite a few places in North Kerala despite strong word-of-mouth publicity and critical buzz surrounding it. While there hasn't been any protest of any sort against the film, there are rumours of the possible role of the Left parties in arm-twisting theatre owners into taking the movie out of theatres.


  1. I'll show you one more idealistic 'true' leftist. My brother. :) I should ask him what he thought about this film. I have heard very good reports about it and even though I usually shy away from political films, I'm intrigued enough by your review to give it a watch.

    is it ok to fictionalize events and show the Lefties as the villains while being
    silent on the role of the other parties?

    You are falling into the trap of wanting them to mirror every aspect of reality. Keep in mind that this is one man's (the scriptwriter) perspective and another man's (the director's) vision. It does not mean this is the whole truth. And is it really necessary to show both sides as being equally bad (or good)? Does everything have to be balanced? :) I would argue that every film is subjective and shows what the filmmakers want you to see. And it is perfectly valid, is it not?

    Besides, the Left being the villains in this case, does not mean the other parties are angels, does it? Just because one is bad does not necessarily mean the others are good.(OK, I'll shut up now! [grin])

  2. Oh yes, should hear what a true leftist actually feels about the movie; the party is obviously not too impressed with it but since it is in Kerala, atleast the film maker can get away with this kind of finger-pointing. If the review has intrigued you to watch, it has done its part - need more people to watch it and express what they felt about the movie.

    Events can be fictionalized but when a lot of backdrop and the characters mirror reality and the movie is littered with such incidents, a certain sense of balance is probably needed. This isn't a historical perspective of a real-life event to bring in subjectivity but yes, I do take your point that cinema is very personal experience and we need to judge what the director wishes to present to us and not what we think should be shown on screen.

    True to the extent that it primarily focuses on the Left, it is possible that the party suffers a much more microscopic critical analysis than any other party.

  3. Look at it this way; the story is about three different types of people who all shared a common ideology, and how their paths diverged. Where does the question of criticising another party, or even bringing it into the picture arise? That is like saying that if when Adoor makes a story about the destruction of a Nair household in a particular period, he should also show the destruction of the Dalits or Namboodiris during the same timeframe. Or that Shyamaprasad making Agnisakshi based on Lalitambika Antarjanam's novel on the plight of a Nambodiri woman (and man and that particular society) should also have shown/written about the effect of communism (in that particular story) and education on other castes of the time. Especially since it was based on real people.

    It is like people asking me when I write a review: Why didn't you say this? Or why didn't you see this was the reason the character behaved in that manner?

    Umm, because it is my review? You (generic you) are free to disagree with it and post your own views but don't tell me what I should have written or seen instead. Cinema viewing is essentially a very subjective exercise. Similarly, I think it is fine that a director presents us one story. There can be many facets to it, but that is not important, because this is the story he chose to tell.

  4. Slight difference in the example. If Adoor makes a story about the destruction of a Nair household based on true incidents and then blames someone else who is not the actual architect of the tragedy, that would tantamount to taking sides. To that extent, since the characters portrayed do exist and Simon Britto was a victim of campus violence by the opposition in real life, it would be factually wrong to suggest someone else's hands in the incident. Here. it is not a matter of mere interpretation of unknown facts or a balance for the sake of balance but a question of getting the facts right.

    But at the same time, am willing to accept that the character of Roy Varghese was only modelled on him and does not refer to the actual incident perse. It is quite possible that since the story confined itself to the Left party, the party came in for much more analysis than anyone else.

  5. Hi Pradeep, I agree to most of your reviews except "Chapters"..You find the exact things what any good reviewer should see. Keep going..But please cut down on some of the spoilers in your reviews like mentioning the key scenes in detai. Apart from that I think you're probably the best reviewer of malayalam movies I've found in net.Cheers

  6. Thanks, Sharafudeen for dropping by and the kind words. Will keep the feedback in mind though I must say that I try to ensure that there are no spoiler alerts in any of my reviews. You disagree with my assessment of 'Chapters' - please do give your feedback on it in the review so that we can examine it too; both movies and reviews are subjective and open to all forms of feedback...