Saturday, December 5, 2015

വലിയ ചിറകുള്ള പക്ഷികൾ (Valiya Chirakulla Pakshikal) (2015)

Director: Dr. Biju
Writer:    Dr. Biju
Cast:       Kunchacko Boban, Anumol, Prakash Bare
Language: Malayalam

The film is a fictionalized representation of the environmental and health disaster caused by the misuse of 'Endosulfan' pesticide in Kasargod district of Kerala in India. Kunchacko Boban plays the role of a photojournalist from the 'Mathrubhumi' weekly and it is based on real life journalist Madhuraj, who also took up their cause as an activist after his experiences there. The 'Endosulfan' disaster came to the attention of the wider world after his expose in 2001. 

The film is done in a semi-documentary style and uses real people from the area who have been affected by it. There is no need to give a note prior to the screening that real life people have been used in the film because you will anyway realize that when you see it. Their health have been affected in a very visible way with physical deformations and it is the children that gets affected most. There are mainly two timelines for the film- 2001 and 2011 with the former depicting the photojournalist doing his story from the ground and the latter involving him and a couple of other activists attending a UN congress in Ottawa, Canada which would decide whether to ban Endosulfan globally or not. The official Indian delegation advocates for not banning it citing some bogus scientific studies and depicting the outrage in Kerala as Environmental Terrorism. I do remember the Indian delegation's stand becoming big news in Kerala just after the elections here, which the incumbent leftist coalition lost marginally. If that news broke before the elections, they would have won it easily as the pro-corporate opposition party of Kerala was ruling then at the center and were thus responsible for the Indian delegation's stand. 

Film is excellent technically and uses sync-sound which is always the better option. They are used in Indian films rarely because it is quite hard to capture the dialog when shooting at outdoors among all the cacophony. It must have been quite easy for this film to use it since most of the shooting is either indoors or in remote locations. The film doesn't have many dialogues and it becomes paramount in such films for the dialogues, when it happens, to sound authentic. It suffers on that regard during the 2011 timeline sequences as most of it are blatantly expositionary. The interaction between the characters during those sequences are almost unbearable to watch and you wish they had made it as a documentary as one can freely explain things using voice-overs. That said, the 2001 sequences were better to do this way since what you want to capture is mostly visual and you will anyway get the interviews through the journalist in the film to inform the audience about the context. Those sequences are incredibly moving and haunting. Kunchacko Boban didn't really have to 'act' during those shots because the realness of what he is doing would have brought it out naturally. Prakash Bore plays a significant role of a doctor from Kasargode and Anumol is kind of wasted in her role as an activist in those Canada sequences. 

Endosulfan issue is something we, Malayalees, are very much aware of but haven't done enough for those people who suffered because of it. It is partly to do with where it happened as Kasargod (northern tip) is to Kerala what north-east is to rest of India. Watching this film will certainly bring it home to you. Documentary culture is very much missing in India and that might be one reason for why this film had be done in this semi-documentary fashion. The plantations in which Endosulfan was aerially sprayed are owned by the government and it is ludicrous that they haven't still addressed the rehabilitation of those affected by it. It took a ten-year campaign to get Endosulfan banned and the current government haven't done enough to take care of the victims. Hopefully this film will act as a catalyst for the same. Not counting on it as there was only around 12 people watching it during the screening that I attended and five of them were college-kids having a good time for themselves while annoying rest of us with their loud talking. 

To sum up, it is good and a very moving watch. The Canada sequences could have been done in a better fashion and the film suffers because of it since it is interspersed with the 2001 Kerala sequences. There is no need to really comment on the acting because what we get is quite the natural reactions and not really acting. It has been screened at several film festivals including a special screening at United Nations, Geneva. The English title of the film is a literal translation of the Malayalam one- 'Birds with Large Wings'. The other film that I have watched of Dr. Biju's, Veettilekulla Vazhi, was a great watch. 

PS: One of the ladies getting interviewed by the journalist states that they were under the impression that it was medicines that they were spraying and not really something toxic. That is because, in Kerala, we usually describe spraying pesticides as applying medicines (മരുന്നടിക്കുക ). I wonder whether it was the pesticide companies that encouraged such wording to make them acceptable. It is only now that we associate pesticides and insecticides with toxicity due to increased awareness.

Rating: 3/5