Monday, 13 July 2015

Kanyaka Talkies: The Politics of Sin

What makes an open ended narrative significant is that it could gain layers of meaning with the passage of time. The creators of such works would definitely have their own ideological explanations and visions regarding the way it has to be received. But since they refuse/forget to 'close' the narration tightly into neat compartments where nothing from outside could interfere with its interpretation, the work would begin to have its own existence beyond what it was originally meant to be. I could sense such a dimension in the award-winning-but-ridiculously-late-to-release-in-theratres-movie Kanyaka Talkies (2013). Perhaps the saving grace is that the movie has a certain timelessness and universality even as it is rooted in a specific time and space. The callous attitude by certain sects of the industry to such a work which had to be talked about as soon as it was ready for viewing could have affected, in various ways, the career of all those who invested their creative capital in it. But what remains unbeaten is the result of a sincere effort by them - the movie.

If you pitch Kanyaka Talkies as a work that deals with the age-old concepts of  lust and sin propagated by colonialism/religion/ideologies, the loss of glorious Indian family system, the demonic interventions of porn industry and so on, it would sound very simplistic, if not too much of a cliché. Though it is possible to point accusing fingers at all the external influences that contribute to the identity of a community reduced more or less to an insular environment, the best way to analyze them objectively would be how they have emerged out of all these, in their true selves. Have they ever succeeded in using their free will in accepting what they are and what they really need, instead of judging the world around them? In the business of being socially accepted creatures, they seem to have failed themselves and evolved into revoltingly frustrated beings. Thus, Kanyaka Talkies moves a bit on Dystopian lines as well. All the melancholy that pervades the movie in the beginning shots moves way to a bunch of hypocritical attitudes to life - the senseless projection of a non-existent morality related to families, double standards regarding sexual needs/longing, exploitation of the vulnerable, an obscene interest in the private lives of others and so on. 

Set in an idyllic village on a mountain top, the movie talks about the closure of a small theatre which entertained the people there in its own special ways. Its survival tactics depended on the changing times and needs. When once-popular movies that had aged and lost their lustre and punch with time couldn't attract viewers, the theatre was filled with the insane heavings of soft-porn movies interspersed with 'bits' of real porn, in which the women who play their part in most cases are exploited in the act as much as they're exploited before and after it. The people who frequent such screenings turn out to be exclusively male, mostly middle-aged, and all of them are apparently married. The same community passes judgements about the lack of morality in the life of the theatre owner Yakoob, played by Alencier Ley. They make sarcastic comments when his older daughter elopes with a man below her class but of her choice, and his deeply religious wife commits suicide in shame when the remaining daughter disappears as well. It's this sarcasm of the society more than his personal grief which makes him escape from the place, after giving the theatre to the christian community so that it could be turned into the first church in the area. 

Fr. Michael, played out brilliantly by Murali Gopi, comes to the village as the church vicar. The small community of ostensibly simple-minded and straight-forward people turns out to be an enigma for him. He is full of 'hope', which his senior priest who sends him there considers to be the bane of the young. In his attempts to remain honest to his calling, he is tortured by the 'sinful past' of the place that culminates in the church which was once the theatre. He begins to hear voices that he struggles to explain to a therapist as the 'obscene' sounds made by women during sex. The noises play a significant role in the movie, thanks to the craftfully done sound effects by a team that includes Rajivan Ayyappan and Harikumar Madhavan Nair. The unresolved mystery surrounding the noises makes it possible to interpret it in various ways - reminding one of the way candid video tapes play a significant role in the Michael Haneke movie Cache. It leads to speculations on Fr.Michael's past, or the conflict between his faith and physical needs, or his incredibly naive mind tortured by the lives he sees around him, complete with their failures, lust, hypocrisy, and suffering. Though not explored as much as it could have been, the noises give a bit of a magic realist touch to the narrative. For some reason the gradual journey of discovering the village reminded me a bit of the approach David Lynch has in the Twin Peaks series and movie as well, sans the overt physical violence aspect.


