Kerala is experiencing the battle of the spirits. The orderly queues are visible at the civil supply liquor joints and the spirit filled battle cries in the numerous and ever growing tents of various spiritual organizations. Both are disciplined, decided and sure about what they will get at the end of the exercise. One is predominantly dominated by men and the other by women. The state is thus in a perpetual state of the spirit, whichever way you look at it!
In this state of the spirit, one industry which manages to hold its own in the midst of several film industries in India, is the Malayalam film industry. Even as Mammooty and Mohanlal continue their unabated grip over the industry, new timers and excellent scripts offer inspiring models to follow and think of. One such recent addition is the movie “Elsamma enna aankutty”. Directed by Lal Jose and starring newcomer Annie Augustine, the movie is about a girl who stops studying after her tenth standard to take care of her mother and three sisters. She works as a newspaper delivery girl, newspaper agent, distributes milk, helps to make rubber sheets and cooks in the nearby house as part of the numerous jobs she has to do to make a living. Her day starts at 4:30 in the morning and ends late. The power she has as part of being a newspaper agent and the passing on of news stories to the newspaper keeps the inhabitants of Balan Pillai city (BP city) on their toes. From the panchayat chairperson to the spurious toddy (liquor) business man, the attackers of the natural hills of Kerala to the rich boys who only think of ruining the lives of simple girls, Elsamma appears as the only one who stands for what is right.
Scripts which highlight a woman are rare in all forms of Indian cinema. The male audience also finds it difficult to accept a woman who is after all doing the right thing and is a source of change in society. The panchayat and municipal elections next month in Kerala will have 50% reservation for women. Even though it is a great opportunity for Kerala to have the vibrancy and innovations of women added to the leadership of the state, many are questioning the reservation itself along with the skills of women. Some men are using this to arm twist their wife’s into contesting wards which they themselves can’t this time round. In essence this would mean that the men would run parallel administrations from their homes.
The acceptance of women seems to be something that will take more time. One wonders whether this could be because women are too close and taken for granted. In the gospel of Mark 6:1-6 the power of Jesus is questioned in his home town as they see him as the son of Jesus and Mary. Jesus is too close for comfort. This is perhaps the way we see God too. Whenever God seems close we are uncomfortable. And that makes us seek a spiritual stupor in whatever form. Jesus says that a prophet is without honour in his own place.
Elsamma is also too close for comfort. She is in one sense the girl next door. But if we accept her, we have to accept that we are living in the wrong. So we will look at ways to deny her the credit for what she does. Who is Jesus? Who is Elsamma? Jesus questions the leaders of his time who practised their own beneficial way of governance and living. Elsamma questions the corrupted village panchayat, stands for the rights of her village and fights for the common person. Maybe that is why we may feel inside, “who is Elsamma?” We don’t mind to accept big banners and big screen names. But we are suspect of offerings which make us think.
BP city is a constructed space. But it is also a space which makes us think of our own spaces. Elsamma enna aankutty does have problems with the handling of some of the concepts it contains. But there should not be any doubt whether it does put forward a message. This message is also a message for churches as well. Women in Kerala will provide a substantial portion of good understanding and good governance. If we keep them away we will remain in a spiritual stupor without accomplishing anything more. If we care to entertain more Elsammas’ we might after all find a few solutions to the problems Kerala faces today.