Newsletter March 2024

I am still recovering from the exhilarating experience of COMA’s 2024 inaugural event, “Kaliyattom”. The all day event was a resounding success. Enthusiastic participation and fierce competition made the games event truly memorable for the participants. Congratulations to all the winners, and best wishes to everyone else who participated for next time.

The cultural programs showcased captivating dance performances, a magic show, trivia, and the comedy skit was a hilarious addition. The unique glow party that followed was undeniably a hit with all ages. Thank you to the Executive Committee of 2024 for organizing such an enjoyable event!

If you missed the event, please use the links below for the event highlights, photos, and videos.

Kaliyattom Media Links

Kaliyattom Winners

Table tennis (mixed doubles):
Winner: Minna Varkey & Samit Pathak
Runner-up: Ravi Hariharan & Anjana Hari

Table Tennis (Doubles):
Winner: Samit Pathak & Vishnu Sajeevan
Runner-up: Pradeesh Pudhiyattil & Anoop Joseph

Table Tennis (Singles):
Winner: Samit Pathak
Runner-up: Ravi Hariharan

Cards-28:
Winner: Niju Baby & Team
Runner-up: Gigi Mathew & Team

Rummy:
Winner: Pramod Pudhiyattil
Runner-up: Sakunthala Puthiyattil

Carrom:
Winner: Sajid Babu & Arun Chand
Runner-up: Aslam & Subhash

Chess:
Winner: Devarsh Binoop
Runner-up: Akshay Roshan

Cornhole
Winner: Anjan Harishankar
Runner-up: Jiya Jay

COMA Onam Sadya Coordination – A behind the scenes introspective – Valsan Palika

(Valsan is a long time resident of Columbus and a very active member of the Malayalee community. He lives in Lewis Center with wife Vijaya and two children, Hrishikesh and Niranjan. He hails from Kannur.)

Onam is Kerala’s most significant festival, marking the pinnacle of our annual celebrations. Legend has it that Kerala once thrived under the benevolent rule of King Mahabali of great wisdom and compassion. His era was characterized by fairness and prosperity, ensuring the well-being of his subjects, or ‘praja,’ to the utmost degree. His strength and popularity made even the Gods envious, and he was sent to the depths of ‘Pathalam’ by Vamana. It is believed that Mahabali visits us each year during Onam, symbolizing the spirit of unity cherished by Keralites. The festival is during the Malayalam month of Chingam, which is around August or September. It lasts for about ten days, and the main day is called Thiru Onam. This is when everyone takes part in lots of rituals, celebrations, and cultural events to mark the occasion.

Back home, Onam events are packed with various activities like Puli Kali, Thiruvathira Kali, and Vallam Kali, in addition to the traditional Pookkalam and Onam Sadya. Here in Columbus, we enjoy a day packed with cultural activities, beautiful Pookkalam designs, a traditional delicious Ona Sadya served in vazha ila, and the cherished visit of Mahabali. We even had Pulikali during our 2023 Onam celebrations! Vallam Kali may be planned soon! It is heartwarming to see Malayalee women, men, and children dressed in traditional attire, singing Onam songs, and showcasing other talents, sharing Onam memories, and relishing the Sadya together; it transports us back to Kerala on that day!

History

It all began several years ago with just a few Malayalee families from Columbus and Dayton coming together in Columbus to celebrate Onam as a community event. With hundreds of families moving to Columbus in recent years, it has evolved into the biggest gala event organized by COMA, bringing together the entire community in celebration!

The COMA Onam celebration is thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated by the community, becoming a cherished highlight of the year. Finding a suitable venue, coordinating cultural events, organizing a traditional Sadya, and managing the flow of events on the day are all incredibly complex tasks that require careful planning and coordination. The event’s resounding success is attributed to the meticulous planning and execution by the COMA executive committee, drawing from continuous learnings from past events. A vast volunteer base for COMA works tirelessly for weeks leading up to the event, ensuring its seamless realization.