The one character in the movie that leaves a deep gash in the heart/conscience on any thinking viewer is Ancy, done effortlessly well by Lena. Working as a home nurse in the nearby city, she is tempted to make sense of her identity and aspirations in life by taking the wrong turn - ending up as an 'extra' actor in movies and then getting constantly exploited in the process of being trapped in the underbelly of film industry. When her double life is exposed in the small village, she too has to escape the place, like Yakoob. While Yakoob had to stop the bus he was travelling in and hop out hurriedly to escape from the sarcasm of the people around him, Ancy manages to say goodbye to the God in the church and ask a piercing question to Fr.Michael, which might sound like a cliche, but true to the core: "Are lives like mine entirely worthless, Father?"

The families of the village that find some space in the narration are not entirely devoid of the false faces. It is hinted that adultery, skewed man-woman/sexual relationships and lack of respect towards individuals are all as rampant here as one could expect in any place - not only villages, but small towns and cities as well. But what could be the reason/s for all these? There are only some pointers for the discerning viewers here, since a moral investigation doesn't seem to be the priority of the creators, at the cost of aesthetic concerns. 

To me, the porn industry is not the sole villain here. It's the the 'fake noises' women are made to make in the process of 'creating scenes' that titillate, which has turned it into an industry of physical/psychological violation.These violations happen not only in the soft-porn movies and the bits shown in the theatres or the later-age video clips that circulate on mobile phones, but have seeped into the daily lives of seemingly simple and innocent people who are obscenely voyeuristic - taking more interest in other people's lives than their own, and passing unwanted judgements. Sexual frustration could be at the heart of it, as hinted at in many places in the movie. There are quite a few instances in which such weird moral policing shows its ugly face in daily life. 

1. A single man is asked to shut up when he tries to defend Yakoob as the latter is accused by the family-men of corrupting their society by the kind of movies he plays in the theatre.

2. An elderly lady who travels in the bus with Ancy asks her intrusive questions as to where she is going alone in the late hour, whether she is married, what her husband's occupation is, and what his name is.

3. Villagers who are concerned about the peculiar behaviour of Fr. Michael come to the conclusion that his problem could be his young age, hinting at the challenges of a young priest to lead a celibate life.

The best moment in the movie is when Ancy dares to answer the intrusive questions in her own way of defiance, as their bus passes by a DYFI Che Guevara poster and some loud announcements. She says she is going to Bolivia, her husband's occupation is guerilla warfare, and his name is Che Guevara. And, the elderly woman is fully convinced and satisfied with these answers, though she couldn't obviously understand a wee bit what they mean!


The excitement and pleasure that the people derive from such crossing of personal limits in order to judge others are not different from what they get from watching sleazy films and bits in the theatre or video clips on mobile phones. And worse still, it's mostly women who end up being the victims in most cases - be it the girls who disappear from the village, or the mother who commits suicide, or the young woman whose video clips are circulated.

There could be other ways of seeing the porn industry, as a letting lose of imagination or as unbridled avenues to pleasure or even jouisaance - which, as one understands with age, has its own limits, though not necessarily of the moral kind. The film doesn't explore that aspect much, but the reason could be obvious - it is conceived more as a revelation to the sexual/moral hypocrisies, and in the process it happens to reveal a few significant layers of socio-cultural hypocrisies as well. 

Kanyaka Talkies is based on a story titled '18+' by the young writer PV Shajikumar and it is directed by KR Manoj. The lead actors Murali Gopi and Lena have given their heart and soul to their roles, contributing in major ways to making the movie a work of art worth exploring. There are quite a few memorable and controlled performances by Indrans, Parvathy and Alencier as well. 

It works as a movie that disturbs you. If you care enough, you may even carry the disturbing voices in your mind as you move out of the theatre. The aesthetics that work here are perhaps based on that ability to disturb creatively, and the politics of sin here could be the politics of physical/psychological violations around you. If you are sure you are not directly a part of it, you would have to agree that you end up being a silent spectator in many such cases.

1 comment:

  1. I saw the movie on Netflix and couldn't find much to read about it. The Wikipedia article does not even have a plot section for instance. This was lovely, thanks for writing.