By Sheela Lal – University of Missouri
Last month, I finally watched City of God. No, not the Brazilian movie of the same name, but a 2011 release. Skimming over the Wikipedia page, I learned that despite the raving critical reviews, it failed commercially. Personally, I can only assume it failed because of the realism emphasis and the experimental plot development. Tangentially, there is not culture of independent “art house” cinemas to act as a space for “different” movies.
Anyway, without giving away the plot, I shall attempt to articulate why this movie left me speechless and almost ruined all other movies for me.
It’s important to reiterate the strong connection between West Bengali culture and Malayali culture. City of God uses a method of cinematography called “hyperlink cinema”, which for those who have seen the Brazilian movie, is that style. for those who haven’t – it’s “where the characters or action reside in separate stories, but a connection or influence between those disparate stories is slowly revealed to the audience.” The first movie to use this style of story telling was Satyajit Ray’s Kanchenjungha.
City of God uses hyperlink cinema to highlight a plethora of social issues like domestic violence, sexual double standards in the film industry, class differences emphasizing the labor economic class, the NRIs’ effect on local economic development, and the mafia. There are more superficial reasons why I enjoyed the movie: looking at Pritviraj and Rajeev Pillai, watching a dark actress with curly hair playing the superstar actress, the music choices.
You can watch the full movie (without subtitles) here.
After watching City of God, I watched Traffic. Like COG, Traffic used hyperlink cinema; unlike COG, Traffic was a commercial success. Honestly, I didn’t like this film as much as City of God. I know it’s because I went from watching one of the best Indian movies I have ever seen, to a similar type of movie. This movie was based on real life events, perhaps acting as one of the reasons for its incredible popularity. If I had not viewed City of God, I think I would have found Traffic to be just as enthralling as most of the Malayali audiences.
The last Malayalam movie I have started watching is Ghaddama (Housemaid). For transparency’s sake, I want to state that I have not finished it. My reaction to the film is only based on about half of the movie. This is a pretty extraordinary film, but to understand its context, the viewer should understand the growing dependency on the Diaspora link between Kerala and the Gulf.
In the 1950s, the Gulf’s oil boom developed into a large scale commercial industry and the need for cheap labor became evident. India’s unemployed labor force was the first and most obvious choice. Keralites established a link between their state and the oil industry. As of 2008, there are approximately 2 million Keralites in the Gulf and they send home USD 6 billion a year. The hope for more household income drives many to migrate and pick up menial jobs.
This is the setting for Ghaddama. The movie is about a woman migrating to Saudi Arabia and the abuse, lies, discrimination and violence she endures while living there. This movie is the first to discuss this Diaspora from a woman’s perspective. The stark Saudi Arabian background removes the visual entertainment film-goers are used to seeing in Indian films.
I am aware that the movies I have seen are self-selected and there is a lot of bias in how I feel about the Malayalam film industry so far. However, they haven’t disappointed and I hope to watch a wider selection in the future.
If any of the readers have suggestions and elaborate on why I should watch those movies, leave a comment!