Having been part of the volunteer group organizing COMA events for over 25 years, I can attest that organizing Onam is no small feat. It stands out as the most complex event to coordinate, largely due to the intricate arrangements needed for the Sadya, the centerpiece of the celebration. Here, I’ll delve into the details of how the Sadya is planned and executed.

In the early years, the Sadya was entirely dependent on volunteer efforts, with the number of guests estimated beforehand. However, this approach posed two significant challenges: the risk of either shortages or excess of Sadya items, and the potential for missing dishes if a volunteer assigned to cook a particular item couldn’t attend the event. Over the years, several incremental enhancements have been adopted to address these challenges and refine the Sadya planning process to its current, mature state.

Planning

The success of the Sadya hinges on three crucial factors:

  1. Accurate Guest Count: Ensuring an accurate count of guests, including children, is essential to guarantee there is sufficient food for everyone. This involves thorough planning and communication to gather RSVPs and anticipate attendance accurately. Our EC does a fantastic job in communicating early and getting the expected attendance well in advance of the event.
  2. Reliable Vendor Selection: Finding a trustworthy vendor to prepare the Sadya is paramount. This vendor must be capable of delivering high-quality, authentic dishes in the required quantity and within the specified timeframe. Thorough vetting and negotiation are essential to secure a reliable partnership. Indeed, the availability of vendors specializing in authentic Kerala dishes is a significant challenge as locally, there is only one such vendor available. Starting a local business that offers Kerala cuisine presents a promising opportunity to meet the demand for authentic dishes!
  3. Timely Service: Serving the complete Sadya in a timely fashion to the entire crowd is critical for guest satisfaction. This requires efficient coordination among volunteers, vendors, and event organizers to ensure smooth and prompt delivery of the dishes, maintaining the integrity and freshness of the meal.

The Sadya

Onam Sadya is a lavish feast comprising a wide array of dishes, each adding its unique flavor and texture to the meal, satisfying to different tastes you have. While the exact dishes may vary based on regional preferences and personal taste, some common dishes and savories include:

  1. Avial: A mixed vegetable curry cooked in coconut gravy, seasoned with curry leaves and coconut oil. The story of the origins of Avial is indeed an intriguing one from the Indian epic Mahabharata. According to the legend, Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers, disguised himself as a cook named Vallalan during their exile in the forest. One day, unexpected guests arrived, he gathered whatever vegetables and leftover ingredients he had, cooked them together to create a delicious dish, which became known as Avial.
  2. Ghee & Parippu Curry: This is the first course. One of the distinctive features of Parippu Curry is its adaptability to regional variations and personal preferences. While the basic recipe remains consistent, different regions and households may add their unique twists by incorporating ingredients like grated coconut, garlic, ginger, or even vegetables like pumpkin or ash gourd. Some may opt for a smoother consistency, while others prefer a slightly chunky texture. It is extremely hard to serve a Parippu Curry that satisfies everyone!
  3. Kaalan, Olan, Pulissery, Pachadi, Thoran(s), and Koottu are indeed essential components of an authentic Onam Sadya, each offering unique flavors and textures to the feast. Additionally, Pappadam, pickles, pazham and varuthupperi serve as the perfect accompaniments to the Sadya, adding extra crunch, tanginess, and spice to the feast.
  4. While Sambar and Rasam may not be traditionally exclusive to Kerala cuisine, they have become integral parts of Onam Sadya due to their popularity and versatility in South Indian cuisine.
  5. Prathaman and Payasams indeed stand as the crowning glory of the Onam Sadya, offering a delightful end to the meal. There are several varieties such as ada prathaman, parippu prathaman, chakka prathaman, pal payasam, and palada (names and exact preparation varies).

Together, these dishes form a symphony of flavors and textures, showcasing the rich culinary heritage of Kerala and making Onam Sadya a truly memorable culinary experience. Overall, Onam is a joyous occasion that brings people together, irrespective of caste, creed, or religion, to celebrate the spirit of unity, prosperity, and happiness. It is a time to cherish traditions, create lasting memories, and spread love and goodwill among all.

