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May 23, 2017

Oru Mexican Aparatha

Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia, Argentina  - thunders the rousing line in the song Kalipp, katta kalipp, as it tries to capture the pulse of young revolutionary Kerala in the movie, 'Oru Mexican Aparatha' (A Mexican Eternity/Infinity/Continuity anything but Enormity.) For a red-blooded Malayali who has not traveled much outside this tiny sliver of a state in southern India called Kerala, these Latin American countries are closer to his/her heart than say the capital of India, New Delhi. So was Russia at the some point, before glasnost and perestroika and finally Putin signed off on Russia's fall from grace in Malayalis' eye - but that's another story for another time.

2017 is painting the screens red for Malayalam cinema. The confluence of progressive young film makers and a communist-Marxist leadership back in power at the state has created a fertile time and space for left of the center films and all that amor for Latin America. In addition to Mexican Aparatha, there is CIA (Comrade in America) and Sakhavu, each showcasing a leading young actor in a left-leaning role and their posters literally painting Kerala red.

It's after a long time I have seen a movie with campus politics as its central theme. The election fever in a college campus and the political rivalry of Kerala's two main political parties - the so called right (Congress party's youth wing - KSU) and the Communist Marxist party's youth wing - SFI, is palpable in the film. The characters are real, make-up minimal, flags plentiful and songs rebellious and upbeat in this movie which is a tribute to the most politically conscientious audience in all of India.

The script is not the strongest, but I think the lack of knock-out dialogs make it more real and accessible. The first-time director Tom Ematty is probably exploring a scene and a place he is familiar with. Maharaja's College - a premier educational institution in central Kerala (Ernakulam / Cochin) has produced a lot of notable people - from Mammootty, Dileep and Aashiq Abu to Balachandran Chullikkad and Changampuzha. Maharaja's College and the men's hostel where they keep it real with charcoal graffiti and body building competitions in underwear form the backdrop for the story of a band of friends with SFY (~ SFI) affinity- portrayed by Tovino Thomas, Neeraj Madhav, Manu, Vishnu Govind and others. Their rival camp of KSQ (~KSU) has director-turned- actor Roopesh Pithambaran and Kalabhavan Shajon leading the pack.

The film takes place in two distinct time periods in Kerala's political history. The flashback part of it is played out in the watershed era of the seventies with the Emergency and its baggage of persecutions, rendered in the movie by a few bad wigs and a couple of songs. This was the era which gave rise to the biggest political warriors in Kerala's campuses like Simon Britto and Suresh Kurup. In the movie we have the martyr Kunjaniyan, representing this fire brand youth brigade. Most of the rest of the story supposedly takes place in the present time which confuses me a bit because, where are the cell phones? In the light of this glaring absence I can only assume that the movie takes place in the late nineties or early 2000s?

A minor episode of campus crush featuring Tovino and Gayathri Suresh is thrown in to add some color and songs. The story is an accurate sketch of the reality in Kerala's co-ed colleges where female political representation is usually confined to a sidelined Vice Chairman or an Arts Club secretary position. In the grand scheme of the things, this film belongs squarely to its male characters - Tovino and Neeraj Madhav, the heroes, who are counter-balanced by the amazingly astute anti-hero, Roopesh.  Tovino's might be the face that will sell the movie but the director has made believable actors out of Roopesh Pithambaran, Neeraj Madhav, Vishnu Govind and Manu.

I started to watch Oru Mexican Aparatha to while away a mindless hour or two. But the film captured my attention thrusting two handsome and charismatic heroes right-at-ya, right in the opening scenes,  Tovino Thomas and Che Guvera. Together they attained enlightenment in Mexico, fled the weapons-wielding bourgeoisie  and embraced the red becoming martyrs for the cause of downtrodden. Ask anyone who has roots in the land of chekavars (reference to a Neeraj Madhav dialog in this movie), this is a sure-fire way to gain our support. You placed your bets on the right story and the right people, Anoop Kannan.