[ A Review Of Sorts ]
WHAT MEETS THE EYE
THE SUBALTERN SETTING
Anthoniappan Colony is a nondescript settlement hemmed in between the sea coast on one side and a railtrack besides a highway with a hill in the backdrop on the other. Like any other settlement which sprouts across a changing Indian landscape as a consequence of growing urbanization, Anthoniappan colony is a living embodiment of an average census town of our country. It has narrow lanes and by lanes punctuated by dilapidated cars doubling as rendezvous, low level entrepreneurs selling their trade and the usual hustle and bustle as the day rolls forward. Houses big and small alongside crude structures vying to attain the status of home complete the picture. The colony’s cup of woes overflows when we bring in the eternally haphazard civic amenities into the equation. What breaks the above mentioned standard image of an ordinary colony is broken when you bring the inhabitants into the picture.
HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES
Instead of licking their wounds, the residents of the colony, hardened by the sea breeze and wrought by the land, survive by sheer grit and frugal innovations. They eke out a living either by venturing into the sea or doing odd jobs over land to make ends meet. Nevertheless, the identity of any place is fashioned by its inhabitants through their relentless efforts to shape the land as well as themselves by crafting their own culture. The colony doubles as a vast canvass on which their flair finds and outlet for display. Hence graffiti and paintings adds a twist or two to the mundane walls, some lanes host concerts by musical bands and the beach often turns into football fields. This creativity hits the crescendo when the year draws to a close making way for Christmas which is celebrated in their own grandiose but inimitable way.
Representative of the spirit of the colony is the boy who goes by the name ”GUPPY”. Guppy is in his early teens and shows signs of responsibility as well as recklessness in equal measure. His world of responsibility revolves around his widowed and disabled mother. Every deed in his mature world is aimed at soothing her life and he even draws inspiration from popular culture to attain the same. Her mother provides the much needed healing touch which mellows him greatly. These factors results in an everyday routine which ensures that he wakes up before the day break and assume many identities over the course of the day. After being a newspaper boy in the dawn he goes on to become a fish breeder as well as a helper in a wayside tea shop until dusk. This cycle of responsibility nears completion when he comes back home to help her mother perform her daily routines. Part of this small but benevolent world is the explicitly corrupt but benign panchayath employee Lalichan, the good at heart tea shop owner Paappan, the erudite old man in the tea shop Tinku, the school girl who regularly buys guppies and the store owner Joseph who sells wheelchairs .
Intervening his world of responsibility is the foolhardy world which has him joining his four happy go lucky friends wandering with their never ending misadventures. This world of Guppy is driven primarily by adolescent curiosity and a sense of teenage rebellion owing essentially to the lack of schooling. Their joyrides ranges from seeking out the help of a wannabe politician Onachan, ogling at the niqab clad school going beauty Aamina, peeping into the sex life of others and discovering erotica through pulp fiction. When the plot thickens Guppy undergoes severe emotional turmoil owing to the relentless clash of these contrasting worlds trying to establish their hegemony over his decisions and actions. At one point guppy’s lust for revenge makes him seek out the help of a local thug Venda Sabu just to gain an upper hand over his nemesis. As the movie nears towards an end guppy struggles to arrive at decisions. Whether he will stick to the path of love, forgiveness and a sense of purpose in life guided by his mother or go down the beaten track of hatred, vengeance and blood lust becomes the process through which guppy comes of age.
THE JANUS FACED ENGINEER
Guppy’s universe goes for a toss when the enigmatic engineer Tejas Varky from Roads And Bridges Corporation comes to the colony to lead an over bridge project. Varky shows traces of being a wandering free spirit with no strings attached but like Guppy he too succumbs often to streaks of schadenfreude. As part of his free spirit, he always pines for the love of his family especially his daughter Malu whose thoughts he lives with. Always in the pink of health, Varky has insightful conversations with his man friday Chinnappa and treats his subordinates Krishnan and Lalichan with respect and ease. Averse to corruption he handpicks his projects and never burdens his assistants once the project goes on floor. Streaks of villainy appears when he schemes plots for extracting revenge on Guppy by manipulating his subordinates through self interested use of power. His reluctance to listen to and have a conversation with the man operating the railway gate, his humongous ego wanting to make Guppy beg and cry in front of him and his tendency to jump to conclusions without giving any thoughts marks the unbecoming of the free spirited Tejas Varky. This makes us feel that he too is a mere mortal after all. Whether he lets go of his ego by burying the hatchet with whose lives he and his actions affect or will he rain down his fury upon them is traced over the course of the movie. Caught between the tug of war between Guppy the boy and the engineer Tejas Varky are some souls who need to choose sides as their conflicts escalate.
WHAT DOESN’T MEET THE EYE
GUPPY’S LIFE IN THE DRAINAGE
By all accounts, Guppy the fish is a midget and will always comes as an afterthought in the pecking order of ornamental fishes to beautify huge aquariums. Despite its miniature size and expendable nature, Guppy serves an important purpose. This midget gem feeds on mosquito larvae and prevents their breeding thereby controlling malarial outbreak. Hence eventhough ornamental the singlemost purpose of the fish, in the eyes of the authorities, is to kill mosquitoes. So the rightful place for Guppies is not any colorful, giant aquariums in posh villas but the grim, dark, dirty drainages and dilapidated canals dotting the cityscape. What goes on inside the canals or drainages is not even a concern for the authorities and they feign ignorance about the dangers if any. The poor midget guppies have to prey on the available mosquitoes and escape higher order predators like snakes and frogs in an overwhelmingly dark and dirty milieu. Their fate, at best, is uncertain.