Catering

A significant amount of work happens behind the scenes to ensure the successful serving of the Sadya, which is the most critical aspect of Onam celebrations. A dedicated group of lead volunteers and executive committee representatives initiates the planning process several months prior to the event day.

Identifying vendors, primarily restaurants specializing in traditional Kerala cuisine, is a meticulous process for us. We consider factors such as reputation, reliability, food quality, and cost-effectiveness. We meet with them to discuss our requirements, negotiate pricing, and finalize agreements. Authenticity and taste are paramount, so we always taste and affirm the quality before finalizing the contract, especially if the vendor is new to us. We pay close attention to the timing of preparation, delivery, packaging, and transportation to ensure freshness, timely delivery, and ease of serving.

Looking ahead, we are exploring novel options for future events. One exciting idea is COMA organizing a community cooking event for Onam Sadya. Here, skilled and interested volunteers can come together for a fun night of preparing the Sadya themselves! This not only fosters community spirit but also allows us to showcase our culinary talents and traditions in a more hands-on way. If you have the skill and interest, please feel free to reach out to organizers well in advance of the next Onam!

Serving

A detailed and organized Sadya serving plan is prepared. Volunteers are assigned specific tasks, led by experienced team members. A schedule ensures tasks are completed on time.

  1. Food Reception and Setup: Volunteers receive, label, and store food from vendors. Then the team arranges the food counters in the dining area and sets up serving utensils.
  2. Serving: Volunteers serve the item portions out of each dish onto banana leaves.
  3. Table Organization: Organizers ensure guest comfort and supply tables with necessities.
  4. Cleanup: A dedicated crew maintains cleanliness throughout the event and ensures tables are ready to set up for the next ‘pandhis’ quickly.

There are several other things to be arranged and kept ready for serving the Sadya. These include banana Leaves to serve the Sadya in traditional way. Ample quantities of serving utensils, plates, glasses, napkins, and cleaning supplies are arranged.

This structured approach ensures a seamless and enjoyable Sadya experience for all guests.

We visit the event venue to assess suitability for hosting the Sadhya, considering factors like space, seating capacity, accessibility, and facilities. A floor plan is prepared detailing the layout of dining tables, food stations, serving areas, and guest seating arrangements, keeping in mind compliance with safety regulations, and obtaining necessary permits or permissions if required. We also plan for contingencies with a mitigation plan. The venue set up is completed with the help of volunteers on the previous night before the event – including setting up tables, cleaning the banana leaves, etc. The event and excitement start a day early for the volunteers!

Onam Day

On the day of the event, all preparations culminate in a vibrant celebration. Volunteers arrive early at the venue to receive food from vendors and ensure it is stored correctly. The setup of the venue and tables is thoroughly reviewed for a smooth service, and food items are transferred to serving containers. The banana leaf, or vazha ila, is laid out, and servers serve condiments and Sadya items in a specific order. Guests are seated orderly, and rice, parippu, and other main items are served. Each item is served multiple times to ensure guests’ satisfaction. Towards the end, varieties of payasam are served, typically by youth volunteers, either in cups, or in the banana leaf for those who prefer a more traditional experience.

It brings immense satisfaction to the organizers and volunteers to see guests enjoying and savoring the satisfying Sadya. The vibrant colors of the dishes, the aromatic spices, and the joyful chatter of friends and family create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Their smiles and expressions of satisfaction reflect the shared joy of the occasion. It’s a testament to the rich culinary heritage and hospitality of Kerala, bringing people together to celebrate and enjoy the simple pleasures of good food and good company. Knowing that we’ve played a part in creating memorable experiences and fostering a sense of community and joy fills us with pride and fulfillment. It’s moments like these that remind us why we come together year after year to celebrate the richness of our culture and traditions during Onam.

The work for volunteers continues even after every guest has enjoyed their Sadya. They are responsible for cleaning up the venue, setting tables and chairs back to their original arrangement, tidying up the kitchen area, removing trash, and ensuring all utensils are cleaned and returned to their proper places. Additionally, any rented or borrowed items need to be accounted for and returned to their respective vendors. This post-event cleanup is just as crucial as the preparations beforehand, ensuring that the venue is left in pristine condition and ready for the next event. It’s the dedication and hard work of these volunteers that contribute to the overall success and smooth running of the Onam celebration.

