Tag Archives: #Malayalam

New York to Kerala, American Actress India Jarvis Makes a Malayalam Film Debut

The first time Director, Jeo Baby mentioned her name, I thought I had heard him wrong. It was prior to the release of his film, Kilometers and Kilometers. Requesting him to repeat the actress’s name, I heard him say India Jarvis again. Now I was convinced of my hearing. 

Actress, India Jarvis

India Jarvis might be an unusual name for this New York-raised American actress. And, clearly, her mother had no inkling while christening her daughter India, that one day her little girl would cross the shores to work in the eponymous country. 

Jarvis traveled in 2019 to India on her first visit for the filming of the Malayalam film, ‘Kilometers and Kilometers.’

“My mother named me after one of the characters in ‘Gone With the Wind,’ says Jarvis over email. “She found the name beautiful.”

Jarvis’s love for acting goes back to her childhood when as a 9-year-old, she joined a community theater. And, with a BFA from the Academy of Art University (San Francisco), she moved to New York. She worked there in Off-Broadway shows and short films.

Kilometers and Kilometers is her first Indian feature film where she essays the lead role of Cathy- an American tourist in India. Cathy after winning at a casino is keen on touring the country, but not in chauffeured cars. She is eager on exploring India while riding pillion on a motorcycle.

When the offer to do this Malayalam film came her way, Jarvis despite being unaware of the industry, took it up.

“I have watched Indian films,” she says. “My favorite is ‘Black’ – the Amitabh Bachchan starrer. As an actor, you’re always looking for scripts with interesting stories and characters.”

Like her character, it was her first experience traveling to India. 

“I’ve never worked on anything like this before. I knew it would be a challenge from an acting perspective.”

Talking about her director, Jarvis says, “Jeo had a great vision for this film. I knew it was in great hands.”

In Kilometers and Kilometers, she is paired opposite Kerala’s heartthrob –Tovino Thomas. Thomas plays Josemo, a motorbike mechanic who takes on the work opportunity to drive Cathy around on his motorbike. Being the only son, he supports his widowed mother and younger sister and hopes to clear his family debts with the money thus earned. 

Jarvis was at ease working with Tovino Thomas. 

“While shooting, I found myself lost at times due to the language barrier. Tovino was always helpful,” she recalls.  “There’s one scene where Josemon and Cathy are sitting on the edge of a cliff. We were secured by a rope around our waists. It was terrifying, but I put on a brave face to get through the scene. Pillion riding on a motorcycle was a blast. Despite a hectic schedule, it was almost therapeutic.”

Kilometers and Kilometers is a feel-good film now streaming on Netflix.

Following its release, Jarvis has been flooded with messages on social media. Though she has received offers to work in India, she is unable to travel in the existing pandemic times.


Mythily Ramachandran is an independent journalist based in Chennai, India with over twenty years of reporting experience. Besides contributing to leading Indian and international publications including Gulf News (UAE), South China Morning Post, and Another Gaze (UK), she is a Rotten Tomatoes critic. Check out her blog – http://romancing-cinema.blogspot.com/ 


 

In the Land of Narmada: Visions From 50 Years Ago

Sri. Nettur P. Damodaran (1913-1978) was a prominent public figure from the state of Kerala, India, who had made contributions in various fields as a freedom fighter, political activist,  social worker, author, journalist, Member of Parliament, and a senior government official. The recently published book In the Land of Narmada, which is a translation of a travelogue written by him in Malayalam and first published fifty years ago, is a fascinating work due to many reasons. It shines a light on many facets of the state of Madhya Pradesh, which are unknown to the present generation.

Among such lesser-known aspects of daily life in the province are those related to the dreaded gangs of dacoits.  For all practical purposes, dacoits have been eliminated in central India, the current generation, including the youngster from those areas, are not aware of the sway they once held on the day-to-day life of the people. 

Apart from their social impact, the stories of these bands, which included the full spectrum, from the scum of the earth right up to almost noble souls, make fascinating reading. The personal experiences of the author had half a century back, as highlighted in the excerpts below,  will certainly ignite curiosity in the minds of the readers to learn more about them. 

Dacoits come in, right in the introduction to the book written by renowned novelist, travelogue writer, and winner of Jnanpith Award,  Sri. S. K. Pottekkatt wherein he describes an experience he had while traveling with the author: 

“….I still remember a small incident that happened during that trip. Somewhere on the way, a group of six or seven men stopped the bus in which we were travelling. We noticed few passengers getting up and making seats available for them when they boarded the bus. Those who entered the bus were seen speaking loudly and gesticulating among themselves. We understood that they were showering abuses in strong colloquial tongue. Suddenly, a young man with thick moustache got up from his seat, removed his footwear and started slapping a fairly old and hefty man on both sides of his cheeks and shoulder without respite.

