Left Right Left – Movie and Politics
Kerala is in the news for all the wrong reasons nowadays. A government dipped in a slushy gravy of scams and scandals, with no time to take care of monsoon epidemics and malnutrition deaths, and media obsessed with Madani and Modi when they have no “exclusive” sleaze shots available. Amidst these issues, the latest “concern” of the Kerala media is about a director-screen writer duo, and their inclination towards “far right”, making movies which “inspire the educated youth in the state to take a perverse diversion towards dangerous Hindutva politics”.
The movie that has caused this outrage is “Left Right Left“, directed by Arun Kumar Aravind and scripted by Murali Gopy. I have not watched the movie, but went through the reviews by movie reviewers. As far as I have learnt from the reviews and some friends who watched it, the film criticizes the degradation of the political Left in the state from a force which kicked off social revolutions in the state to a gang that indulges in violence and elimination of dissidents, creating party villages and a building a zombie supporter base.
The focus is on the three central characters – a Communist leader, a former Communist activist who is disappointed by the party’s current ways and a Reckless Cop. There are obvious (indirect albeit) references to the differences between CPIM strongman Pinarayi Vijayan and popular leader & ex-Chief Minister Achuthanandan, and one of the characters resemble a sketch of Mr. Vijayan. There are also indirect mentions about the T.P. Chandrasekharan murder and corruption scandals involving Communist leaders.
The reviews and genuine criticisms apart, some people in the media and leftist political spectrum are on a drive to demonize the makers of this movie and even trying to ban the screening of the same in Communist strongholds in North Kerala. The reasons given by them sound rather absurd to me, and I am trying to analyze them in this post.
In an article published in Samakalika Malayalam Weekly (Issue dated July 5th, 2013), Sikesh Gopinath adds skewed thoughts to the “political agenda” of the movie. He says:
“It is dangerous that while enjoying the criticism of the Communist party, the common viewer does not realize the presence of hate politics that settles in his mind along with it. In their previous film, Arun Kumar & Murali Gopy bring in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activists practicing their daily drills on the street, and rescue the slum dweller from a moneylender whose goons are chasing him.
The writer defends this by arguing that RSS drills are a common scene in Thiruvananthapuram, where Sangh has a good influence. But the stress lies in the part “Who saves Whom from Whom”- The ‘victim’ is a poor slum dweller, the character of the loan shark has a Muslim name, and the rescuers are Sangh activists. The political leaning and message of Murali Gopy is out in the light in this scene, where he portrays RSS as saviors of the poor.”
Is Sikesh so naive to think that the common viewer who watches and enjoys the movie would entirely get influenced by so-called Hindutva agenda of the film? He has tonnes of other things to do and think, rather than going behind to scratch and dig what kind of politics the movie supports or preaches. Very few people watch movies for discovering their political identity or identifying themselves with the characters in the plot.
For most viewers, making ends meet is the priority, and a film is just 3 hours of relief from the worries and concerns of a donkey-life. Secondly, why does it matter that the loan shark is a Muslim and the ‘saviors’ are RSS? Why not consider it as a human being, being chased by another, rescued by some other humans who incidentally belonged to RSS. It is as simple as that!
Would it make any difference to the plot if it were Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) cadre, some joggers or a group of laughing club members instead of RSS workers? Why would anyone want to give a Hindu vs. Muslim color to something that concerns a monetary issue, that too in a movie! It has been several months since that movie came out, and none of the common viewers who watched the film would have thought on such lines other than people with a communal and perverted mind. Who really is playing the politics of hate now?
Sikesh goes on to say, in another paragraph:
“In the film ‘Left Right Left’, Comrade Roy and his wife Anita are being taken to ‘Jay Mata’ hospital, when we see the opposing politics that the movie demands. Roy does not believe in the party anymore and by bringing this ‘true communist’ into a hospital which has photographs of a God-Woman, and people in saffron robes walk around, the film is acting as a propaganda machinery for the notion that ‘far right is the true left’. The hospital is not a central character or setting in the film; so any other hospital would have been fine too, but the director insists on a Hindu-run hospital, so as to deliberate the leftist character to feel the winds of Saffron politics.”
The one in BOLD is exactly my point, Sikesh! Hospital is not a central character or setting in the film. So, if the director had chosen to show a Christian Mission Hospital instead of a ‘Saffron’ hospital, would that make any difference? Would it be like, “left liberals are being deliberated to realize the virtues of Christianity and turn towards a saintly life”? What if it was a Government Hospital? Would that be “interests of the left being sacrificed to portray the bureaucratic system as sacrosanct”? Hollow arguments.
