Circa 1970. Location: a local reading room in Kerala. Five young men sit around a table and discuss Kafka, Camus, Freud, Marx, and politics. They argue vehemently on the merit of the recently published 'Legend of Khasak' (*Khasakkinte Ithihasam*) by O.V.Vijayan. Two boys strike at the carom board and two others sit in deep meditation on either side of a chess board.
Fast forward. The period can be any time from 2000 to now. Location: an apartment or a house or a lodge or a bar. Five men sit with a few beer bottles and all other liquor they could get from the local beverages store. Politics, love, sex and literature figure in their discussion, but the talks don't make much sense. Eat, drink and make merry is their motto. Fights erupt, truce is called, once again drinks are poured.
In the eyes of the Nobel laureate economist, Dr. Amartya Sen, Kerala tops both in education and health index. The fancy data show that the living style and per capita income of a Malayalee could match proportionately to the individual lives in New York. Malayalees are famous for their ability to speak in English, adopt new ways of life and for being intelligent and industrious. And yes, they've 'God's own Country' too to woo tourists. Young boys from poor northern states migrate to Kerala and do all the jobs that Malayalees once used to do. Meanwhile, millions of Keralites do those same jobs in the countries they have migrated to. Those left in Kerala spend their time in political gossiping, pornographic dreams, comedy movies and heavy boozing.
*Sanal Kumar Sasidharan*
The tragic transition of the intellectual/intelligent Malayalee is almost complete. *'Ozhivu Divasathe Kali'* (An Off Day Game), a Kerala State Award Winning movie for the year 2015, produced by Delhi's Niv Art Movies and directed by the young filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, captures the tragedy of the contemporary Malayalee society and its political and moral degeneration in no uncertain terms. Sasidharan has kept the whole movie in the context of one single drinking session by five friends, accompanied by a sixth sidekick on an election day.
The friends gather in an abandoned bungalow near a river and their only agenda is just to go on a binge. Politics, sexual desire, conquest of women and a lot of jabbering enliven their session. But the moment the issue of caste and complexion is brought out for discussion (which happens as an aberration), suddenly the scenario changes. In the ensuing frames, both the banality and poignancy of the uprooted and unanchored life of a contemporary Malayalee unravels before us. On that day, there is a by-election in one of the constituencies in Kerala. These friends, who are law abiding citizens otherwise, decide to celebrate on that day. The very decision is a pointer to the collapse of the political discourse in a state that claims total literacy. The film, based on a story by Unni R, also shows that once in possession of the drinks, how people transition to worst specimens of human beings.
Geetha, a woman in her late 30s, comes to cook for the men. Each one of them eyes her and takes turns to seduce her, only to meet a firewall that burns out their advances. She is a no-nonsense woman, yet she is a prey. Her ability to choose to work and resist the sexual advances of strangers commands appreciation, and at the same time, it shows how pathetically the 'literate' Malayalee slips into sexual predation once a couple of drinks are consumed.
Geetha doesn't want to kill a chicken and that responsibility falls on Dasan, a dark and stout youth who often becomes the butt of their racial remarks. Dasan, finding no other way to kill the bird, finally decides to execute it by 'hanging.' The scene evokes laughter amongst audience and the very laughter sets the tone of the later catharsis.
Popular Malayalam films have the tendency to strategically allocate caste and class identities to the heroes, heroines, villains and other characters. In a state like Kerala where religious demography is unsettlingly precarious with no religious denomination having an upper hand in terms of demographic strength, the trivializing of religions and castes are rotationally (and democratically) done in movies so that nobody's sentiments are easily hurt. In 'An Off Day Game' we've mostly a Hindu gathering. The slow but steady and conscious self-exclusionary practice of the Hindu society is perhaps suggested here, but interestingly, the hierarchy within the Hindufold is subtly mentioned by the caste identities attributed to the main characters.
The equation is very precarious. The inclusion of a Namboothiri (Brahmin) in the pack shows how Kerala has evolved caste-wise and people are able to transcend caste exclusions within Hinduism. Dharman, who commands power amongst the friends with his money and muscle power as well as his fair complexion, stands out as an upper caste man. Vinayan and Prakash are understood to be from the middle castes (the OBCs in Kerala), while Dasan, by virtue of his name, physique and complexion is obviously from a lower caste. Dasan, who is made to do menial jobs, is the only one amongst the friends who doesn't make any sexual move toward the similarly dark complexioned and tough Geetha.
Egos fly as they drink. They try to talk politics, but everything falls flat. Dharman's effort to seduce Geetha is met with a violent retaliation from her. Vinayan's views on seduction are logical and 'democratic,' but Prakash believes in conquests via physical force. However, when Vinayan mentions Prakash's wife, who could also be a prey of such conquests by other men, Prakash loses his cool. The hypocrisy of the pack slowly unrolls, and as expected, it reaches the level of someone making a direct reference to the 'darkness' of Dasan's body. An emotional Dasan gets up and recites a poem in 'English.' "When born I am black, when I grow up I am black, when I am sick I am black, when I die I am black. When you are born you are pink, when you grow up you are white, when you are sick you are blue, when you die you are brown, yet you call me colored?" This brings a deep silence and they all hang their heads in shame. Dasan's preference to English for reciting the poem should be noticed, as it shows his educational reach which still hasn't helped him transcend his caste identity.
To lighten up the scene, Prakash suggests a game. They make a lottery with names 'King, Minister, Police and Robber,' and the one who gets 'Police' should find the 'Robber'. This is a game of four, but they are five. Hence, they introduce a 'Supreme Court Judge' and unanimously select Namboothiri as the 'Judge.' The social selection is self-evidential in this choice. Prakash gets the lot of the 'Police' and makes two mistakes. Each times he bribes the 'King' who is hand in glove with the 'Judge.' Finally Dasan turns out to be the one with the lot 'Robber.' Drunken with frivolity and hollowness (a la *La Dolce Vita*), they ask the 'Judge' to declare the sentence and he declares: hang him until death.
The friends accuse Dasan of sedition and bay for his blood. They tie his hands, strip him, and use the same cloth to hang him from the balcony, as if it was so natural to deliver justice in that manner. With a shudder, we realize that Dasan, who hanged the chicken, is now hanged by his own friends. The mock drama ends brutally.
When the film was made, India wasn't boiling with the issue of sedition. But 'An Off Day Game' has become prophetic in some ways. When Rohit Vemula committed suicide by hanging, it was dubbed as a murder by an unkind state. Kanhaiya Kumar became a traitor because he was 'dark, short, backward and a Communist.' The film is a political satire, and at the same time, a real time documentation of one of the most degenerating societies in India. Perhaps this film should be seen by each Malayalee with his or her family and hang their heads in shame. At times, the victory of art can be proven only by such shaming.