Sunday, 28 September 2014

Njan - Self Portrait...An Attempt To Rise Above The Clich├ęs

'Njan' (Me) is a movie adaptation of the novel KTN Kottoor Ezhuthum Jeevithavum (KTN Kottoor: Writings And Life) by the brilliant poet/novelist T.P. Rajeevan. The fact that I haven't read the novel puts me in an advantageous position here - to view the movie as a work of art on its own. Even as someone who has come over the temptation to compare a literary work and its movie adaptation, I still struggle with coming to terms with the various possibilities of transferring the deep thought processes in the former to the visual language of the latter. No matter how hard one tries, the reader always ends up positioning her/himself as the ideal reader and questioning the choices taken by the film director to focus on those areas that s/he finds relevant. Here I'm glad that I don't fall prey to that inane exercise, and am in fact given an opportunity to delve deeper into the issues dealt with in the movie when I get a chance to read the book - which I must do, the same way I did with the movie 'Brokeback Mountain' when it led me to the story by Annie Proulx on which it is based. I was amazed by how much the story says in so few pages, and how well the movie managed to say it all so effectively with added layers of visually stunning narrative.  

Njan deals with the maverick writer and political visionary KTN Kottoor, who is shown as an enigmatic presence through the pre-independence Indian social changes brought about along with the freedom struggles. The story finds its own voice as a young man, Ravi Chandrasekharan (Dulqer Salman) is influenced by the life and works of Kottoor (known after the name of his village) and decides to script a play for the theater group he is associated with. In a brilliant narrative technique heretofore unused in Malayalam cinema, the biography of Kottoor unveils through the theatre-flimic depiction of his life as Ravi himself and the actors in the theater group are transformed to the real people from Kottoor's era. Ravi's transformation to Kottoor is the most convincing, as he is depicted in the beginning as a blogger who writes under the pseudonym Kottoor. His friends in the theater group think that he is 'possessed' by Kottoor, and they see him becoming the man on whom he does meticulous research in order to understand him inside out. 

 

The way the real, the theatrical and the filmic merge seamlessly could remind one of Synecdoche, New York, but Njan works on a much smaller canvas and is less ambitious in its narrative grandeur. Perhaps that is one reason why the inadequacy of the theatrical elements disturbed me at places. However, I loved the way the filmic part of narrative uses dramatization quite unapologetically, taking risks at many places but bringing out great results that are not attainable in conventional film narrative techniques. The surreal and magical levels of the life of the protagonist is thus well portrayed through the esoteric elements in the plot, the poems that emerge out of the blue non-diagetically, the mirrors in Kottoor's room that reflect the thought processes of people associated with him, the metaphors of vision and non-vision, and so on. Here I have to mention the thoughtful approach the director, Renjith, has taken to make this movie a memorable one. All the female characters in the movie, though some of their roles are quite short, are conceived so well and the actors who gave life to them have done their best to do justice to them.


What holds the movie together is the complex inner life of a man much misunderstood. Ravi tries to present Kottoor as someone who had to fade away without a trace, despite his lofty thoughts and crucial social interventions. Why did so much talent and intellect go wasted? Does it happen in today's world too? Are original thinkers to be constantly disempowered and left to wither in insignificance even when those who do that know it well enough that the only reason to do that is to make sure that they don't lose their undeserved spaces in their corrupt material world? Ravi gains confidence as a writer to dwell on Kottoor's life and present it as a parable to the world around him which treats his small outbursts in his blog as a crime against the nation. The reason why Ravi chooses 'Kottoor' as his pen-name is not coincidental, but his impetus to get under the skin of the real Kottoor starts the moment he experiences the stifling intervention of power centers on his creativity. Ravi is a suave young man who can deal with the physically non-violent police intervention to 'warn' him. The suggestion that he should tone down his views if he wants to survive in his day job and creative life is what spurs him. It is obviously a lot of psychological violence - something a creative writer would find very difficult to deal with. When he decides to write a play based on Kottoor's writings and life, it is his declaration of right as a writer to survive in the world of restrictions. Even as he empathizes with Kottoor and cares for his lost battle, Ravi emerges as a stronger writer at the end of his work, claiming his own name and succeeding in using the same tools history used against Kottoor to reclaim his significance. 


Kottoor's struggle, as Ravi sees it, was to deal with his creativity and to come to terms with the complex web of power that surrounded him and the other powerless people around him. His 'poetic vision' of freedom is mocked not only by the feudal lord/s but the freedom fighters as well. It is curious that the one who understands Kottoor's full potential is the feudal lord, who is seen hatching cunning plots against him. Kottoor himself fails to find a niche for himself in any of the two main political streams of thought or action available in his time - the Congress and the Communist. What do one's genuine visions attain when it is rejected by the masses because they couldn't accommodate his non-partisan views? Does his poetry survive? What are the choices he has when he is emotionally distanced from his family and any of the social structures around him? How can he connect to women any more, when he realizes that his sexual urge itself is something that he had inherited from the opportunistic forefathers - who have a long history of ill-treating women in general, and those of the lower social and economic class in particular? Kottoor vanishes from his village, seemingly burdened by a sense of the guilt of the privileged class, his own base instincts, creativity, visions, the disappointment at the meaninglessness of connecting with an insensitive world, and many other things that can't be explained.   The emotional journey Ravi takes through Kottoor's life is crucial to him as it is crucial to anyone who has experienced oppression of some form in her/his life. 

It may not be a good idea to define a visionary's life in simplistic terms. We see a lot of examples around us in which arguments are possible only if they are affiliated to a political party, an institution, a religious faith. The most dangerous threat original thoughts and creativity face is none other than this. Is it okay that no one has to care for an individual if caring as an act doesn't gain any significance among the masses? There is nothing great in caring for someone because s/he is 'one among us', because you will disown her/him the moment you realize that's not the case. You don't need theoretical terms to disown someone, though you use them many a time - like 'anarchist', 'antiestablishmentarian', 'hedonist' (though you don't often know what they really mean), or for a change use simple terms too - like 'poet', 'menace to the society', 'mad-creature whose screws got loose because s/he read too much'. Njan may offend you a lot if you belong to this name-calling mass - not only with its unconventional narrative structure, but also with what it says - on your face - about what you are. It shows you in the end, carrying the national flag and shouting nationalist slogans at the top of your voice, as the titles roll by. If you can't stand that irony, the best you can think of would be to hatch a plan to end somebody's existence in this world which, according to you, is owned by your creed.