The bickering over who should make the serial murders of Koodathayi into a film continues in the industry circles and social media. Filmmakers who are starved of original ideas and good screenplays display the tendency to jump the gun and cash in on sensational criminal cases even before the investigations bring out the whole truth. While such films that concoct fiction based on real events seldom succeed in box office, there are films that were made based on plots that are closer to reality and made prophecies that resonate well even after so many years of their making.
Satires and prophecies seem to have a longer shelf life in popular culture, be it literature or films. World over, the films that are made in the genres of doomsday, science fiction, or prophetic disaster have a huge fan following due to the giant strides the industry has made in the area of animation and visual effects (VFX). More than visual effects or technical brilliance that goes in to the making of these films, the plot that transcends the time of its making and the chances of the fiction turning in to reality at some point in future make this genre exciting.
When the terrifying 9/11 attack on twin towers of World Trade Centre in Manhattan happened, it reminded of the 1974 Academy Award winning film 'The Towering Inferno' that centred around the collapse of the world's tallest structure.
Back home, we have a rich tradition of popular culture that is so rooted and simple that people often reference them in day-to-day conversations. Recently, when cracks were discovered in the Palarivattom bridge in Kochi, we were reminded of K G George's cult satire film 'Panchavadi Palam' released in 1984. The Kerala High Court famously compared the Palarivattom flyover to the film that was a satirical take on the corrupt deal among politicians, bureaucracy and contractors to bring down a functioning bridge and construct a new one to misappropriate and pocket government funds. The court observed that the story of the film (it was based on Veloor Krishnankutty's story Palam Apakadathilanu/The Bridge is in Danger) appears to have turned true in case of the Palarivattom flyover.
K G George broke many conventions to make the film. The brief he gave his crew was that it will be a film that will have the feel of a political cartoon. He approached the political cartoonist Yesudasan to write dialogues for the film. From the place where the story takes place (Airavathakkuzhi) to its lead characters (Dussasana Kurup, Shikhandi Pillai, Judas Kunju, Sheershasana Swamy, and so on) pushed the boundaries of satire.
'Vellanakalude Nadu' (1988) directed by Priyadarshan narrated the ordeals that a struggling road contractor faces at the hands of PWD officials who push him to the wall with red tape at every step. The suicide of a Malaysian contractor of a World Bank-aided road project in Kerala had caused embarrassment for the Kerala government in 2006, reminding people of this film that still gets viewership every time it is aired on TV. In his suicide note, the chief project officer of the construction firm, Lee Been Seen, narrated the harassments he had faced from the government officials and PWD ministry who delayed payments to his firm for the completed work. Kuthiravattam Pappu was on a roll in 'Vellanakalude Nadu' as the mechanic who comes to fix the road roller that the contractor acquires from the municipality after a long legal battle. The clip of his bragging about driving the road roller down the Thamarassery pass still generates millions of views on YouTube.
When an outrage erupted over the central government's move to impose Hindi as the official language throughout the country, social media was full of memes from two Malayalam films, 'Kilukkam' (1991) and 'Gajakesariyogam'. The greatest comedian of Malayalam cinema Jagathy Sreekumar had immortalised the character of still photographer Nischal in 'Kilukkam' through his comic timing. Nischal repeatedly suffers blows from the movie's Hindi-speaking villain Sharat Saxena after he fails to communicate with him in proper Hindi ("dushman"… "jagda"… "mujhe maaloom"… and in the end, "daivame enikkonnum arinjoodaannu ee maruthayodu paranju kodukkeda"/my god, someone tell this chap that I don’t know anything!).
The 1990 film 'Gajakesariyogam', directed by P G Vishwambharan, narrated the story of an elephant lover Ayyappan Nair (hilariously played by Innocent) who buys an elephant from a circus crew with a bank loan. He realises that the elephant understands only Hindi after naming her Srividya rejecting suggestions such as Dimple Kapadia, Rati Agnihotri and Miss Pamela. After a few mishaps, the entire family strives to learn the language from a teacher named Jayachandran whose real intention is wooing their daughter. The scenes involving Ayyappan Nair trying to discipline the elephant in Hindi evoke laughter even if you have watched the film many times over.
When it comes to satire on state politics, 'Sandesham' of Sathyan Anthikkad-Srinivasan duo is revisited during every election season as the primary clash in the state continues to be between the Communist party and the Congress and the post-defeat analyses sound hilariously similar to what was played out in the film.
A section of people in social media found it fit to revisit 'Adhwaytham' (1992) written by T Damodaran and directed by Priyadarshan during the Sabarimala controversy, because of a segment in the film involving a conflict between the government-appointed temple administrator and the head priest about who should be the final authority when it comes to temple rituals.
Addressing the problems that NRIs face after they return home for good and start a small or medium business, such as militant trade unionism, political interference, red tape and corruption, continues to be a work in progress after the Sathayan Anthikkad-Srinivasan duo satirically raised them two decades ago in 'Varavelppu' (1989) and again in 'Midhunam' (1993).
The spectre of family suicides that haunted Kerala since the 80's too had a parallel in the prophetic 'Thulabharam' (1968) written by Thoppil Bhasi and directed by A Vincent. 'Thulabharam' was a tragic film about a woman who is forced to poison her children to death due to her social circumstances. Similarly, P Padmarajan touched the emotional chord of family audiences with 'Thinkalazhcha Nalla Divasam' (1985), a story about the rapid disintegration of the joint family system that the society was going to witness in the coming years.
The objective of a good work of art is met when its relevance is proven beyond its time. A work that develops a whole premise from a spark from the current time and shows the future in realistic frames can be rightly called prophetic. Popular cinema has produced so many such gems that readily resonate with us when certain political or social events take place. Thanks to social media, we keep revisiting them.
(The author is a communication professional and a film enthusiast. Views expressed are personal)