Blue Hair: How a Malayalam film, shot like a vlog, casually exposes everyday prejudices

‘Blue Hair’ or ‘Neelamudi’, made by a young team of theatre practitioners in their twenties, was screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala.
Blue Hair
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Before you are pulled into the intricacies of the plot of Blue Hair, a new Malayalam film, you have to wonder about the casualness with which its lead character Sidhu, a vlogger, sitting inside his bedroom, switches on a phone camera and speaks to an audience like it is a living room conversation with his friends. Blue Hair or Neelamudi begins with Sidhu opening his selfie camera and talking, it would seem, without a script, freely and casually even through a change of clothes. The film follows this format through its 78 minute duration, a selfie camera apparently capturing the characters coming and going. The rawness of it almost takes your attention away from the core issue that the film so smoothly leads you to, until it is all you could think about. 

Blue Hair, without having to spell it out or even lean on a heightened piece of music, paints unforgettable images of oppression, especially coming from the people one thought of as friends. “We had to make a mark, get an identity with the first film we made. This is a script written for the new times we live in, using the language of new media, a visual language that people today can connect to. And the caste, colour, and gender issues we talk about are our politics,” says Sharath Kumar V, the director of the film, a little after it was screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala. 

The vlog format is only for the eyes of the viewer. Behind the screen, Goutham Mohandas worked with his camera to make it all look like it is shot on a phone, while only two sequences – on a bike and in a car – were. Sreenath TV, playing the vlogger, has written the screenplay with Harikrishnan P. The film follows the lives of four friends – Sidhu (Sreenath), Paari (Majeed P Haneefa), Kannan alias Adima (Subramanyan), and Sony (Adhithya Baby) – through blogs made by Sidhu. This can be anything from a day shopping at the expense of Kannan’s scholarship money or celebrating Sidhu’s birthday by cooking together. On the surface, it all seems like fun and friendly gatherings, the gang pulling each other’s legs the way friends do. But prejudices have a way of rising to the surface in the most casual conversation.

At one point, Sidhu’s father tells Sony – the only woman in the group of friends – about how Kannan’s ancestors used to do farm work at his house only for the price of a meal, exposing the caste equation between them. Kannan, called Adima (meaning slave) as a ‘joke’ by his friends, is somehow always at the receiving end – having to unwillingly shell out his money on a shopping expedition, getting the fish he got for the friend’s birthday thrown out because it stunk. The worst of it comes when Sidhu declares on a vlog that he is going to chop off Adima’s newly-dyed blue hair because the commenters on his vlog didn't like it. To anyone questioning his audacity, Sidhu would say: but Kannan’s mother wants it cut.

“This is the kind of content people encourage on social media, without thinking how problematic it is. In the film, we are subtly adding caste, gender, and colour references, without a lot of noise, so it will be plain for people to see and look at critically,” Sharath says.

Sharath Kumar V
Sharath Kumar V

The gender reference comes at Paari’s home, where he lives with his newly married wife. Paari, all cool and fun with his friends, is outright rude to his wife. He is bossy and very much a replica of the typical dominating male. Even Sidhu, the overbearing leader of the gang, is taken aback by Paari’s insensitivity to a woman he had been in love with and married young. Sidhu puts it as a small aside in his vlog: this is what happens if you marry too young, folks. 

But caste and colour remain the film’s main plotline, with the script following the ‘cut-the-blue-hair’ plan put forward by Sidhu. The blue in itself is symbolic, the colour associated with Dalit resistance, known to have been introduced by Dr BR Ambedkar as the colour of his party flag for the Independent Labour Party. Blue is said to be the revolutionary leader’s favourite colour, his statues all still in blue, indicative of the idea that under the blue sky all people are equal. 

The dictatorial nature of Sidhu, the vlogger, comes across even in the greeting he opens his vlogs with: “Helloooo Nazis.” Director Sharath Kumar says that while he does not want to give interpretations to the greeting, preferring people to read them as they like, it is a fact that vloggers put in a lot of energy and stress on words for exaggerated effect. Another reading is simply that vloggers don’t always give a lot of thought to what they say as long as it gets traction. 

The team behind the film is young, in their early and mid twenties, practising theatre for years in their village of Peringode in Palakkad. Sharath and his mates have been doing dramas continually, he says, even on the day before the IFFK and that is what they will do when they go back from the festival. “The Little Earth School of Theatre in Malappuram, that is our troupe. We have taken part in festivals like ITFOK, META etc. We have also made short films, and last year, our film Quantum Theory was chosen in the competition section of the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala,” he says.

Sudevan Peringode, a state award winning filmmaker from their hometown, has been a huge inspiration, says Sharath, who has worked as his assistant.

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