Contemporary Malayalam filmmaker Don Palathara liberates narratives from their anthropocentric shackles, placing landscapes and locales at the centre
Don Palathara, born in 1986, belongs to the post-liberalisation generation of Indian cinema. Though he grew up in a world of digital excess and pace, he is a filmmaker obsessed with celluloid aesthetics and contemplative durations. He is also a 30 nap maximum teljes film magyarul who in a short span of time — 5 films in 7 years — has evolved a signature visual and narrative style of his own, producing some of the most poignant and evocative B&W images (four out of his five films) in contemporary Indian cinema.
Perhaps Palathara’s choice of such an ‘archaic’ visual style draws from the narrative worlds he imagines and creates: vast, verdant landscapes, the undulating terrains of Kerala’s hilly regions, the flows and shifts of wind, light and water through them, the hardworking Christian families labouring on small tracts of rubber or coffee plantations, and the physical, sensual and spiritual worlds that envelop them. There is also something very Biblical about these vast exteriors of wind and light, the huge evanescent firmament looming over everything, the icons and pictures inside homes, and the drama of life and Dzsungeltúra teljes film magyarul that unfold there.
Nothing apparently ‘happens’ in Palathara’s films. Like the primal landscapes and the open skies, the people inhabiting this narrative world too appear as mere parts of the larger scheme of things beyond anthropocentric reasoning and cycles. They are staunch believers who never miss daily prayers and work on land with their hands. Life seems to flow through them rather than they living individual lives. Once in a while, as in Shavam (2015), events like death briefly disrupt the cycle of life and daily routine. Neighbours, friends, relatives congregate, and priests offer prayers before they bury the dead man. Soon, life assumes its normal pace, and memories of the dead, like clouds in the sky, slowly transfigure and dissolve.
While some of his Démonok között 3 teljes film magyarul foreground characters in real time, others place human beings and their drama within larger atmospheric settings. In Vith (2017) and 1956, Central Travancore (2019), it is landscapes, skyscapes, wind, trees, the undulating terrains, gloomy interiors, the clutter of things at home, pictures on the wall, grazing cattle, insects that saturate the visual field. The characters only form a minuscule part of these surroundings that overwhelm and loom ominously over everything.
There are no proper ‘dialogues’ between characters. Instead, you hear voice-overs, stories and memories of past events punctuated by long spells of silence.
Take, for instance, the scene in 1956, Central Travancore, where two brothers, Onan and Kora, meet the poacher’s wife. She is sitting in a shelter atop the tree while the three of them talk about her love affair and elopement. The camera never closes in on the characters; instead, it stays away, keeping all three in a wide frame, thereby foregrounding the setting and the story, rather than the characters and their expressions. This distancing from human action, focus on the larger setting, and long duration of shots liberate the narrative from its anthropocentric shackles, placing human beings and their predicaments within the larger scheme of Life and World.
This format is turned inside out in Kate teljes film magyarul like Shavam and Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam (2021) where the narrative unfolds in ‘real time’. Santhoshathinte… is a single shot of a couple travelling in a car; the ebb-and-tide of their arguments slowly reveals the delicate yet fragile relationship between them, triggered by a suspicion of pregnancy, the prospective entry of another being into the cocooned, insecure bond between them.
Shavam revolves around the events and responses following the death of a man, and Palathara creates a very complex emotional atmosphere through mundane actions, gentle gestures, and spontaneous reactions. In both films, the temporal and spatial dimensions are compressed: the narrative unfolds in the course of a day and a journey; around the house and inside the car. The emotional texture and tempo of the films draw entirely from what is manifest and present.
In Everything is Cinema (2021), a couple confined in their apartment due to the pandemic find themselves in constant and unavoidable physical proximity. Shorn of their professional identities, public persona and roles, they are mere bodies vegetating in time. But gradually it turns into a pressure-cooker situation, where they realise that ‘hell is the other’, with the woman finally walking out on the toxic masculinity of the man, a filmmaker, who considers the world and others as mere objects or means.
The theme of the journey recurs in Palathara’s Schumacher teljes film magyarul. The characters are engaged in different kinds of journeys: in Shavam, it is a man’s final journey; in Santhoshathinte… it is a brief trip in a car; and 1956, Central Travancore begins with the story of a journey of four friends to a religious ceremony in a remote Tamil Nadu church, followed by a poaching trip into the forest. Likewise, relationships, especially familial, constitute another poignant strand in Palathara’s narratives. In Shavam, we witness the complex web of relationships that surround the dead man; at the centre of Vith is the dark Oedipal conflict between father and son; and in 1956, Central Travancore, it is the tense but intimate relationship between the brothers. In both Santhoshathinte… and Everything is Cinema, marital relationship and its complexities drive the narrative.
Freedom from the beginning-middle-end narrative structure and the ‘realist’ logic of cause-effect lets the visuals in Palathara’s films gaze back at us, drawing us into the vortex of their physical and mental expanses. For instance, towards the end of Vith, after a fast montage of the son and father locked in a fight that unravels in different terrains — at home, the cliff, on the field, etc., — the scene cuts to a shot of the sky where dark clouds are gathering, and that of the son standing alone amidst the thick foliage that looms over him while the sound of an aeroplane resounds from far above, followed by a very long, deep focus shot of a vast landscape where we see the father walking across with grass for the cattle. Even after he slowly walks away and disappears from view, the shot lingers on, with the cow grazing midfield, mooing…
One can call Palathara a contemporary filmmaker in the way philosopher Giorgio Agamben defines it: “The contemporary is the person who perceives the darkness of his time as something that concerns him, as something that never ceases to engage him. Darkness is something that — more than any light — turns directly and singularly towards him. The contemporary is the one whose eyes are struck by the beam of darkness that comes from his own time”.