Alappuzha: Kumaran Asan, the iconic and renowned figure in Malayalam poetry, left an indelible mark with his profound philosophical outlook and exquisite imagery. One of the three Mahakavis of the language – the other two being Vallathol Narayana Menon and Ulloor Parameshwara Iyer – Asan's life and untimely death are the stuff of the legend.
However, a film based on the life of the great poet is struggling to find screens on his 100th death anniversary.
Theatres are not showing any interest in screening the movie ‘Gramavrukshathile Kuyil’ (The Cuckoo Bird on a Village Tree), said director K P Kumaran, a recipient of many accolades including the National Film Award. “It was a struggle for me to release the movie. I approached many theatres, but they were worried about the success of the film. These days when even commercial films fail at the theatres, no one wants to take the risk, no matter what the content and the social relevance of the film are,” Kumaran, who won the the J C Daniel Award for his outstanding contributions to Malayalam cinema in 2022, told Onmanorama.
All he could muster was 13 theatres for the film release, which included four theatres of the Kerala State Film Development Corporation (KSFDC). With no other option and unable to find any distributors, Kumaran, despite his falling health at 84 years, along with his wife, is looking after the distribution part.
“The only solace is that the State Government has exempted the entertainment tax for the movie, which means the tickets are cheaper,” said the veteran filmmaker whose movie ‘Rugmini’ won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Malayalam in 1989.
Kumaran feels he has done full justice to the film, which provides a new insight into the life of Asan, whose legacy extends far beyond the temporal boundaries of his life. His untimely demise at the age of 50 in a tragic boat accident at Pallana marked the end of an era in Malayalam literature.
“His death occurred when he was at the zenith of his creative prowess. The main movie portion revolves around the last six or seven years of his life when he penned five great works (Chintaavishtayaaya Sita, Veenapoovu, Chandala and Bhikshuki). The story is based on both his life and works. It depicts his love for a girl much younger to him and the duo finally getting married. I‘ve also attempted to highlight his philosophical outlook, which is relevant even today,” he pointed out.
Though Kumaran didn’t want to reveal the amount spent on the production, he said it exceeded his budget by two-and-a-half times, which he couldn’t afford. “The last time I produced a movie was 22 years ago. Maybe that could be one reason for the cost exceeding all my calculations. Another reason is that I tried to visualise the backgrounds as creatively as I could, which means I shot some of the scenes in locations such as Ajanta caves.”
Many prominent personalities in the industry, however, expressed concern over the lack of space for art films in Kerala.
We Keralites go to any extent in highlighting the need to inspire the younger generation with the life and works of greats like Kumaran Asan, an ardent follower of Sree Narayana Guru. But when it comes putting the words into action, the commercial considerations kick in and the art, social, and cultural organisations hesitate to step in,” said Madhu Janardanan, filmmaker and critic.
“One theatre, Vismaya Perinthalmanna, was ever-willing and is even arranging a special show for the college students. If we want to promote good films, we want at least 25 theatres like that in our state,” he added.
Kumaran’s first directorial venture was Athithi. His major films include Rugmini, Thenthulli, Laxmivijayan and Thottam. Besides the J C Daniel Award, he received the Chalachitra Ratnam Award, instituted by the Kerala Film Critics Association for his overall contribution to the Malayalam film industry in 2023.