Soubin Shahir’s familiar face from Maheshinte Prathikaram appears on the screen as the knock-knock background music of the film begins. The scene changes and Mahesh and Artist Baby, the much-loved combo from Dileesh Pothan’s first film, walk with their stern faces when six words scroll across the screen: It takes a village, A tribute.
Rahul Joseph, who stays in the US with his wife and carries a certain love for the art of filmmaking, has made a ten-minute video tribute including five Malayalam films of recent times, for the people he most adore – Fahadh Faasil and friends (Dileesh Pothan, Syam Pushkaran, Lijo Jose). Maheshinte Prathikaram switches to Angamaly Diaries (Lijo’s), to Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (Dileesh’s even more appreciated second film), to Sudani from Nigeria (that endeared new director Zakariya to Malayalis) and finally to Ee.Ma.Yau. (Lijo’s dark film on a son giving funeral to his dad).
“I came across many video essays on YouTube which were educational. It struck me that such efforts have not been made back home, talking about Indian cinema in detail. I've also always complained that most movie-goers in our country can't think beyond Bollywood and carry stereotypes about South Indian cinema. As a big fan of Fahadh Faasil and friends (Dileesh Pothan, Syam Pushkaran, Lijo Jose) and their style of filmmaking, I felt it would be interesting to analyse and interpret common themes from their work,” writes Rahul from the US, who is using the time between jobs – he is an MBA by training – to learn more about the craft of filmmaking.
His love for Malayalam cinema must have been born in the summer months he spent in Kerala, coming there for his vacations as a Delhi boy. With broadbrand, he discovered cinema from across the world and dabbled with a few story ideas of his own. “With this video, I am hoping people who don't speak the language check out the movie on streaming platforms (they're available with English subtitles). A part of me also wishes this video reaches the people it pays tribute to - in the hope that they might, someday, let me be a part of their creative process.”
In his tribute, as the scenes from the five movies keep flipping on the screen, Rahul’s voice passes by unobtrusively, quietly jotting down points that’s made them so special. “In recent years, a generation of filmmakers in Kerala have been experimenting with the form. Much has been talked about the technical aspects of these productions, from the use of non-linear structures to the deployment of the long take. I focus instead, on what, I believe, makes these movies truly special. And that is it setting, or the worlds that they build, the people that live in them, and the ways in which they get by,” the voiceover says.
Scene by scene, he then lets you into those worlds, noting the subtle points a layman would not have recognised – such as the small towns and villages the movies were set in – Cherthala, Alappuzha (Thondimuthal), Angamaly and Prakash, Idukki (Maheshinte). “The plot here is just a series of incidents, which when strung together, reveal aspects of a society and its culture,” Rahul narrates over the video.
He picks out the common themes among the films – how close the community is, how neighbours can be involved in each other’s business, how things can get a little too close for comfort. “No wonder then, that pretenses need to be maintained in all social situations. The burden of this, more often than not, falls on women, for what people will think?” the voiceover asks.
Rahul also notes of how ‘love, or something like it’ needs to happen inside closed doors – remember the scene where Chemban’s sister has to lock her door to talk on the phone with her boyfriend in Ee.Ma.Yau., or when Fahadh says I love you on the phone in that simple everyday way of his in Maheshinte Prathikaram? It has to be done so in places where the films are set, for if you are found out, Rahul notes, things could get complicated quick. He then smoothly connects it to how young couples start their lives together, and how that needs money (Thondimuthalum, where Nimisha and Suraj plan pawning her jewellery that Fahadh is accused of stealing).
Rahul then remarks casually, “No matter how bad the situation, there’s always room, and money for, one small drink.” A drinking scene has become so much the norm that you might think something amiss if it is not there anymore – hidden bottles coming out of someone’s tightly clad dhoti, the group of men gathering behind a car with glasses in hand.
Rahul’s video also touches upon the male ego and the risk of slapping a priest (famous scene from Ee.Ma.Yau) and naturally he moves on to prayers. He ends it beautifully with: “In these movies, as in life, there are no superstars. Each person has their own story, their own role to play. We are given a brief window into their world and come away richer for the experience. And that’s courtesy of some very gifted people working behind the scenes.”
The beautiful music of Prashant Pillai from Angamaly Diaries is on when there is another tiny scroll on top of the screen: For my wife, Swati.