The common Indian, every one of us, when about to die from a stroke, don’t care as to which ambulance takes us to which hospital. Would the “Hindu-run” hospital deny treatment to a communist or preach Hindutva to him? I have never heard of such an incident, nor have I felt so-called Hindutva wind in a Ramakrishna Mission Hospital. I do not know if someone has felt Marxist winds blowing past them in A.K. Gopalan Memorial Hospital at Kannur. Would appreciate if I am enlightened. Pointing out such minor things in a movie, blowing them up and making them sound nasty and political is nothing but the grossness.
Murali Gopy & Arun Kumar Aravind
Another review by P. K. Sreekumar in Mathrubhumi Weekly (Issue dated. July 7th, 2013) makes the most stupid as well as rabid comment I have ever read on any movie-based article. He “discovers”:
“This film says that Communist party is an organization of criminals and goons while Sangh Parivar and right-wing are innocent lambs. An array of characters, like the womanizing Police Inspector (a Muslim) and the opportunist Nurse (a Christian), implicitly reflects the anti-minority sentiments in the movie. ”
This person needs some real care. The film has no mention at all about Sangh Parivar, except for a fictional students’ organization named “BBVP”, obviously modeled on Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). My question is – why the double standards? While arguing that the character resembling Pinarayi Vijayan is a fictional attempt to ridicule the left, why not agree that “BBVP” is also a fictional right-wing organization, used for the purpose of storytelling? If “BBVP” is to be taken by default as ABVP and the director’s Sangh allegiance, and not as an indirect reference, one must agree what the film speaks about the Communists is also true. It must be fair play.
Secondly, the criminals in the Communist party- is that not a truth? Have not murders, scores of them, taken place in the state under orders passed by Communists? M. M. Mani’s controversial speech has not been forgotten, is it? If the director was peddling lies here, there is a genuine reason to oppose it. Communist violence in Kerala is a bare naked truth, which we got to accept; there is no other go. Then, about the portrayal of minorities as the ‘bad guys’, or rather the ‘bad guys’ having Muslim/Christian names – Is there a rule that people from the minorities cannot be villains in real life or cinema?
Or, have any critics made a hullabaloo when films had negative characters which had Hindu names? How idiotic and poisonous it would be, if someone had gone to court for “Gabbar Singh” being made a villain by Salim-Javed, thinking explicitly on communal lines like Mr. Sreekumar does here! Such incidents do occur in our country at times, and it is the responsibility of the media and intelligentsia not to fuel them. However, here the author rubbishes all goodwill and brings out his rabid thinking. It is a shame that some minds do not come out of their insular thinking ever, and make a living out of such garbage.
Critics who are keen about digging out “evil Hindutva agenda” or whatever political motive in settings and backgrounds instead of focusing on the main theme and central message of the film are a failure in the job. If the film openly propagates the message of “only Hindutva works” or “Communist party is totally evil”, you can argue that the director and writer are politicizing. Quoting RSS or a Hindu Hospital in the setting of the movie, or protesting about the inclusion of minority characters in negative roles to lambast the crew and accusing them of being “Hindutva propagandists” – I’m sorry, it does not work anymore.
Such lame reasons to trash a movie never emerged in the past; several movies like “Lal Salaam“, “Ee Nadu” “Arabikatha“, “Sandesam” and “Aryan” have come out in Malayalam, which criticized and even mocked Communism, Communists and Communist policies. “Aryan” especially, was a “Hindutva experiment” by left-liberal standards and so were several other movies in 1990s which featured “upper class feudal Hindu” protagonists. None of them was at the receiving end as this one. In a TV debate on the movie’s politics, a left-leaning journalist even dragged into the issue Murali’s late father, who was an actor and BJP sympathizer. These personal attacks are uncalled for and would only affect the reputation of the speaker, whatever ideology he is following.
An alternate view on this issue is that even if we consider that political motives indeed shaped the script of the movie, what is wrong in it? When we had movies like “Rakthasakshikal Zindabad” on the early communist movement and more recently “August 15“, eulogizing Communist Party of India (Marxist) (abbreviated CPI(M) and Pinarayi Vijayan, why does a movie need to be shunned and its makers hated, in case they intended to add the pro-right narrative, purposefully or not? They have their rights of opinion just as those on the other side have theirs. None of these detractors complained when actor Mammootty claimed : “The Gujarat carnage of 2002 would not have happened if CPIM’s youth wing was strong there“! In that case, nobody should have complaints against Murali Gopy & Arun Kumar Aravind.
This outrage against “Left Right Left” is setting a precedent wherein a director and a writer cannot express their views and opinions and make a movie of their choice. If you do not like their ‘politics’, it is fine, but do not accuse them of “influencing the people through movies” (if people really get influenced by movies, our land would have become one of milk and honey long back!) and try to get the film banned. If such a trend is here to stay with you, you would rightly be termed “Leftist Taliban”.
This post originally appeared here