THE HUMAN GUPPIES IN THE COLONY
Likewise, the Anthoniappan colony is drainage where numerous guppies in human form survive. They serve the vital purpose of serving their masters by performing jobs ranging from the dirty contract killings to the temporary and menial railway gate operations. Even though their ephemeral contributions are indispensable, their primary purpose, through the eyes of political power, is to serve as mere vote banks. Hence vested interests keep them in the dark by cultivating their ignorance. They give varied hues to their dreams through empty promises prompting them to hope for a better future. One way through which the vested interests ensure this is by making sure that nobody leaves the drainage called Anthoniappan colony but survives within it. Another way this is done is through the conscious denial of education. The thought of schooling never crosses the minds of the teens or the grownups around them despite the former spending an awful lot of time outside the walls of the school. The future of the bright girl Aamina, who is a lovely exception to the above rule is mired in uncertainty, conveys the great many struggles involved in leaving the drainage and aspiring for a dignified life. Hence the higher order predators of the drainage namely the venal government servants and the local wannabe politicians’ prey upon their ignorance creating artificial needs to thrive. What goes on inside the drainage is of no consequence for the state and hence they pay no attention to the exploitation. Those who die inside the drainage are replaced by others since they are expendables.
IDENTITY AND THE LACK OF IT
Guppy on one level reflects upon identity and the lack of it. Nobody knows the real name of the boy barring a few and they barely use it to address him. Guppy’s identity gets more fluid when he slips from one occupation to another without really identifying with any and his lack of educational qualifications adds to this as well. Despite showing glimpses of artistic flair recognized by a few, he could easily be labeled a criminal since he flirts with his unruly friends. The chances of guppy becoming an acclaimed artist is as good as dead but of him going down the criminal path or becoming a nobody is as bright as the sun. When these fluid identities and multiple labels of guppy is weighed against Tejas Varky, the latter emerges with flying colors. Despite being an intrepid wanderer and an engineer with great credentials, his permanent identity is that of a senior servant of state executing a high profile project. His world is thus enabled by the powerful state apparatus consisting of the panchayath office, coercive police force and his discretionary powers. These are his qualifications which have earned him name and fame in the society: a permanent identity. It is from this permanent identity, recognized by the state and the society, that he derives the gumption to harass guppy and still manages to stay unscathed.
STATE AND THE EMINENT DOMAIN
Another layer of the narrative explores the disparity in power through the instrument of state. The eminent domain enables the state to decide what is good for the colony inhabitants. Far away from ensuring their welfare by finding everlasting solutions to their basic civic problems, the state resorts to grand standing. It,thus,arrives at the conclusion that colony desperately need an over bridge. The power to dictate what is good for them is implemented through an inept bureaucracy, corrupt grassroot governance and a coercive police force. Those who misuse their discretionary powers, from the engineer to the pachayath officials, are visible and explicitly do so. Tejas Varky does this when he unscrupulously uses his discretion to widen a road and trammel the tea shop as well as the boy’s makeshift fish breeding spot. Before the ink dries on the paper he arrives with his crew in tow to demolish the spot without extending a moratorium to shift the boy’s source of livelihood. His very act of hammering and breaking the wall of the boy’s fish breeding spot and the subsequent death of the guppies is symbolic of state’s attitude of trammeling any opposition and the insignificance of the lives of the powerless.
POWER AND THE LACK OF IT
But those who question this unbridled exercise of power are implicit. Hence Aamina’s grandfather doesn’t get an audience, the tea shop owner’s pleas to spare the spot are ignored and others are gagged forcing them to take desperate measures to stop the misuse of power. As Anthoniappan colony begins its forced tryst with modernity driven by vested interests in the guise of an overbridge, it is nowhere near the stairway to heaven as promised. The State is infact envisaging a future which completely bypasses the colony, its inhabitants, their struggles, pleas and dreams, gleefully forgetting their minor but important contributions which can be replaced at will. Their futures are uncertain akin to Aamina’s probabilities of studying in an engineering college or Guppy becoming a somebody in life. The powerful, by preying upon the powerless makes a mockery of democracy where power is derived from the powerless millions. Helpless souls are just counted as mere vote banks who can be laid by the wayside and not weighed as dignified human beings.
OUR NOBLE SELVES
Towards the end Guppy realizes his follies and his timely intervention saves his arch enemy. The latter on the other hand salvages himself by refusing to testify against the man behind his attempt on life. Both Guppy and Tejas Varky bids adieu to vengeance and egocentrism embracing forgiveness and empathy tightly. As the movie nears towards its end an insightful conversation unfolds between the engineer and the man at the railway gate: the quintessential conversation representing the state and the subaltern respectively. Such conversations, where the state patiently listens, understands and addresses the travails of the plebians are the need of the hour. The void in guppy’s life is filled by the engineer and together they bid adieu to loneliness and their identities as orphans. Strip down the movie to its core and the message gets loud and clear: Despite what surrounds you materially and what shapes you emotionally, we all are inherently good and all it takes is a conversation or two or realize our follies and fall back to what we really are: EMPATHETIC HUMAN BEINGS WITH PURE SOULS! Throughout the run time I was really worried about Guppy and his future and the ending scene warmed the cockles of my heart!!!
For a more comprehensive and conventional review please visit Movies Of The Soul