Tag Archives: kerala

CIA : A Review

18 May

A Malayali can speak many tongues – English, Tamil, Hindi.  And a Malayali can speak none of them properly.  At times a word can reveal as much as about a world as an encyclopedia.  The magic of this demands a magical writer such as Borges, in “The Book of Sand”.  The improper tongue of a Malayali tells us about the many journeys she is forced into.

Last week I watched the latest Amal Neerad offer, CIA which, ironically, stands for Comrade In America.  This naughty title is a clever mix of the various motifs of the film – this is the story of a comrade who desperately should reach America and who should beat the most advanced surveillance technologies to it.  The protagonist is a communist party worker and in the first half the movie plays on some of the established images of the party over Malayalam film history, such as the fallen worker who keeps the red flag standing (also seen in Adimakal Udamakal, Janam, Arabikkatha, etc) the taunts in the domestic space which mixes the personal and the political (Sandesham), etc.  While the first half thus plays on a familiar stylistic line with some high voltage Amal Neerad exuberance thrown in to it, it is the narratively weak second half which is more interesting inspite of its shortcomings.

CIA narrates the story of Ajippan, of a Roman Catholic family from Pala in Kerala, a south Indian state.  Ajippan is a hardcore communist and an active member of its student wing who in his moments of inebriation has Marx, Lenin and Che Guevara for company.  Ajippan’s communist enthusiasm is not shared by either of his parents but the latter are fond of their son and overlook the political differences.  The motor of the narrative is Sarah – told in flashback – the Malayali girl from the USA who has come to pursue her undergraduation in the same college as Ajippan. Concerned about their daughter getting married to a to-no-good communist, Sarah’s parents call her back to the US under false pretense.  Ajippan comes to know of this and is soon informed by Sarah that her parents have fixed her marriage against her wishes and the marriage is to take place in a few days.  Ajippan wants to desperately get to the US but is aware that with nothing to show, he will not be granted a visa, and even if he is, it will be too late given the very days he has before Sarah gets married off.  Ajippan is soon informed by his cousin in the US that he could try another, and a very dangerous, route – from Nicaragua, Indians have visa on arrival, to the US, via Mexico, as an illegal immigrant.  Ajippan finds himself with a motley crowd of illegal migrants – a Spanish speaking south American family (we do not know where they are actually from), a Chinese, a Pakistani, a Sri Lankan Tamil, and a Malayali female.  They now have to find their way across the Mexican border, each for their own different reasons. This adventure forms the second half of the movie.

South America is a familiar territory for Kerala as far as movie reception is concerned.  South American movies are a regular fare at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK).  But for a few exceptions, like the south American influence in TV Chandran’s movies, and the familiarity with south American national football teams, the region usually draws a blank.  It is in this context, and inspite of many drawbacks including a total blindness to everyday life south of the US, and hardly anything straying away from the highways (the movie plot moves through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico), that the movie can still be billed as a tiny step towards a new decolonial imagination.

The decolonial project has been pursued with much vigour by south American universities who look forward to concerted intellectual efforts from global south to sidestep unmindful applications of Eurocentric thoughts and building organic response to one’s own locations. One of the objectives of decoloniality has been to establish a dialogue among the global south which will help us imagine a past and a future which does not require the mediation of the global West (what is also called the North Atlantic).  Projects with different temporal and spatial orientations make up this project of global south.  Some of these projects, for example, study the cultures of Indian Ocean imagining (placing it in our consciousness, rather than conjuring) the pasts that seemingly far flung places share with each other.  Thus we have studies of individuals traversing these regions (Sugata Bose), of the literary networks spanning the region (Sheldon Pollock, Ronit Ricci), the diasporic movement in the region (Engseng Ho).  Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land is a brilliant literary bringing together of this Indian ocean past with the contemporary, spanning the region from the Nile to Mangaluru via the Arabian Gulf, revealing our shared pasts and the geopolitical realities we are locked in now, even as we are so far placed from each other through ignorance and prejudices.

The second half of CIA, a road movie, is a conscious placing of Kerala in the context of the global south.  It is definitely not the first movie to do so.  PT Kunju Muhammad’s Garshom (1999), Lal Jose’s Arabikatha (2007), and Kamal’s Gaddama (2011) have done it in the context of Arabian Gulf.  But CIA does this better on three counts.  Firstly, Gulf is associated with low-skilled migration and their harsh living conditions in popular cinema, and it is somewhat commonsensical to make the connection between the working class of different nationalities. The relationship continues to be in the register of class struggle.  The US is on the other hand associated with richness and the managerial class. South America, on the other hand, except in relation to football and occasional mavericks like Hugo Chavez, is an uncharted territory for Kerala.  Secondly, the earlier films established personal connection between nationals of the global south – such as with the Palestinian in Garshom, the Chinese hawker in Arabikatha, the Indonesian housemaid in GaddamaCIA, on the other hand, makes a connection of history and ideas, of movements in historical time we hadn’t really given much thought to – through the images of statues of the Christ, the cross, the graveyards, the communist party office, etc.  Thirdly, CIA does all this very much within “New Generation” fast pace, intercuts and splash of pop art without recourse to the social realist style that characterized the earlier films, the advantage being the novelty of the treatment itself.

CIA takes communism away from the ‘global’ movements of Europe (remember that oft-repeated dialogue from Sandesham: ‘Dare you say a word about Poland’ – ‘Polandine kurichu oraksharam mindaruthu’) and places it on the one hand in the very local – Malayalam-speaking Stalin, Marx, Lenin and Che – and on the other hand with that of South America.  At the same time CIA also plays on the motifs that establish the other connection that ties this region in south India to the south Americas – Catholicism.  One hopes that the cosmopolitanism of below that is at display in movies like CIA gets mapped on to the lived culture within Kerala which is a destination for internal migrations in India.