While receiving the blows, the elderly man did not utter a word nor did he resist. He just unsuccessfully tried to evade and then quietly withdrew, mumbling. The conductor, the driver and the passengers remained silent throughout the episode as if they have not seen anything. Nettur and I were a bit perplexed.

Once the bus reached a deserted place, after travelling two or three miles, the thick moustached young man ordered the driver to stop. After the bus stopped, first the young man followed by others in the group, including the person who received the slaps, got down and went away. Once the bus started to move after they disembarked, the passengers heaved a deep sigh of relief. Then they broke their silence. It appears the ones who disembarked were the members of a dacoit gang!”

Sri. Nettur P. Damodaran continues his narration in the chapter on the dacoits – Please keep in mind the fact that this book was written fifty years back. Many of the schemes described and societal changes envisioned by the author have already happened, which in turn highlights his unique insight and foresight.

From ‘Land of Narmada’, originally published in the year 1972

……Along with a team comprising a clerk, a peon, and a driver, I left Delhi to go on a tour of Madhya Pradesh, one day. Traversing the dacoits-dominated districts of Morena, Gwalior, and Shivapuri, we reached Shivapuri. Though we had some apprehensions in our minds, none of the dacoits cared for us. What would they gain by robbing us?

It is the rich, those who don’t pay upon their demands and the informants who help to catch them, that they generally kidnap and harm. Perhaps they would have known that neither I nor my party falls in that category. Apart from that, our travel was in broad daylight and on the Agra–Bombay National Highway. There’s heavy traffic on that highway.

It appears the dacoits have great respect for such highways. They are also true nationalists, who abhor parochialism! If anyone travels fearlessly on provincial roads, they do not spare them. Those holding local sentiments and are parochial in mind should hence exercise extreme caution before venturing on such roads. Generally, they do not harm outsiders. They catch hold of only those who are living among them; whom they know very well.

Dacoits also have certain needs, don’t they? They approach the rich and seek money, when in need. If the approached one does not pay up, they simply withdraw after setting a date. On that chosen date, they reach there and take him as a hostage. Once the set ransom is paid, the person is brought back as well. However, if he does not pay up, the rich man will never return home.

Helping the poor and the suffering lot is one of their covenants. They donate liberally to the poor parents for meeting the expenses of their daughters’ weddings. Is it for nothing that the authorities are failing to eliminate the dacoits? “

The political philosophy of the dacoit gangs also is socialism. They have a popular base and public support—the egalitarian principles of the dacoits are generally applied to those ruthless anti-socials, who have amassed wealth by exploiting the poor. I used to wonder at times whether areas such as Morena, Shivapuri, Bhind, and Gwalior aren’t more suited than Kerala for communism to flourish.

The dacoits do not have any special affinity towards communism. They are believers in God. For them, committing dacoity and even murder is considered as acts of offering to God. Whether communism will take roots among them is a matter to be seen.

Vinobaji had conducted a padayatra over there. He also did succeed to some extent. But it is difficult for Vinobaji to succeed where government, police, law, rules, etc. are enmeshed in tangles. If such issues were not there, probably Vinobaji could have succeeded and the dacoits could have undergone a change of hearts and their lives would have found new streams to flow. Though they do not respect the law, they have certain laws of their own. They follow them. Before carrying out every dacoity, they bow before their Goddess.  The boundaries of operation for individual gangs are set. If anyone breaks these boundaries, they fight among themselves. As a result, many die. It is believed by the villagers that such dead bodies of dacoits killed in inter-gang fights are later picked up by the police and exhibited as the ones killed in police encounters falling prey to their guns to gain fame. To my knowledge, this belief is not only among the villagers but among others also. 

Many officials who had been in the captivity of the dacoits had described their experiences to me. Once the houses of the officials stationed in the district headquarters of Bhind district for the construction of an irrigation project fell prey to the dacoits. They did not harm anybody. After selecting and bundling things lying there that they felt would be of use, they dispersed peacefully. There is a danger only if they are resisted. In such a case, in addition to money, lives also may be lost. In Bhind itself, once a lady officer fell into their hands. But they did not do any harm. Being a lady and an outsider, she was let off. But her peon, a local, who got up from sleep and came there on hearing the noise had to bear a minor burn inflicted on his hand. Perhaps a punishment for not vigilantly guarding his lady boss. This was the only harm done by them.

