kismath has a self-deprecating air of being a small movie. don’t be fooled by their modesty. It is big in the way the arts should be: generous, open-minded, intelligent, conscious and nurturing, with a world view that embraces the nuances of Kerala society but reflects the realities of the whole of India. this is indeed a very big movie.
Newcomer shanavas k bavakutty’s
kismath is a remarkably understated tale of a couple separated by social barriers. Irfan is Muslim. anitha is hindu. he is from a wealthy family. she is financially less privileged and a Scheduled Breed. in a social environment where she considers it essential that a man be older, wiser and richer than his wife’s partner, she is 28 years old, he is 23. they live in the small town of ponnani. they are in love. And though no one in the whole damned neighborhood of their lives seems to notice or care, they’re good friends.
anitha and irfan are aware of the obstacles in the way of their relationship. As an audience, we have also read reports of the ongoing ugly ‘love jihad’ campaign exemplified by pressure and threats against a meerut couple – he Muslim, she Hindu – in the run up to the 2014 uttar pradesh by-election .this awareness on both sides of the screen creates a sense of foreboding from the moment we first meet the couple at the center of kismath.
the youngsters have already faced some aggressions from their respective families and therefore, to anticipate any eventuality, they head to a police station in ponnani to seek protection. There they discover what they should have already known: that the police do not appear from nowhere, but rather come from the same prejudiced society from which they are trying to escape. What follows is her battle on multiple fronts, against his relatives, her relatives, extra-familial busybodies and people in uniform, for perhaps 24 hours in polite and seemingly progressive Kerala.
Even before his saga unfolds, a minor episode at the police station gives us a glimpse of the reveals and details we can expect from kismath. It should have given Anitha and Irfan an idea of what awaited them as well. an Assamese is accused of causing a road mishap involving two locals. The guy doesn’t speak Malayalam, but when Si Ajay C Menon enters the scene, she communicates with him through Hindi and physical aggression, and manages to extract some of the truth from what happened. Unlike Tamil Nadu, which has vehemently resisted and impeded the effort to impose Hindi as the national language in non-Hindi speaking India, Kerala tends to admire Hindi bhaashis and view the ability to speak the language as a kind of virtue of a superior race. Meanie Menon has an arrogance, his fluency in Hindi adds to it.
this adjunct to the main plot throws other asides: all the cops know the guy involved in the accident is Assamese, but they casually insist on calling him a Bengali (a moment of insight for South Indians who chafe when the North calls them Indians club all the “southern log ke” together as “madrasis”); and when menon finds out where he is from, he immediately asks if he is a terrorist. the police station, you see, is a microcosm of the outside world.
the rest of kismath is observed with the same sharpness. Interestingly, Anitha and Irfan talk about living together, not getting married. Equally interesting, and disturbing, are the nasty innuendos made about the two by various parties. It’s fashionable to romanticize small-town and small-town life, but the film, at one point, gently reminds us that the impersonal nature of big cities can mean the release of some shackles for marginalized and oppressed groups.
It’s also a relief that anitha and irfan aren’t portrayed as an immature couple who were floored by each other at first sight. in that small town that is their home, beyond gender segregation and communal biases, they meet by chance, they hang out together for believable reasons, he doesn’t harass her (ugh!), they become friends and little by little Soon they begin to see each other as possible life partners. after all, miracles do happen.
writer-director bavakutty has been quoted in the times of india as saying that kismath is “inspired by an incident that happened in the life of a 28 year old scheduled caste girl and her 23 year old boyfriend, a technical b student , in ponnani in 2011” when he was municipal councilor of ponnani. Some reactions to Kismath have compared it to Ennu Ninde Moideen, last year’s critically acclaimed hit starring Prithviraj Sukumaran and Parvathy, because it was also based on a true story of an inter-community romance in the state. With all due respect to moideen fans, I felt the movie started out with immense promise, but ended up being emotionally manipulative, sharp, and infuriating. kismath is none of the above: it is realistic, practical and concise.
Shane Nigam and Shruthy Menon have likeable personalities and give understated, convincing performances as Irfan and Anitha. however, the talented cast’s choice is vinay forrt as the creepy, corrupt cop who teams up with his relatives.
it could have been called love at the time of ‘love jihad’, dalit repression, sexism, casteism, parochialism and a pretense of liberalism. frankly, the movie should have been called anything but kismath (meaning: destiny). Because it’s not about what fate does to its helpless victims, it’s about misery by human design and the way we go about destroying lives with our ignorance and intolerance.
The misplaced title is one of my few problems with this movie. the other would be his inability to address an important aspect of anitha and irfan’s relationship. Before the couple falls in love, we learn that irfan dropped out of an engineering course, is hanging out at home, is unemployed, lives off his family’s money, and is already at odds with his father as a result.
considering that he’s mature beyond his years and sensible enough to know the potential dangers they both face if they persist in their relationship, considering that they both give the impression of having their heads on their shoulders, it seems strange that they would think that she could openly continue their romance, even with police protection, while being financially dependent on her influential father. Note that Anitha herself is a research fellow with an elderly mother to care for her. irfan’s determination towards her is not combined with her aimlessness elsewhere.
That said, kismath is brave and well worth a visit to the theatre. It was released in Kerala on July 29 and traveled to Delhi a week later. I saw a subtitled version in the capital. Considering how capricious producers, distributors and exhibitors are in this matter, find out about closed captioning at your local salon. the subs had some spelling errors, which are annoying for an (ex-)editor, maybe you’ll be more forgiving. still, as far as I could judge when I occasionally glanced at the words flashing at the bottom of the screen, they conveyed the gist of what was being said. Non-Malayali film enthusiasts take note.
It would be easy to take the kismath for granted because he doesn’t sing or dance about anything he says or does. let’s not do that. There are Irfans and Anithas in many corners of India and their chilling experiences must be revisited again and again until these horrible human-made social walls are torn down. that is what kismath does in an even, non-preachy tone. With this film, Indian cinema gets a brave new voice. here you are looking at it, mr. bavakutty.