Decoding Sreenivasan

Sreenivasan has spoken. Like any artiste who is past his prime and clings to the memories of his glory days, often regurgitating it for the sake of half-filled theatres, where those who rank works of art based on the face adorning the poster, still cheer for him, a bit mutedly.

Now, let’s go back to Rajeev Ravi for a second. In that long interview, in which he talked about a million things, all he said about Sreenivasan was that he hates his movies for pandering to the middle class with anti-left propaganda, with a view to the market. Agreeing that this could have been worded better, Sreenivasan’s reaction today to this comment exposes a bit the person that he is, unlike the simpleton known for self-deprecating humour.

In reply, Sreenivasan said — “Some people can speak only if they smoke some ganja. Those who make films after smoking ganja need to be arrested. Ganja is a banned substance and this generation thinks that it is some good thing. They have come to destroy Malayalam cinema. They think that smoking ganja will make them intellectuals. They will only end up losing their intellect.”

The difference in the opinions of both is there for all to see. While Rajeev critiqued Sreeni’s cinema, Sreeni resorted to personal attacks, laced with his own misconceptions of ganja. Sreenivasan, who has written films like ‘Padmashree Dr.Saroj Kumar’ just with the aim of character assassination, has rarely faced any criticism in all these years, notwithstanding all those plagiarism allegations against his scripts. Rajeev’s was one of the first instances of someone from the industry critiquing his work and the amount of hurt it caused is revealed in his counter-attack. The attack is also directed at the entire ‘new generation’, which is being used as a kind of cuss word by some of our veteran actors these days.

After having watched his latest offering ‘Nagaravaaridhi Naduvil Njan’ this past weekend, one can see where this contempt for the new generation comes from — from his own failings to connect to the current audience. In that film, yet again, he uses the ploy of casting himself as a former ‘revolutionary party’ member, who after a stint in the ‘gelf’, has returned to take up the security’s job at an apartment. His comrades are all rich politicians now, as you already guessed. It is one trick he has used too many times — to cast himself as a left party worker and use self-deprecating humour to tar the left and fool the public into thinking — ‘Here’s that great actor/writer who always makes fun of himself’.

At this point, one thing requires to be stated. I still laugh to scenes from all of the classic satires he wrote in the 1980s/90s. Those had genuine humour, although politically some of us have issues with those. One of my favourite scenes from ‘Sandesham’ is the pennu kaanal sequence. That remains the best such scene in Malayalam cinema, but at the same time one can trace the roots of the hatred of Malayalis for simple weddings, post-liberalisation, to that scene. He made it uncool to have simple weddings in party offices or to even think about non-religious weddings. Among all of my friends who got married till date, only one has proudly opted for a wedding as per the special marriage act, sans the gold rush and the sadya rush.

With the same movie, he also made it uncool to critically analyse anything, be it politics, economy or even the closed society that we all live in. Twenty fucking years after that movie, today, if you put up a post on facebook, which seeks to look beyond the surface of any subject, promptly someone would arrive with a comment derived from one of the ‘Sandesham’ dialogues. The debate gets killed at that point. No, am not accusing Sreenivasan of creating all those dialogues anticipating the invention of facebook and irritating photo comments. Just pointing towards how deeply ingrained in our collective psyche all of those dialogues are. Even being thankful for all the laughs they provided in these past two decades, one cannot be blind to the irreparable damage that they have caused.

Thinking back a little to another film of his, ‘Varavelppu’, his hit job on trade unions in Kerala, which was cited by Bharat Ratna Atal Behari Vajpayee as his favourite Malayalam film, during a Kumarakom visit, running away from an important debate at the centre. We live in times when the successive Governments at the centre have been taking anti-labour measures. The current Government just broke all barriers in amending labour laws to make the Ambanis and Adanis smile. But, whenever I mention that, a majority of my friends and acquaintances react as if we don’t need any labour laws at all. ‘Let’s kill all these bloody unions’ is the reigning slogan, oblivious to the fact that many of the rights that they currently enjoy at work, or the fact that they are not bonded labourers, were thanks to the sweat and blood of many trade union workers. Half of the responsibility for that thinking goes to the mainstream media, and the other half, at least in Kerala, goes to films from the Sreenivasan factory. Still wondering why Mr.moderate Vajpayee loved the film?

So, coming back to the latest classic of his, written and apparently ghost directed by Sreenivasan himself, the ‘enemy’ remains the same — left. Al though it’s not so apparent, since it is laced with a message of ‘swach bharat’ and criticises the current society which fails to own up to its own waste. For someone whose claim to fame is social satire, it shows a deep failing in his reading of the changing society around him, if he is still flogging the old ‘communist’ horse and is blind to the rising tide of communalism.

Drumrolls! All stand up and salute the great satirist who has lived through Babri Masjid, Gujarat riots and the ascent of the perpetrators of these to power, and is living through the deeply divisive everyday political engagements of these master rioters, who at other times feeds the hungry corporates. And all he finds worthy of criticism is- the LEFT.

PS- Films like Vadakkunokki yanthram, Chinthavishtayaaya shyaamala are exceptions to this rule.