In Shivapuri, we had parked our car in front of a shop for filling the tank. That shop was owned by a rich Sait. A month before, that very shop and the town had witnessed a scene. A few men came in a jeep, alighted in front of the shop, and asked the owner Sait to board the jeep. As if accompanying known people, Sait boarded the jeep. Only much later did the citizens of Shivapuri realize that the people who came in the jeep were dacoits and it was an abduction for money, after the Sait returned spending few days as their captive and guest and regaining his lost freedom by paying up the ransom. The shop and the Sait are still there. The Sait is quite sure that they will not approach him again for quite some time. The dacoits observe many such etiquettes. They approach an old target only after completing a full cycle of covering all the targets on the list. Such an understanding exists between the rich and the dacoits. Many people in the area also believe that there is a different set of understanding between the police and the dacoits. I have met many who believe that the issue of dacoits remains unresolved because both sides have reconciled on cooperative coexistence within certain limits. 

Chambal Valley (Image from Land of Narmada)

The Government has a good scheme to sink the dacoits. It is the Chambal ravines that aid the dacoits to hide and engage in guerrilla battles. 

On our way from Dholpur in Rajasthan to Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, we reached Shivapuri after crossing this gorgeous and modest river that flows along the border between the two states. It is difficult to believe that dacoits are hiding within the folds of the flowing attire of this charming beauty of a river that is streaming through a long and broad path far beyond the line of sight.

If the shores on both the sides are visually examined, one can find truth in these stories. Because of the soil erosion due to the continuous flow of water, the terrain formed over a long distance is full of large pits, mounts, and caves. It will appear as if nature has built a fort for the dacoits to have a free run in the area. The Government’s plan is to flatten these areas for making them cultivable and to smoke out the dacoits like wild rats. The name of the scheme is Chambal Valley Reclamation Scheme. Long live the Chambal project!


Pradeep Nettur, the translator of the book, is the second son of the author. An Engineer by training and a Civil servant by profession, spanning 36 years, he pursued his literary passion by taking up the translation of this masterclass work of his father, which, though widely appreciated, was confined in the vernacular for about 50 years, for laying it before the world of an extended, enlightened and enlarged readership.


 

Does the Great Indian Kitchen Lead to the Great Indian Marriage?

While I ran about in the sprawling open courtyard of my mother’s house in a somewhat sleepy little village in rural North Bengal, I remember my granny sitting on a low stool cooking in the dimly-lit kitchen. It was already dusk and a few hours later, a tasty dinner was served. My parents had gone down to spend a few days during the Durga Puja holidays. 

After my mother’s family moved to Kolkata, I often used to visit my maternal uncle’s place. Here, the kitchen was big and bright, but granny still continued to cook. Her specialty was a chicken dish which no one ever in my family has been able to replicate. Maybe it was the spices she used or her loving and caring hands that were behind the deliciousness. 

Granny is now no more. She passed away a few years ago, but I still remember her chicken curry. Today, after watching The Great Indian Kitchen, a Malayalam movie earning rave reviews from critics, I realize how I never knew my real granny: what was she like, her likes, dislikes, desires, and aspirations. Maybe none of these things ever mattered to anyone in the family.

And this is what makes the ‘great Indian marriage’ such a fearsome thing to enter into, especially in an arranged marriage set up, where women are mostly expected to cook and clean and act submissive. Exceptions are always there. In my family, I have seen my father making tea, cooking rice, and even doing household work. An aunt of mine who lives in Delhi was horrified when she learned that I had praised her husband’s culinary skills in front of my other relatives. It was a most shameful thing for her and she reproached me for making the hush, hush fact “public”. 

I can understand her consternation, the great dilemma she felt because women are expected to cook for their families. Little do they realize that in doing so, they become fettered and chained forever. 

A scene from the Great Indian Kitchen.

I am no great cook, but I can make basic meals for myself and during the lockdown prepared a few dishes, among them egg biryani twice. My friend Neeraj, who is a great cook himself, keeps on sending me recipes and colorful snaps from his kitchen from time to time. He once taught me to cook the perfect rice over the phone. 

Cooking is art no doubt, but as the movie shows it can become a tedious routine. The movie’s female protagonist, Nimisha Sajayan who plays the docile wife and later leaves her husband to follow her dreams, is expected to cook rice on the firewood, besides making a variety of tasty dishes and serving food to the men. In almost all the scenes featuring her, she is shown cutting, chopping, and dicing vegetables, besides making hurried meals, attending to the faulty kitchen sink in need of urgent repair, cleaning up the kitchen, dusting, and washing her hands frequently.

