Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Munnariyippu [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing listing

FilmiBeat (A.Menon) review review

Kerala 9 (Unni R Nair) review
New India Express (M.K. Nidheesh) review
The Hindu (S.R. Praveen) review
Times of India (TNN) review

Munnariyippu [2014] [IMDb] [FiBt] (directed and cowritten by Venu Goopaalan [IMDb] [FiBt] along with Unni R. [IMDb]) is a well written / well acted, award winning, thoughtful / reflective Shawshank Redemption [1994]-ish  Malayalam (Keralese) crime drama that serves as the third stop in my 2016 Indian Film Tour.  The film is available for rental in the United States on various internet streaming platforms (including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and Google Play) for a reasonable price.

Set then in Kerala along the Malabar Coast of Southern India, Viewers (and Readers here) get to encounter a remarkably beautiful (and remarkably ancient) part of India.  For this lush tropical land was known already TO THE SUMERIANS (c. 3000 BC) of Mesopotamia as "the Garden of Spices." And it came to be at the very center of the sea-faring portions of the ancient trade route system known to us as "The Silk Road" that extended from the Eastern Mediterranean, the Horn of Africa / Egypt across ALL OF SOUTHERN ASIA (Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, South East Asia) and the East Indies (Indonesia) to China / Japan.

Many Readers here may ALSO find it interesting that  Kerala is also THE MOST CHRISTIAN part of India (20%,, as opposed to less than 1% across India as a whole) and has been so since ancient times.  By tradition, St. Thomas the Apostle arrived in Kerala in 52 AD where there already was a Jewish Community at the time, successfully converting several Brahmin families.  The ensuing Christian community following the Syro-Malabar Rite exists to this day.  Within my own Religious Order, the Servants of Mary, exist several congregations of Servite Sisters that have foundations now in  Kerala (and neighboring Tamil Nadu).  We Servite Friars have now a thriving Province in neighboring Tamil Nadu as well. 

I mention all this because reference to the (quite ancient) Christianity of the region appears repeatedly in the film with Catholic nuns in their habits quite frequently shown walking about town, checking things out in the market spaces, etc.  Indeed, one of the main characters in the film, a ever-smiling, _western dressed_, recently graduated / still largely freelance journalist named Anjali Arachal (played by Aparna Gopinath [IMDb] [FiBt]) is _clearly presented_ as coming from a Christian family (and reminded perhaps even nagged somewhat about her Christian duties by her more traditional Christian mother ;-).

To the film ... ;-)

At some gathering of young local journalists, above mentioned still largely freelancing, Anjali is offered a somewhat interesting / promising "ghost writing" job by one of her mentor figures: the Superintendent  of a local prison was retiring in a number of months, and was looking for "a ghost writer" to help him organize / publish "his memoirs" for the occasion.  The job apparently seemed a little beneath Anjali's established journalistic mentor, BUT for a recent graduate / "freelancer" like Anjali, this could be a valuable (and connection producing) experience.  So ... he gives the gig to Anjali and soon enough she comes over to the prison to meet with said outgoing Prison Superintendent (played by Nedumudi Venu [IMDb] [FiBt])

While talking to him, she encounters one of the staff working in his office, a soft-spoken man named Raghavan (played by Mammootty [IMDb] [FiBt]).  The Prison Superintendent tells her that he's been at the Prison now for some 20 years, first as a Prisoner (for a double murder of his wife and teenage daughter) and in these last years, as something of a "room & board" employee, as he didn't particularly want to leave.  The Superintendent tells her: "You'll find that most of the prisoners here are just like you and me.  A moment of passion / misjudgement puts them here separating them from us."  The Superintendent doesn't mind that she talk to Raghavan, indeed, wants her to quite extensively interview him (Raghavan, the former and still hanging-on prisoner) for HIS (the superintendent's) book.  So she does ...

Inevitably Raghavan becomes _more interesting_ than the Prison Superintendent, especially when it turns out that he's kept a journal over those 20 years, PHILOSOPHIZING about the meanings of Truth and Freedom while behind those bars.

Okay, Anjali first went to that jail to help THE SUPERINTENDENT write a book, and now she actually finds one of his (former) prisoners MORE INTERESTING than he was.  What to do?  Well, she rationalizes, as long as she gets the Superintendent's book done on time, why not indulge her interest in this (former) prisoner of his, and write A SIDE ARTICLE about him.  Indeed, her mentor ENCOURAGED HER to take the job precisely to "make connections" (and when she talks to him about this, he encourages her to do precisely that ... write the "side article" about the former prisoner even as she works on the Prison Superintendent's book.  She is a "free lancer" after all, and _as long as she completes her contracted task_ why not?

Well, she gets her side article about the prisoner published in a _prominent_ Time Magazine-like (English language) weekly.  And soon ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE are interested in both the Prisoner's story AND HER.

A young literary agent (played by Saiju Kurup) for a publisher in Mumbai contacts Anjali telling her that there's a book in Raghavan's story and quickly seduces her into this rather complicated project -- Raghavan's journal was in Kerala's Malayalam language, the book would be in English to reach the widest reading audience in India (hence, the publisher would be expecting the work to be a collaboration between Raghavan and Anjali, Raghavan writing the original text and Anjali translating / editing it).  The publisher would also want Raghavan to write about "juicier things" than just his "philosophical musings."  They'd want him to write about the crime that put him in jail in the first place.  Finally, well, they'd have a rather strict (and quite short ...) deadline of only a couple of months.

In the meantime, the Prison Superintendent was getting unwanted attention from all over, with many in the Press asking why Raghavan, who had completed his term in prison, was still there.

So ... Anjali finds herself having signed a contract with a publisher for a book that Raghavan was going to write ... and now has to find a place to put Raghavan to write said book UNDER A RATHER STRICT DEADLINE.

Well this was NOT going to be "EASY" ... AND IT WAS NOT.  Remember that Raghavan had "nothing but time" as he wrote his "philosophical musings" OVER THE COURSE OF TWENTY YEARS.  And he had no particular reason other than Anjali's increasing insistence to "write under pressure" now ... One even starst to wonder if Raghavan even wrote his journal at all.  After all, he was in jail for 20 years.  Perhaps somebody else wrote it, died, and he simply later claimed the journal as his own.  Then what of Anjali's original project, helping the outgoing Prison Superintendent WITH _HIS_ BOOK?

The film becomes a fascinating reflection on "Freedom" and "Incarceration" / "Slavery" ... who's actually "free" here and who's "under the gun" / "oppressed" / "facing jail" ?  ;-)

It all becomes a very interesting film, that unfolds _slowly_ but relentlessly in a part of the world that at least the older people (remember Anjali's mom...) didn't necessarily find much reason / desire to rush ... THEY (as well as Raghavan, "in his own way...") STILL ASKED / MUSED "WHY" ?

Great job! ;-)

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