Final Thoughts

Year after year, we refine and improve our processes based on past experience to ensure our guests have a fantastic Sadya experience and that the serving is completed within the scheduled duration. This not only ensures that cultural events start on time but also keeps the plan of Onam events on schedule. By learning from past successes and challenges, we continuously enhance our efficiency and effectiveness, ultimately contributing to the seamless and enjoyable celebration of Onam for everyone involved. This tradition of improvement and knowledge transfer is passed from one executive committee to the next, ensuring continuity and growth in our organizational efforts. There is also a dedicated pool of organizers and volunteers, whose numbers increase year after year, with unwavering commitment, ensuring the seamless execution of Onam and other COMA events. Their growing passion and dedication contribute to the smooth coordination and successful implementation of the celebration.

A Comparative Primer on the Films of Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak – Part 2 – Sandeep Ravindranath

(Sandeep Ravindranath is a student of the audiovisual arts. He has served as a live sound engineer for such acts as Chitravina Ravi Kiran, Nagai Muralidharan, The Carnatica Brothers, Ustad Shahed Pervez Khan and Steve Gorn among others. As an on-location sound recordist, his work on the Lebanese film What Remains was shortlisted for the Student BAFTA in 2018. He holds a Master’s degree in Music Technology from New York University and was a programmer analyst for Sony Music in Manhattan.

His directorial venture The Bookshelf dealt with the subject of growing intolerance in India and was commissioned by Perumal Murugan’s Kalachuvadu and Indira Chandrasekhar’s Tulika. In 2016, Sandeep was offered a full scholarship in the direction program at Columbia College Chicago where his thesis film Diary of an Outsider received Jury invitation from the Directors Guild of America to its Student Awards. To date, his shorts Lullaby, The Bookshelf, Santhana Gopala, Diary of an Outsider and Sub Brothers have screened at over 120 film festivals in 21 countries winning numerous awards along the way. His latest short, Anthem for Kashmir, launched by Anand Patwardhan and T.M. Krishna was censored by the right wing government of India.

Sandeep lives in Dublin, Ohio.)

The Trilogies

After Baishey Sravan, Sen would use the idea of famine again, briefly in Calcutta 71 (1972) and in Akaler Sandhane (In Search of Famine, 1980). All three instances reveal Mrinal Sen as an artist who studied the social and political ferment of his times and informed on them in his art, reincarnating each time with a world of fresh realizations. Calcutta 71 was the second film in his overtly political phase of filmmaking that began with the film Interview (1970). It was a reflection of the violent mood of Calcutta youth at that period of time – the Naxalite movement was at its height and Sen channeled that restlessness into an avant-garde filmmaking that defied the existing Indian cinematic conventions by mixing Brechtian alienation, the cinema verite style, and a non-narrative structure. All the films of this phase – Interview, Calcutta 71, Padatik and Chorus (the first three are known as his Calcutta Trilogy but it could easily be a tetralogy) are characterized by stylistic experimentation where form takes precedence over the dynamism of the thematic entity.

Calcutta 71 was an ideological extension of Interview, both elaborating a Marxist view of class exploitation, poverty, and hunger, resulting in a bitter commentary on the human predicament. Padatik (The Guerilla Fighter, 1973) on the other hand, made a direct political statement by probing those same Marxist values for its contradictions and asserting the need for a timely reassessment. Needless to say, the crowd that sang Mrinal Sen’s praise after Calcutta 71 called him a traitor after Padatik. Padatik was followed by Chorus (1974) which returned to the political philosophy of the earlier two films in the trilogy but was modeled as a satirical re-enactment this time, ending on a note of open revolt.

