The fisherfolk community alleges that the film perpetuates myths and insults them.

Tired of insulting portrayals Kerala fisherfolk protest 50-year event on cult film Chemmeen
news Chemmeen Tuesday, February 28, 2017 - 19:23

A movie based on a popular novel by Thakazhi Shivasankara Pillai, a sterling star cast and a well narrated storyline made ‘Chemmeen’ one of Malayalam cinema’s popular classics.

While the average Malayali always includes ‘Chemmeen’ in their list of Malayalam movies that must not be missed, the community that the movie revolved around does not want the Kerala government to celebrate the movie’s golden jubilee.

The fisherfolk community says they have objections to the film, and the romantic drama supposedly based on their lives and beliefs, should not be celebrated by the government.

2015 was the golden jubilee year of the Malayalam classic Chemmeen. However, the Kerala government was planning to celebrate the occasion this year.  

While the film and the novel have always had cult status in the state, the Akhila Kerala Deevara Sabha, an association of fisherfolk, has alleged that the movie is the origin for all the insults that the community has faced over the years. 

However, the association's declaration that it will not allow the Kerala government to celebrate the golden jubilee of Chemmeen on April 8, 2017, is not just about this one film.

Dheevara Sabha general secretary and ex-MLA V Dinakaran told The News Minute that Malayalam cinema and serials for the last many decades have intentionally portrayed fisherfolk as "uncultured".

“I was in college when I watched Chemmeen. I was shocked to see how the movie projected false stories of our community,” he says.

He alleges that it was because of the movie that the myth about a wife's chastity influencing how her fisherman husband fared at sea spread outside the community. The song "Pandoru Mukkuvan" from the film reiterates the idea projected in the film's climax with lyrics that say the safety of the man who goes to sea depends on his wife's character, he adds. 

Dinakaran says that this myth is an insult to women in the community.

“The movie also portrayed fisherfolk as a dishonest community. But in reality, we are the men who transfer lakhs of rupees to merchants without any legal documents through fish selling, “he says, pointing to an instance in the movie where the character Chembankunju (Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair) asks Pareekutty (Madhu) money for fish even though the latter has helped him a lot.

Dinakaran says that this idea has been repeated in all the movies based on the fisherfolk community and that it persists even today.

“Present CPI (M) general secretary Kodiyari Balakrishnan used to call my brother and ex MLA AV Thamarakshan as Chembankunju. Once in the Assembly, when I spoke, many asked me to go and talk at the seashore instead. They were reminding me that I belonged to that place,” he says.

He alleges that it was after Chemmeen that all films made on the community showed the fisherfolk to be speaking a false dialect. 

“Words like 'Makaaale' (daughter), 'Kadaaappuram' (seashore) etc… have not been used by the community for the last many decades. But still in movies and serials, to represent our community, they change the dialect to prove that we don’t know proper Malayalam. Apart from that, our women have stopped using the blouse and lungi a long time ago. But still in cinema, that's how they are shown because they want to prove that we are still primitive," he claims. 

Dinakaran notes that Chemmeen was only a beginning and that a number of movies like Amaram, Vaardhakyapuraanam, Chandupottu and many more have continued this trend.

“In Chandupottu, Dileep says that all that our men do is drinking and gambling. In many movies, it's been shown that all men in our community are drunkards,” he observes.

He also speaks about Vaardhakyapuraanam, which shows a fisherwoman who lives by the seashore visiting the city and drinking water from a closet. “What does that show? That we are uncultured, uneducated people who have no idea about civilisation,” he fumes.

He also says that in many TV serials and movies, fisherfolk's names are called along with the caste name 'Arayan'.

“They also link a fish’s name with the name of somebody in the community, for example Chala Mary, Konju Mammad etc… dialogues insulting our community and profession are plenty,” he points out.

Dinakaran is insistent that the association will not allow the 50th anniversary celebrations at any cost.

“Our protest is not only against Chemmeen, it is against all the movies and TV serials that continue to insult us. Our children who get some provisions from the government go to get it only on holidays. This is because if people come to know that they belong to our community, they are called names from movies and insulted by others imitating the false dialect popularised by these films," he explains. 

He asserts that this protest is for the dignity of the community, especially the women who bear the brunt of the insults.

The government has decided to conduct the golden jubilee celebrations of Chemmeen on April 8 in Alappuzha. CM Pinarayi Vijayan is expected to inaugurate the event. 


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