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The Curious Case of Santosh Pandit 
Sivaram Srikandath
 Story Dated: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 12:52 hrs IST 
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"Cinema,' Roman Polanski said, "should make you forget that you are sitting in a theater." He was,  of course, referring to good cinema..   And what about bad cinema? Judging from the audience reaction to the recently released film  Krishnanum Radhayum, it seems that bad cinema will also make you forget that  you are sitting in a theater. But only in a negative manner that  brings out the worst in you !

Allow me to elaborate.

Since I seldom watch U-Tube,  I was not immediately   aware of the Santosh Pandiit wave  that has been  sweeping across Kerala of late. It was only last week, when I happened to watch a talk show on a popular Malayalam channel that the full impact of the so called "Santosh Pandit phenomenon" hit me. And how !

On screen was Santosh Pandit,  a rather geeky looking young man, clad in a jacket and a 70's style shirt with wide lapels, who was holding his own against  a panel consisting of three film makers and a doctor - a psychiatrist. In the studio were  a large number of youngsters,supposedly a cross section of today's cinema going youth, as well as a generous sprinkling of the standard issue "for hire" audience members.

The topic for the evening  was the public's response to  Pandit's film Krishnanum Radhayum, which is showing all signs of turning into a cult hit at the box office. It is Santosh's maiden venture and  most of the technical aspects of the film including story, script, direction, music, lyrics, fights, and editing had been handled by the film maker himself. Santosh cheekily said that the film had "eight songs, eight fights" -  seemingly cocking a snook at  the Malayalam movie formula for box office success !

There seemed to be unanimity of opinion amongst the panel members and the audience that this was a film that should never have seen the light of the day, let alone have secured a theatrical release. It was so bad, they all agreed. Two of the film makers in the panel  were particularly harsh on Santosh.  They preferred to dismiss him as a  joker - someone not to be taken seriously ; their comments dripping with sarcasm and derision  But Pandit was having none of it. He  gave back as good as he got, and openly challenged their attempts at  portraying  themselves as purveyors of good cinema ( a point well taken, I thought, considering that I myself had had the "worst of luck" to see a recent cinematic effort by one of these two gentlemen. The film was pathetic, to say the least, and I found it ironical that he should  be holding forth on the art and craft of making good cinema !)  

Be that as it may, as soon as the show was over, I went online to check up on the cocky young man, who had succeeded in creating such a kerfuffle. Frankly, I was impressed by what I learned. As per the statistics put out by Google Trends, Santosh Pandit stood second in the list of hot searches on Google, next  only to Facebook ! And on U-tube, the videos of the songs of the film had gone viral, having achieved downloads in the regions of hundreds of thousands. Not bad at all  for a seemingly  unsophisticated man from a small village near Kozhikode, isn't it ? It was quite clear that Santosh Pandit  was no circus side show; but  a shrewd businessman  who had mastered the art of successfully marketing himself through social media.

My curiosity  was piqued, and I decided to watch  the video of one of his songs, "Rathri Subharathri."    It was a brutally painful experience. The man has absolutely no talent, either as  a singer or as an actor, and the video was in very bad taste. The comments posted on the site were downright nasty. It was as though the viewers just loved to hate the video, and were taking enormous pleasure in viewing the clip to simply use Santosh Pandit as a punching bag to vent their anger upon.  

Now that the movie has been released, the same experience  is being repeated in the theaters as well. For some strangely morbid reason, his film  seems to be attracting an audience. Even as I write this column, people are paying good money for the opportunity to sit in a darkened theater and roundly curse him. As a friend of mine, who saw the film said, ".... this guy may have created a new genre of films - the interactive film. He comes on screen, and the audience greets him with profanity; he says a piece of dialogue, and the audience responds with choice abuse..... a truly interactive viewing experience."

Perhaps, Santosh Pandit is a bellwether for what is in store for movie goers in Kerala. His film is an indication that the Malayali film audience, that has repeatedly chosen to  ignore good movies at the box office, does not deserve anything better than the kind of bilge dished out by him. The Pandit phenomenon is also an indictment of the Malayali film industry that is so caught up in the politics of ego  appeasement and organizational strife, that it seems to have given up on the craft of good movie making. It is a classic case of Gresham's Law operating at a cultural level. Bad movies will finally drive good movies out of the market, as the audience  ends up getting what it truly deserves.

Tragically, it may just so happen that the final  word in this  curious tale will  belong to the young man himself. As Santosh emphatically concluded in the talk show, as long there is an audience to see his films, he would continue to make them. On his terms, and  in his manner. "Those who want to see  my films, can watch them," was his terse comment. "I am not forcing anyone to come to the theater.".

So, for the moment, at least,  looks like it is game, set and match to Santosh Pandit, as he gets busy with  the pre-production work of  his second movie "Jithu Bhai Enna Chocolate Bhai."

God save us all !

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The Curious Case of Santhosh Pandit
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