Padatik is the only film in the Calcutta Trilogy (and Chorus) without a disjunctive narrative structure revealing a distinct beginning, middle, and end. However, this structure is still “interrupted” using the stylistic devices employed in the French New Wave including freeze frames and jump cuts. There are flashbacks and found footage from two foreign films – the Argentinian revolutionary activist film, Hours of the Furnace and Joris Ivens’ documentary on the Vietnam war. There is even an entire sequence where one of the central characters in the film asks several women in a very news-reporting style, questions dealing with women’s empowerment in contemporary Indian society. Many have found these experiments in the Calcutta Trilogy distinctly Godardian and Satyajit Ray was particularly critical calling it an over indulgence in the empty ideological and stylistic posturing of European new wave cinema . While Ray himself has a trilogy on Calcutta (comprising the films Pratidwandi, Seemabaddha and Jana Aranya) that draw comparisons with Mrinal Sen’s trilogy, it is the structural experiments that mark the differences between the two. The question that Jonathan Rosenbaum asks of Luis Bunuel, “how does a sworn enemy of the bourgeois keep his identity while devoting himself to a bourgeois form [narrative cinema] in a bourgeois industry [film industry]?”, is apt for Sen as well. The answer is, “either by subverting these forms or by trying to adjust them to his own purposes.”

Ghatak’s Partition Trilogy – Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-Capped Star, 1960), Komal Gandhar (The Gandhar Sublime, 1961) and Subarnarekha (The Golden Line, 1962), was the cinematic representation of the socioeconomic implications of the Partition. With these films, he illustrated the mindset of the refugees of Partition by relentlessly drawing the audience into the time and space of those left homeless and crumbling on the faded outskirts of a nation.

Meghe Dhaka Tara was an allegory for the traumatic consequences of the partition of Bengal, capturing the disintegration of a Bengali family as a result of dislocation, poverty, self-interest, and petty internal division. An impoverished family living in a refugee slum after the partition of Bengal struggles for survival and the self-sacrificing protagonist, Nita, has to give up her college studies in order to work. Through many twists and turns of the plot, she becomes the sole earning member of the family. Her elder brother Shankar, who would normally be the head of the household is irresponsible, spending his days singing, dreaming of one day becoming a great singer. He leaves for Bombay soon after, to pursue his singing career returning only at the end of the film. By this time he is an accomplished singer who has become wealthy. However, his ascent to professional and material success has come at the cost of a commensurate decline in Nita’s well being who is now wasting away with a terminal illness.

Striking in Meghe Dhaka Tara is Ghatak’s embrace of the melodramatic style which his background in theatre clearly contributed to. Far from seeing it as pejorative, Ghatak in an article defends melodrama calling it a “much-abused genre,” going on to say in a 1974 interview that “I am not afraid of melodrama, to use melodrama is one’s birthright – it is a form.” The success of Meghe Dhaka Tara, however, is that this melodrama isn’t pure escapism or pure heart-wringing sentimentality but that it exudes a tough, realist sadness – it is his paean to women’s boundless courage and strength, and an indictment of an opportunistic and oppressive social structure.

While Ghatak is known for his eccentric style, his use of the expressionist soundtrack on Meghe Dhaka Tara is certainly bold and experimental. Providing a commentary on the narrative action, Nita’s misery is accompanied by the sound of a whiplash and a hissing sound fades up and down whenever her mother walks into the picture.

In Komal Gandhar, Ghatak merged the motif of fragmentation of a revolutionary cultural movement with a broader motif, the fragmentation of a people. The disintegration of the IPTA and the ideals that it once stood for, had left its mark on Ghatak. The film brought with it an overwhelming nostalgia for the IPTA days where the protagonists struggle to find a new identity in a fast-changing environment as old values crumble. With Subarnarekha, Ghatak provides a prophetic glimpse of the future where post-independence optimism gives way to the harsh realities and disintegrating moral values that are inextricable parts of the civilized urban society. The story of Ishwar and Sita, two of a large, floating population of refugees immediately after independence, it is a bitter tale that mercilessly exposes the canker within.

