Gopalakrishnan’s melodrama that opened up a new direction in the genre in Malayalam film while looking at the unpalatable aspects of radical populism in Kerala. The first part is set in the 1945-55 period just prior to the shortlived 1957 CPI electoral victory in the State. The 2nd part is ten years later, after 1964, when the CPI split in two, later fragmenting even further. The central character is Sridharan (Ganga), a trade union leader who plays a key role in winning a strike against mechanisation. He is mercilessly beaten by thugs and has to go underground. This episode is told from the point of view of an idealist radical, Sudhakaran (Vishwanathan as a boy, Ashokan as a man). Years later, the old radicals have made their compromises and Sridharan has become a legendary emblem of integrity on whom the defeated survivors have projected their erstwhile radicalism. When he returns, there follows bitter disappointment at the discovery of the legendary hero’s human weaknesses. His name is invoked by all factions as a rallying cry, making his presence all the more embarrassing. One day, he is found killed. With the man safely out of the way, his image can once again be mobilised, untarnished by the complexities of real life. Violently attacked by the CPI(M) establishment in Kerala, the film works on several layers: in critiquing the state’s left establishment it also critically evokes a tradition of political melodrama in Kerala (cf. Thoppil Bhasi’s scripts). It suggests that its protagonist in all his roles - fiery leader, spent force, political legend - is inescapably reduced into stereotypical functioning, in the popular melodramatic sense, of one kind or another. The film thereby shifts the entire critique into one where the mass culture generated by incomplete capitalist growth merges with the rhetoric of left activism, the whole masking what the director suggests to be the major problem: the absence of a valid indigenous culture able to define the terms of its engagement with capitalist systems.
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