The politics of Kerala state film awards

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | AYYAPPAN
Published Mar 8, 2017, 1:52 am IST
Updated Mar 8, 2017, 7:09 am IST
The jury reaches out to the marginalised and the dispossessed like never before.
Actor Vinayakan, who won the best actor’s award, in a celebration mood along with his neighbors at Kammattipadam colony in Kochi on Tuesday. Vinayakan won the award for his role in the film ‘Kammattipadam’.  (Photo: SUNOJ NINAN MATHEW.)
 Actor Vinayakan, who won the best actor’s award, in a celebration mood along with his neighbors at Kammattipadam colony in Kochi on Tuesday. Vinayakan won the award for his role in the film ‘Kammattipadam’. (Photo: SUNOJ NINAN MATHEW.)

Thiruvananthapuram: It will be a bit far-fetched to link the triumph of Vidhu Vincent’s ‘Manhole’ to the rise of Donald Trump. Still, like the 89th Oscars, the 47th State Film Awards 2016 has attempted to make a larger statement than the mere aesthetics of filmmaking. Welcome to the era of film awards as political posturing.

If this year’s Academy awards were an audacious punch in the belly of Trump’s exclusionary politics, the State Awards had reached out to the marginalised and the dispossessed like never before. In this sense, both the Oscars and the State awards demonstrate a clear class bias. Manhole’ is the state’s answer to ‘Moonlight’, the film that won big at the Oscars. Both are about communities that live in the shadows of existence. ‘Manhole’ exposes one of socially-evolved Kerala’s ugliest secrets: the presence of manual scavengers.

 

The film disabuses the Malayali society of its wilful illusion. And Barry Jenkins’s ‘Moonlight’ wants the hearts of Americans to ache for blacks and gays, people Trump has a serious aversion for.

While Trump was annoyed by the Oscars, the socialist LDF government has used the awards to make a political point. Even before the awards declaration, touched by the film, finance minister Dr Thomas Isaac has earmarked `10 crore in his Budget for mechanizing the cleaning of manholes and septic tanks. Perhaps no other Malayalam film has made such a sudden and dramatic impact on government policy. When Vidhu Vincent was picked for best director, it was an official pat for women, too. Ms Vincent is the first women to win the best director award for the movie that has been chosen as the best film. It is not as if many men have won such an honour.

Ms Vincent’s choice was also an attempt to make amends for some major embarrassment the government had to suffer recently; the award sits as a nice reassuring counter to the unspeakable atrocities that was committed on a leading lady in Malayalam films about which the government still has no clue.

Just like in the Oscars, it was traditionally difficult for actors who are generally identified with a particular class to win big at the state awards. Salim Kumar’s was an exception. The fate of the likes of Kalabhavan Mani is the rule. But the choice of Vinayakan as best actor, and Manikandan as the best supporting actor, has upended convention.

Their triumph was almost divined by the surprise choices of Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis, the two incandescent black talents who have won the supporting actor Oscars this year.

Piling surprise upon surprise, the state award jury chose Vinayakan even though he was not the ‘hero’ in Rajeev Ravi’s ‘Kammattipadam’. Again, a first for the state. 

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