The archetype of the mother dominates Ghatak’s films and Subarnarekha is no exception with the reconstruction of the Puranic tale of goddess Sati in the character of Sita. In that tale, Sati immolates herself through the fire of her concentration in order to satisfy the ethics of good womanhood because her father Daksha, is greatly opposed to Sati’s husband Shiva whom Daksha believes to be beneath their social status. In Subarnarekha, Ishwar represents Daksha, for he is a surrogate father to Sita and much like Daksha, Ishwar also has an intense dislike for her husband Abhiram because of his lower caste. With the exception of Ajantrik, all Ghatak films from the 1950s and ‘60s show a compulsive engagement with the sister-brother relationship. Thus we have Sita-Ramu of Nagarik, Mini-Kanchan of Bari Theke Paliye, Nita-Shankar of Meghe Dhaka Tara, Anasuya-Pakhi of Komal Gandhar, and Sita-Ishwar of Subarnarekha. As the film critic Moinak Biswas points out , “it is consistent with the ‘obsession’ with the mother archetype in [these] films that the brother and sister should form the primary basis of love.”

The music used in Subarnarekha is another critical aspect. Sita sings a Tagore song much like Nita in Meghe Dhaka Tara. The song, which describes the rural Bengal landscape is used to illustrate the innocence and openness of the world of children and to serve as a counterpoint to the degraded and restricted environment of Sita and Ishwar as adults. Another piece of music used in the film – the one in the party scene and Sita’s suicide scene, is the same music from the orgy scene in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Ghatak in an essay writes, “There are times when a tune used in a film by someone else is used to make an observation, the way I myself have done. The music that accompanies the scene of orgy at the end of La Dolce Vita, where Fellini lashes out at the whole of Western civilization, is known as Patricia. I sought to make a similar statement in my Subarnarekha about my own land, this Bengal, so sparkling with intellect. So I have used the same music in the bar scene [and in Sita’s suicide scene], to make a suggestion. The music helped me say a lot of things.”

Later Films

Sen returned to the backdrop of famine once again in Akaler Sandhane (In Search of Famine, 1980), this time in the self-introspection phase of his filmmaking. The films starting with Ekdin Pratidin (And Quiet Rolls the Dawn, 1979) to Khandhar (The Ruins, 1983), move away from the anger and bitter satire of his earlier phase to develop an attitude of concern and compassion for the urban middle class of Calcutta bound by their narrow conventions and false moral values. Sen now felt the need to retreat into himself and analyze – “what I used to do before was to locate my enemy outside me. Now I’m trying to find my enemy within myself, to point my accusing finger at myself.”

Akaler Sandhane is a story of confrontations at different levels – between urban and rural culture, between a tragic past and a potentially tragic present, between cinematic illusion and the reality it claims to present, between an artist and his exploitative instincts which he disguises in the garb of creativity. The film is about a film crew going to a remote village of Bengal to make a film on famine. Sen’s humor is evident in this film where at one point, the film crew with its incessant consumption causes a shortage of meat and produce in the village, resulting in a mini-famine there.

The other films in this phase also tackle such contradictions. Kharij (The Case is Closed, 1982), is a subtle understated exposure of bourgeois compromise and the deliberate self-imposed blindness to the reality that makes such a compromise possible. The film uses the death of a child servant as a political symbol, to ponder upon themes of morality and social class, examining the disparity that exists between the lower and middle classes of Calcutta. In the film, a middle-class family employs a young boy as their house servant – a seemingly normal thing to do in Indian homes even today. In a twist of fate, the boy then dies from carbon monoxide poisoning. As far as a plot setup is concerned, this is all that happens in the film. The narrative then turns into a study of how the middle-class society addresses this particular event.

The film opens with a conversation between an unseen couple in the back of a taxicab as the man offers to buy the woman anything she desires – a new apartment, a car, wardrobe, a television set – all invaluable necessities of happy urban living. In the next scene, the woman, visible this time, suggests another commodity – a house servant who can help break coal for the stove, run errands, and be an attendant and playmate to their young son. The attitude of entitlement and commodification is thus foretold in the film’s opening sequence highlighting materialistic privilege as an agent of indifference, discrimination, insularity, and exploitation.

