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Democracy brings together Gandhi, Godse, Marx, Jinnah and Ambedkar in Malayalam satire ‘Aabhaasam’

A fleet of buses named after political leaders, a life-altering journey, and satire in Jubith Namradath’s debut movie.

April 14 will be a big day for Jubith Namradath – it is the release of Aabhaasam, his debut film as a director. The trailer hints at an irreverent satire packed with troubled characters and clever one-liners. The title is an abbreviation of “Aarsha bhaaratha samsakaaram”, which means the glorious Indian Vedic culture. The cast includes Rima Kallingal, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Indrans and Alencier Ley Lopez.

Namradath has built his reputation on short films, such as Naalu Mazhapaatakal (2009), Democracy: To Each His Own (2010) and Aathmam (2014). Aabhaasam has been cleared with a U/A certificate and dialogue cuts by the Central Board of Film Certification, but the film might create a stir even after its release, Namradath told Scroll.in.

What are themes of ‘Aabhaasam’?
Aabhaasam
is a satire on what is happening in society, in and around us. There are five buses – Gandhi, Godse, Marx, Jinnah and Ambedkar. All these buses are run by the Democracy travel agency. The buses are a metaphor for different ideologies.

Aabhaasam charts the journey of the Gandhi bus from Bangalore to Kerala. The trip happens overnight. The main actors – Rima Kallingal, Sheetal Shyam, Suraj Venjaramoodu – are all travellers on the bus. It’s as much about their journey as that of the bus.

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Aabhaasam (2018).

Was satire the best way to tell your story?
Satire is an interesting genre. In Malayalam cinema, KG George’s Panchavadi Palam is a satirical comedy with an exaggerated storyline. It almost works as a political cartoon. That’s the thing with satire. You can say things you want to say and people will still enjoy it. They might get disturbed and think about it, but they will still laugh because it is not directly pointed at them.

But satire can also be a tricky genre to work with.
Yes, when you remove the humour and go to the dark side, then it becomes finger-pointing. But satire has a lot of possibilities too. Look at Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj ke Khilari. It’s a great narrative of political decay through chess and the players. Or, more recently, PK. Aamir Khan’s film was a commercial success in the satire genre that looked at how religion influences people. If done well, satire works on a lot of levels.

Aabhaasam is for everybody who is open to cinema. This film is about being open to people around you, to what is happening around you.

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Naalu Mazhapaatakal.

‘Aabhaasam’ has already created a fair share of controversy.
And I am expecting more trouble when the film comes out.

What happened to us in Bangalore was insane. We hired a bus from a local guy. This was the Jinnah bus, coloured green and with Jinnah’s picture on it. What we didn’t know was that guy was using the bus to ferry IT professionals every evening. Someone took the picture of this bus and posted it on ABVP’s Facebook page, saying the Karnataka government was in cahoots with the Pakistani government and chief minister Siddaramaiah must go. This became news. Thankfully it happened at the tail end of our shoot.

You’ve cast the transgender activist Sheetal Shyam in the film, which is quite unconventional.
The casting was crucial. In both Hindi and Malayalam cinema, transgender characters are typecast and are used to create senseless humour. We wanted to talk about men, women and transgenders because they all represent society. I have remained true to their characters.

Sheetal Shyam helped in the character formation of the transgender character when I wrote the script. Getting her to act in the film is a political statement.

Jubith Namradath (second from left), Suraj Venjaramoodu and Alencier Ley Lopez.
Jubith Namradath (second from left), Suraj Venjaramoodu and Alencier Ley Lopez.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.