Monday, August 15, 2005

Matha to Ma, the odyssey of a Naxalite

Monday August 15 2005 14:47 IST

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A picture carried by leading Malayalam newspapers in 1968 helped form the public image of Mandakini Narayanan.

The picture depicted a short and stout woman in her 40s, with hands tied across her chest like a man, sporting a fiery look at a group of policemen surrounding her. The finger marks of a hard slap was clear on her cheeks.

The picture was taken just after she was taken into custody by the Pulppally police in connection with an attack case. Several decades later she looks back at the incident with a mischievous smile, as if recounting her school days.

“I remember. It was the youngest one who slapped me just when I entered the police station,” she says with a hearty laugh. The way she narrated the incident, one might even mistake the young policeman to be her grandson.

When the 80-year-old Mandakini sat before the camera for noted film critic C S Venkiteswaran’s documentary Matha to Ma, a reverse fermentation of sorts seems to have taken place. Even sour memories turned surprisingly sweet.

The 72-minute film was premiered at the Kalabhavan theatre in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday.

The film is a monologue interspersed with Mandakini’s drawings, sketches and intimate passages from her diary. The monologue pattern is broken once, when her daughter Ajitha joins her in recalling the moment when both faced each other on the court premises after they were arrested.

The film progresses in three parts - Matha, Manda and Ma. In ‘Matha’, Mandakini talks about her mischievous childhood in Gujarat, her college education in Bombay and her first contact with the freedom movement and Marxism. ‘Matha’ is how her father used to call her lovingly.

In the second part, Manda, Mandakini recalls her meeting with Kunnikkal Narayan, their marriage, their association with the Friends of Soviet Union, their shift to Kerala, Kunnikkal’s timber business and their involvement in the naxalite movement.

Finally, she becomes Ma, surrounded by her children, grandchildren and friends in her cosy little home in Kozhikode. It takes some pinching to remind oneself that this frail old lady with an impish smile was once a Naxalite.

There are but moments in the film where her steel is revealed. Venkiteswaran has retained a scene where Ma summarily asks him to stop the shoot. “Now you can stop. This is too much,” she tells the director after a lengthy monologue.

Though Ma is a symbol of a bloody phase in the history of the state, it is a pleasant warmth that pervades Venkiteswaran’s frames. The film ends, quite fittingly, with the soundtrack of her favourite song ‘Ol’ Man River’ by Paul Robeson.

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