In another particularly revealing sequence that examines the idea of morality, the homeowner asks for advice from a lawyer on the legal implications of the matter. The homeowner claims that the boy had always been treated as a member of the family. His disingenuous words are rebutted by the lawyer who points out that the boy used to sleep under the stairs, was given very little money, and was ultimately regarded as inferior – any positive interaction from the family was minimal, thus making them active participants in the event. The lawyer, however, confesses that ultimately “the legal lie will prevail over the moral truth.” Sen thus exposes a culture of collective accountability, where exploitation of the poor and the weak are rationalized not only by economic necessity but also socially enabled by an implied complicity that reinforces the status quo.

For a narrative that deals with the subject matter of class, and particularly the exploitation of servants, it would be very easy to descend into ideological rhetoric or sentimentalized melodrama. Sen, however, avoids both. He sharply contrasts the dead boy with the privileged and protected son of the homeowner and maintains a pervasive sense of uncertainty – an uncertainty of conflict between social classes, that pushes the story forward. Without a single line of preaching, the highly nuanced narrative finds the dead boy’s father and another servant boy in the building – representatives of the ‘lower’ class coming through in the end as more dignified than their ‘upper’ class employers.

Khandhar (The Ruins, 1983) explores another guilt and another betrayal – a young man from the city brings along two of his friends, a writer, and a photographer, for a weekend visit to his dilapidated country estate where his cousin Jamini lives, a prisoner of the forgotten past, with her blind and ailing mother. For Subhash, the professional photographer, the encounter with Jamini becomes fraught with the very idea of exploitation and guilt – he takes pictures of her and the sprawling ruins, distancing himself however from any emotional responsibility of participating in Jamini’s painful reality. He returns to the safety of the city, dissociating himself from the experience and relegating Jamini to the one-dimensional prison of a photograph on the wall of his studio. For Mrinal Sen, Subhash is his alter-ego when he says, “I too am intruding with my picture-making machines into the unbearable lives of others, building up a relationship with the young and the old. And then, after finishing the film, I pack up my machines, gather my men and come back to the city, to my tidy, organized room.” Khandhar is then, another exercise in self-introspection, another attempt to understand the foibles of his own time, his own class in the context of a highly personalized cinematic experience.

The memories and nostalgia of his childhood and early youth spent in east Bengal (now Bangladesh) drew Ghatak towards making his penultimate film Titash Ekti Nadir Naam (A River Called Titash, 1973). Based on a Bengali novel of the same title, the film revolves around the life of a fishing community on the banks of the river Titash. The river that gives life to the community steadily dries up, but the protagonist, dying of thirst on its sandy bed dreams of a new life. This assertion of life in the midst of calamity, exploitation, and deprivation is a recurring motif in Ghatak’s films. In Titash Ekti Nadir Naam, it expresses itself throughout the film in the simple joys and sorrows of a people living in daily communion with the river. The song of Lalon Shah, a mendicant poet of the nineteenth century, sets the rhythm of the film which ebbs and flows with the waters of the Titash, investing in the protagonists, the fishing community, a poetic and sentient realism. Ghatak said of the film, “Titash became a kind of commemoration of the past that I left behind long ago. When I was making the film, it occurred to me that nothing of the past survives today, nothing can survive. History is ruthless. It is all lost. Nothing remains.”

The End

While both Ghatak and Sen were participants in the IPTA movement and were both influenced by it, it is Ghatak’s use of melodrama, songs, and coincidence that are telltale signs of his background in theatre. Sen, on the other hand, distanced himself from the sentimentality of his early films, experimented with new wave techniques and settled eventually for a cinema of self-introspection. While Sen made 27 feature films in a career spanning 47 years, Ghatak made 8 features and a handful of unfinished fragments in his film career that spanned 25 years. Sen faced both adulation and intense criticism, especially in the role of a political film-maker. His refusal to stand by an earlier political perception, his eagerness to adapt to his immediate surroundings, his spontaneous response to new political understanding and his constant self-evaluation have all been critiqued from time to time. Yet for Sen, these are signs of growth that he has consistently documented in his work.