I entered into a brief marriage only to regret it to this day. My in-laws expected me to shift to a small town where they lived, take up a part-time job or better still become a housewife and cook for the family whereas I wanted to pursue my dreams. So, I packed my bags and came to Delhi when I was offered a transfer. 

Cooking is not an issue. I prepare food for myself every day and quite enjoy doing it. But slaving away in the kitchen is quite another matter. In the movie, the men are shown relaxing, doing yoga, and reading newspapers whereas the women are portrayed tirelessly working in the kitchen. The most evocative scene in the film is the one where the women eat food at the table made dirty by the men with spilled over and chewed food. When the wife confronts her husband about it later at a restaurant over his bad table manners at home, he gets angry.

For most women, cooking and doing housework is a routine and they are not supposed to complain. It is for us to decide whether to follow our dreams or please the men. If you want the first, just let it go like I did eight years ago, or else give up on your desires and aspirations. 

My next-door neighbor back in Kolkata could not fry papad properly and they always used to get burnt. She was always the subject of criticism in the neighborhood, but nobody praised her ever for being an excellent teacher, her love for Bengali literature, and intelligent conversations. 

Women in our kitchens have become such a regular fixture that we never pause and question their narrowed existence. All my childhood memories are centered around the great Indian kitchen: my granny on her low stool, my father’s mother stirring the milk tea, my aunt chopping vegetables, my mother making sweet delicacies in winter, the neighborhood aunty (she was called Ronny’s mom after her son’s name as if her identity never mattered) making parathas so that we children could enjoy it on Sundays.

Welcome to the great Indian kitchen. If you don’t like it, you are free to leave like Nimisha’s character or me. After so many years, a remark by my erstwhile husband came back to me. He had remarked once, “You never served me tea (in Bengali of course).” But you see I was born to rule and not to serve. I served him coffee, of course, but he conveniently forgot all about it. But what I remember is that he never made either tea or coffee for me and that’s what made all the difference.


Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

An Accomplished Poetic Life

A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.

– W. H. Auden

In reading 16-year-old Uma Menon’s debut collection of poetry, it is obvious that W. H. Auden was speaking about her. For that matter, the fact that the author is a teen should not make the reader shy away from her work and chalk up the 96-page volume of poetry to rhymey-rhymes or hip-hop repetition.

On the contrary, Menon’s poems are as well crafted as those written by one twice her age with an equally-impressive and diverse backlog of publication. An exploration of what it means to be a young woman of color in America, Hands for Language is a deep dive into the joys, sorrows, and challenges met by straddling the white world and the land of her birth.

Comprised of 55 tightly-crafted free verse poems, Hands for Language is presented in four parts. Finding, losing, and keeping one’s language is the common thread of the collection.

Part One: Birth primarily moves from her childhood living in India through just after immigrating to the United States. She reflects on her early life in 11 poems, including “citizenship,” “birthdays,” “origin story,” and “at the intersection of the land & sea.”

Part Two: Discovery embraces language and the search for meaning, understanding, and communication while discussing the need to juggle her native Malayalam and the English of her new land. The 14 titles that make up this section include “spoken language,” “i forget,” “the world lies between her two eyes,” and “dictionary: tanpura.”

Part Three: Becoming examines “how to become a beautiful second-language poet,” “portrait of my tongue as a battleground,” “Ode to Debate / Sometimes, After Junior Year,” and “Orphan Tongues.” 

Part Four: Rebellion includes 16 poems, including titles such as “revolution in my mind,” “border violence,” “Hand in Mouth,” and “independence.”

Language is the foundation of the collection, but Menon also centers on family: her mother, grandmother, uncle, and traditions they have taught her. As an activist, Menon expresses pointed concerns about hot-button topics such as immigration, current events, gender, nature, and climate change. She is as punctilious in her language as to make the reader forget her age but not her love of language a weapon against injustice.

An accomplished young woman, her writing has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. This debut collection was shortlisted for the 2019 International Erbacce Prize. Alongside her many literary achievements, Menon is a social justice advocate, a nationally ranked debater, and the first Youth Fellow for the International Human Rights Art Festival. As a member of the high school Class of 2020, Menon graduated as valedictorian from Winter Park High School’s (Florida) International Baccalaureate Program, and she plans to continue her education this fall at Princeton University.

Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She is working on an assortment of fiction projects.