COLOMBO: A budding Indo-Sri Lankan filmmaker, Anila SK, has turned out a classic on the problems of the aged in India in her maiden feature film Orazhcha (A Week).
Premiered at the recent Jaffna International Film Festival where it charmed the audience, the Malayalam language film offers a peek into the outwardly placid but inwardly surcharged world of a retired middle-class couple living in present-day Kerala.
As is typical of Kerala and indeed of many other parts of India, the young of the household had gone away to distant lands in search of greener pastures leaving their aged parents to fend for themselves in an increasingly indifferent, and at times, hostile environment.
Orazhcha takes the audience through a week in the life of retired Kerala government servant, Krishnan, and his wife, Madhavikutti, both well into their seventies. Within a screening time of 90 minutes, filmmaker Anila has skillfully, seamlessly and artistically inducted varied facets of the couple’s lonely life interspersed with fitful interactions with others.
Incidents are portrayed without disturbing the slow pace and silence which are the hallmarks of suburban life in Kerala. Shots linger on the screen to underscore the weight of what is being conveyed in marked contrast to Bollywood films. Anila’s approach is in line with the works of Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Satyajit Ray.
Far from being a documentary on old age, Orazhcha has a story to tell and it through this story that it brings out the nuances of old age, loneliness, routine, exclusion and isolation. The husband and wife have different ways of managing loneliness. Madhavikutti is eager to learn about new technologies like Skype that would enable her to keep in touch with her near and dear overseas. She breaks the monotony by liaising with a group of women activists who campaign for civic facilities like street lights. But husband Krishnan is of a different sort. Introverted, he is a poet and an old world storyteller who entertains neighborhood kids if they come his way.
With no help at hand, except an itinerant maid to do the housework, Krishnan has to go to the town to get his monthly pension for which he has to take a bus at 5 am to join the serpentine queue at the Treasury. It is tiresome, but for him and other pensioners, the monthly rendezvous is a way of keeping track of each other’s fading lives.
Madhavikutti also goes out. Like a typical Kerala woman she takes care to look good in a crisp white cotton sari. But being an arthritic, she finds it hard to mount the footboard of the public bus. The conductor’s rude admonitions make her give up the attempt every time she tries. She is forced to take three-wheelers but only to become a victim of avaricious drivers. But Madhavikutti is someone who will not take things lying down. She writes a letter to the transport authorities to redesign the footboard so that older folk can mount easily.
A visit from relations from overseas serves to show the underlying disconnect between kids living overseas and those in Kerala and also the subtle differences in attitudes between boys and girls. The grand daughter from overseas is fascinated by the flora of rural Kerala but the boys are nonchalant, hooked to their I-Pads.
The old couple are thrown into the depths of loneliness when a friendly neighbor moves out. But something left behind is cherished as a reminder of the good times. But then, the loneliness the couple are thrown into, also brings them together and this is subtly brought out in a final scene in which they take a bus ride to the town, looking happy, in a throw-back to happier times.
The Film Maker
Director-Producer Anila SK is a Sri Lankan national of Malayali origin, whose parents and family are in Kerala. A TV personality in Trivandrum before marriage to a Sri Lankan brought her to the island in 1997, Anila was of a creative bent of mind even as a child of 14 or 15. She used to enthrall other kids with her dramatized story telling style. And even at that age she dreamt of being a film maker.
Her experience in Sri Lanka had its ups and downs but she attributes her sensitivity and ability to think and act independently and creatively to the difficulties she had to go through. The derring-do she developed made her take up UN assignments in war-torn Sudan. Later she quit the life of a regular salary earner to plunge into the strange new world of film making. Seeing the need for formal training she joined Rajiv Menon’s film institute in Chennai. The regime there was grueling but worthwhile for the short film she made at the end of the course, won kudos.
The idea of making a full length feature film germinated. The social ambience, anonymity, and the calm of Colombo were suited to reflection and giving form to creative urges. With parents in their seventies, and familiar with their problems as an exceptionally close and loving daughter, Anila wondered if she could make a film on the aged.
The absence of a financier did not deter her. She began by putting in her own money but later got a friend to pitch in. After failing to get professional actors she made her own father, K.Sadasivan, and other members of the family, take up roles. The camera and editing were handled by Shyamaprakash MS, a young man in his twenties .The lyrics and singing were done by other talented relations. Orazhcha was indeed a family affair.
Technically and visually, the film is pleasing though Anila shot the film in natural light and used only natural sounds. Only a few lines were dubbed, she said.