Sen recalls his last meeting with Ghatak on Christmas Eve of 1975. While Sen was busy getting ready for the shooting of his film Mrigaya starting the next day, Ghatak arrived at his door unannounced. Emaciated from years of alcohol abuse, with a ghostly pallor on his face and gasping for breath, Ghatak grabbed Sen’s hand like a phantom from the past. The two friends had dinner, they talked and they cracked jokes. Ghatak promised that he would give up drinking. A little more than a month later on 6th February 1976, Ritwik Kumar Ghatak died. In a career ridden with inconsistencies, where extraordinary craftsmanship often went hand in hand with childlike indifference, where the struggle to find money for films met with constant failure, where alcoholism depleted the resources of a keen mind, it is not unnatural that Ghatak found few admirers in his lifetime. Long ago, in his passionate and futile appeal to an indifferent audience, talking about his off-mainstream cinema that had just begun its struggle for survival, he had said, “try to understand that we are moving in the middle of a flowing river. Whatever we are at this moment, that is not our final entity. We shall grow and give shade. We are only waiting for a little sustenance.” Apt then are the last words he ever spoke on the screen, as the protagonist dying in the crossfire between the police and the revolutionaries in his final film Jukti Takko Aar Gappo, “one must do something.”

Sources

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  • Chatterji, Shoma A. “Ek Din Pratidin – Mrinal Sen’s Indictment on Patriarchy.” learningandcreativity.com. Silhouette Magazine, 14 May 2015. Web. 23 March 2017.

Know your EC team – Pravi Gopalan (2024 Treasurer)

When I sat down to spill the beans in this article, I was scratching my head, wondering where the heck to start. Let’s rewind to the good old days – I popped into this world in a tiny village called “Kundamkuzhy” in Kerala’s Kasaragod district. My childhood was like a wild adventure kids nowadays can only dream of. Picture this: endless freedom, playing from sunrise to sunset, tag games on tree branches that felt like treetop Olympics, crashing at relatives’ houses, and pulling off Olympic-level dives and swims in the river. Meanwhile, my parents were clueless about my whereabouts. Now, when I’m sweating bullets about my own kid’s safety, I ponder how my folks managed to be so carefree. Maybe it was because, back in the day, raising kids was a whole village affair. Yes, a village-wide babysitting network!

My carefree saga rolled on until 6th grade when I bagged a ticket into Navodaya, a boarding school that flipped my world upside down. It took a hot minute to adjust to the schedule and to wave goodbye to my cherished freedom. Adapting to the new routine was like trying to dance to a new beat, but after a few weeks, everything clicked into place. The next seven years saw me bouncing between Navodayas in Kasaragod and Raebareli (UP). Those years sculpted the basic me – the good, the bad, and the quirky. I completed my B. Tech from LBS College of Engineering, Kasaragod and M. Tech from IIT Roorkee.

Fast forward to 2010, and I found myself in Roanoke, VA, a picturesque spot nestled in the Blue Ridge mountain valley. Eleven years of soaking in the beauty before I did the shuffle to Columbus, OH, for work. Roanoke was stunning, but we missed the buzz of a big Kerala community and Malayalee festivals. I had contacted COMA before moving to Columbus, and received guidance, and bam, the next week, we were picnicking (in 2021) with Columbus Malayalees, making a bunch of new buddies.

I got married in 2013 but I met my first love in 2021 – The soccer. I love soccer and used to play in college days, but since I moved to the US, I had no opportunity to play until I moved to Columbus. I got drafted into the famous Tuskers Soccer team for a $1M annual salary :D, and suddenly I was jet-setting around the US for tournaments, feeling like a soccer rockstar.

That is when “veruthe soccer kalichu enjoy cheythu nadanna enne” some friends lured into 2024 COMA EC.

I met my wife Shruti in 2013 and we have a son Ryan. I am very happy that my son has the opportunity to have a glimpse of our Kerala culture through our association and the plenty of Malayali friends we met here.

Here is a photo of my simple and humble family 😛

Regards,
Pravi

P.S. Thanks to ChatGPT 😊

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