“Guppy”: The State And The Subaltern.

[ A Review Of Sorts ]


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The Malayalam Movie Titled “guppy” 





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.


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.


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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.

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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.





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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.


  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.


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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.


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.


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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.


 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!!!


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For a more comprehensive and conventional review please visit Movies Of The Soul

After a long time I witnessed a rare unanimity of opinion about this movie in youtube. I couldn't agree more!!
After a long time I witnessed a rare unanimity of opinion about this movie in youtube. I couldn’t agree more!!


5 thoughts on ““Guppy”: The State And The Subaltern.

    1. Yes !! Could be !! Glad that you read it and commented !! Every director is making a political statement through his movies ! It is our duty to receive it thoughtfully and critically!! And imagine ourselves in the shoes of the characters and empathize with them !! My review doesnt do any justice to the movie because there could be more meaning to it !! And our language has many many beautiful movies waiting to examined from a different perspective !!

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