Radical films: Kaalchakra and Ratrimazha

January 13, 2008 at 12:33 am 1 comment

With all the talk about Taare Zameen Par, I think it is a good time to look back at two other films released last year. Like TZP these two films also deal with some problematic social issues, albeit with adults. They have recieved little exposure, probably because they are not in Hindi. The films are Ratri Mazha by Lenin Rajedran in Malyalam and Kaalchakra by Vishal Bhandari in Marathi.

I went to see Kaalchakra without any idea of what the film was about. I would suggest you do that too. That way you will never know what’s going to hit you next. Read on otherwise. Kaalchakra is about people who live with AIDS. The plot isn’t spectacular, in fact it’s quite straightforward. The story is narrated by the protagonist, as he waits on his pregnant daughter. We learn that this man was once a very determined and succesful investment banker. One day he comes home and his wife tells him he’s got AIDS. Man leaves home, discovers he does have AIDS. Instead of accepting his death warrant he fights back by helping others and building a new life for himself. Love and children follow. End of story. So what is it that’s so different about this film. Films with sick people usually capitalize on overdoses of emotion and sentimental bullshit. Kaalchakra by contrast is about attitude. The protagonist doesn’t weep over the loss of his friends or wail over discrimination. He decides to accept his condition, to change his life, to make accomodations. “So what?” the film tells you, “So what, if I’ve got AIDS, I’m going to live my life to the fullest. Nothing will stop me”. In the end, life comes full circle, and the film ends on a positive-negative note.

KC looks like a low budget but it is executed smartly. The cinematography, sets and music take a backseat. Instead, Vishal Bhandari relies on a well written script. Most ‘educational’ films are built around juvenilish plots. The logic seems to be that since film is this big medium, the viewer will take in whatever is parroted on the screen. I think this logic is flawed. The audience isn’t that stupid and there is no substitue for a good story. In KC, the story has been cleverly woven to fit in the facts with the plot. The dialogs are clever, neither preachy nor crude. Several taboo topics are touched upon, but in a delicate manner, keeping in mind the sensibilities of the viewer. No one is offended, and we are spared the usual debate over sentiments and freedom of speech. To complete the picture, the characters are strong, well fleshed. Kudos to the writer.

Likewise, Ratri Mazha uses a fresh approach to disability. One of my pet peeves is the way disabled characters are portrayed in Indian films. They are usually shown as weepy and oversensitive. Oh and always so goody good, willing to make the most extreme sacrifices. And always on the sidelines. How I hate it when some Munnabhai type character speaks up nobly, while the disabled person gently weeps. What am I supposed to feel here? Grateful? Eh, patron, why not let me speak? SLB’s Black was a change from this rigour. I hate the film (too much rona-dhona) but I respect SLB’s handling of a complex issue; the percieved asexuality of the disabled.

Coming back to Ratri Mazha, the film explores the relationship between an able bodied woman and her disabled husband. The couple, we find, is deeply in love with each other, but nagging doubts threaten to destroy their relationship. The man, Hari, feels insecure on the account of his disability and guilty of the ‘sacrifices’ his wife, Meera, has to make. Meera stubbornly insists that hers is not a sacrifice, but a choice. Unfortunately, this belief is not shared by anyone else. At work she finds herself the target of snide comments and deeply personal enquiries. There are open and veiled references to Hari’s masculinity(or the supposed lack of it). Frustrated at these intrusions into her privacy, Meera decides to withdraw herself from public life. The repeated advances made by other men cumulate into a phobia of men. At the same time, Hari decides to go back to his old love; dance. He retreats into his old circle, and here Meera finds herself an outcast. She is disgusted at the sympathy Hari draws (unintentionally) from his friends. The comfort that Hari finds, only helps in fermenting distrust between the two.

The treatment here is both realistic and fantastic. We can see that both man and woman are having doubts about their marriage. Is it something unique to the disabled? I think not. My guess is, most people have these doubts immediately after marriage (Here I rely on fiction, written and filmed, as I have not tasted this particular fruit). Hari’s disability only seems to complicate things for both of them. There is some confusion and uncertainity faced by the characters on how exactly to deal with disability. There is a scene where Hari breaks down in public which angers Meera. Then later, it appears that Hari has no need of Meera at all. There also appears to be a conflict between the principal characters on how each percieves disability. In the second half, the film moves from the initial confusion to the final resolution of this conflict.

RM has the look and feel of a well produced commercial film. I am a philistine when it comes to dance, but still I found the choregraphy interesting. More than anything else, Meera Jasmine is super cute. Never heard of her before, but I swear I’m going to watch each and every film of hers from now on.


We are often told how penetrating the medium of film is. Yet very few filmmakers have succeeded in capitalising on the strength of the medium, let alone to cause a change in perceptions. In fact, mainstream Indian cinema (and television) has been actively responsible in shaping some stereotypes and misconceptions. Thankfully things are changing. Filmmakers appear to be making an honest effort to tackle difficult topics in a sensible manner. The two films follow this trend. They stress on acceptance of a living individual rather than sympathy for a dying person. With a solid storyline and exceptional performances, could there be a better way to get a message across?


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