Rajesh James, a college professor in Kochi, tells the stories of three women in unconventional professions in his film ‘In Thunder Lightning and Rain’.

Football coach cremator fisherwoman A documentary on three amazing Kerala women
news Documentary Monday, July 23, 2018 - 16:24
Written by  Cris

It’s strange that Selina keeps smiling as she speaks. She is not speaking of pleasant times. It’s of beatings from a drunk husband. Of teeth that fell and hands that broke.

But Selina smiles. And somehow, watching her thin face and pronounced cheekbones is still painful, though the tears that must have once rolled down on them have dried years ago.

Rajesh James, a college professor in Thevara, tells her story and the tales of two other women in a documentary called In Thunder Lightning and Rain.

“I didn’t want to tell a sad story, but one of survivors,” Rajesh says. So when he chose to tell the real life stories of three women who did jobs that are considered to be unconventional for women, he made them happy stories. It’s just that even happy stories have their share of troubled times.

(Rajesh James)

When his documentary was screened at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala, Rajesh brought along with him Ammini Amma, one of the three women. He calls the stories 'Thunder', 'Lightning' and 'Rain'. 'Thunder' tells the story of Seena CV, a football coach who once played for India, 'Lightning' is about Selina, who works as a cremator and 'Rain' is of Ammini Amma, a fisherwoman and folk singer.

“I was sad to see the documentary. How much the other two women had to go through…,” Ammini says, sitting outside Kairali Theatre, where the film was screened. Channels are waiting to interview her. The audience that watched her talk most comfortably on the camera laughed with her.

In the film, Ammini is asked if she ever felt that she should have been born a man. Ammini Amma laughs for a whole minute before answering yes, she has felt it at times, when no matter how much she earns and brings back home, it has no value, because it came from a woman. “I have thought then that if I were a man I would treat them all like slaves,” she says.

She is also downright honest. Back when she was young and both her parents died, Ammini decided to sacrifice her education so she could look after her younger siblings. “But now if I am given that choice, I would throw it all away and go to school. Not being able to read and write has been a big regret,” Ammini says.

(Still from the documentary: Ammini Amma on her boat)

She is going back to school now, and has got her 4th standard certificate. “My grandchild would teach me with a stick in her hand!” says the proud granny.

Ammini is also a singer of a band, and creates her own folk songs. That’s just the tradition of her family, she says. You watch her row the boat for long distances in the film, and get down in muddy waters to catch fish and sell it. Between fishing and singing, she gets very little time for school, Ammini says, again laughing. But now she’s got a chance to act in a feature film, wearing ‘chattayum mundum’ (traditional robes of Christian women in Kerala).

Selina and Seena couldn’t be at the fest. Neither have any of the three women met each other. Rajesh thinks there is no need for that, because they are representatives of a larger population. They represent many women like them, their stories untold and unheard.

All three women are now single. Ammini had a good married life but her husband passed away some years ago. Seena, who grew up watching the bad marriage of her parents, decided to never marry. Selina took the bold step to divorce her alcoholic and abusive husband after she could no longer stand it.

Her job is almost like a comforting space that she likes to go to. It doesn’t scare her, burning dead bodies at late hours of the night, staying back till 2 or 3 in the morning to finish her work. “What’s there to be afraid of? You only need to be scared of humans who walk on two legs,” she says in the film, and the audience claps loudly.

She’s burnt 4000 bodies in over ten years and will continue doing her job till she dies, Selina says. “When I die, I want to be cremated here, like I have burnt all the bodies. I have told my family that.” Here again, Selina smiles when she says this.

Life, that’s handed out some tough deals to these women, is still loved. Ammini announces she would still like to live, despite the poverty and grief. She loves to live. They all do.