The anguish of an artist: Jayan Cherian of 'Ka Bodyscapes' and his cinema in exile

Just as the characters of his films fight the structure and fail, Jayan Cherian fights a losing battle with the rigid censors.
The anguish of an artist: Jayan Cherian of 'Ka Bodyscapes' and his cinema in exile
The anguish of an artist: Jayan Cherian of 'Ka Bodyscapes' and his cinema in exile
Written by:

Sandeep Ravindranath

Human figures silhouetted against the vastness of nature and space - the minusculity and irrelevance of the human experience, its desires and ambition. The landless Adivasi exodus marked against an indifferent black sky, Haris and Vishnu against the green of Calicut paddy fields, the failed protagonist walking into a devouring ocean of white. A common theme we see again and again in Jayan Cherian films - his characters repeatedly fight the structure and fail, just as the stories they tell, repeatedly fight the censors and are shot down. "I do not want to have positive endings just for the sake of it. The stories are only reflections of the everyday reality around us", Jayan Cherian once said to me.

I had the misfortune of meeting these censors on one of his films and they couldn't have been more exhibitive of their political disposition. The head of the review committee had on the windshield of his car - a lotus, a photo of the prime minister, an Indian flag, an Om sticker and to top it all, a quote from the Bible. He even had an Indian flag printed on the pocket of his shirt. This was Hindutva with a vengeance. Or worse, Hindutva armed with a Bible.

Little wonder then, that their verdict proclaimed, "The Revising Committee felt that the entire content of the Malayalam feature film Ka Bodyscapes is ridiculing, insulting and humiliating Hindu religion, in particular portraying Hindu Gods in poor light." However, there is not one mention of Jayan Cherian’s critique of the Muslim patriarchal structure in this film, which is very revealing of the Censor Board’s and its mothership, the PMO’s attitude towards the minorities.

The morning after we wrapped up the shoot on Ka Bodyscapes, I witnessed the anguish of being Jayan Cherian - he had used up the money set aside for his daughter’s education on this shoot. “What the f*ck am I doing man?”, he cried. “What an a**hole I am”. He had a quick word of advice for the aspiring filmmaker in me as well - “Is this really what you want to do? To live tormented by this anxiety?”

His first film Papilio Buddha had also run into trouble with the censors. The film that premiered at the Berlin Film Festival had few takers at home. Pulled out of both the International Film Festival of India and the International Film Festival of Kerala, its theatrical release was scarred by the 56 cuts that the censors had inflicted upon it. It did not survive into a second week of its theatrical run. And there was still more trouble waiting for it - the producers were in the middle of an ego tussle and removed the film from online distribution as well. There is literally no place you can go to watch this film.

If it'll never be seen, what then does it mean to make a film? What does it mean to make films in exile? To have a film that has lost its identity, very often as human beings themselves are lost - an outsider in its country of production and completely ignored in the country that it was meant for? One can almost picture Jayan Cherian screaming into the dark void of eternal nothingness - the inevitable tragedy of a film and a filmmaker that will never make it to its audience, fated only to sink into the emptiness of oblivion and forgotten for ever.

Postscript: The order WP(C).No. 27418 of 2016(B)], dated 27 September 2016 passed by the Honorable High Court of Kerala questions the CBFC’s decision on the complete ban of the film Ka Bodyscapes. To enable a public exhibition, the film will now have excised from it, all the scenes deemed ‘unfit’ by the CBFC and end up with a sorry patchwork that will embody neither the spirit nor the matter of the original idea.

Sandeep Ravindranath served as an assistant to the director for the film Ka Bodyscapes and is currently a full-scholarship student in the directing program at Columbia College Chicago.

Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.

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