I vividly remember the end scene of the film “Ka Bodyscapes” that was being shown at the Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF) 2016. Just as I entered the dark auditorium at Alliance Française de Bangalore, the screen showed a man walking gradually towards the sea before disappearing out of sight as the sound of crashing waves resounded the room and the screen turned black. I checked the pamphlet that I had in my hand and looked for a name. “Ka Bodyscapes, Malayalam, 1h 30 mins,” it read. For some reason, I wanted to know what the film was about. But I couldn’t at that time.
Now that I have watched the movie, I tend to believe that I was meant to watch it. Call it fate or give it some other name, I am glad I got the chance. This film by Jayan K. Cheriyan has been fighting for a certification without any cuts from the CBFC for the past two and a half years. The movie has been screened privately in film festivals and has won immense praise and accolades, but hasn’t seen a formal release in this country.
One of the things that I loved in this movie is the absence of background music of any sort, except in the final scene before the credits roll out. It has comparatively few dialogues as well and is presented in a very raw, almost amateurish form when it comes to camera panning and the shift in scenes. Due to the content and ideology of the film, a prior statutory announcement was made before the screening, informing everyone that certain people with certain ideologies might find the film awkward or disturbing and that they can leave any moment they want to. Fortunately, nobody left.
“Ka Bodyscapes” is based in god’s own country, Kerala, in the town of Kozhikode. It primarily focuses on the life of Haris who is an aspiring gay painter, played by actor Jason Chacko and Vishnu, the subject of Haris’ paintings and his lover, played by Kannan Rajan. Along with them are stories revolving the life of Sia, played by Nasreena, who works for a footwear manufacturing company and is a vocal feminist. The film encapsulates a lot of subjects ranging from homophobia to violence against women and the ever infecting patriarchal and right-wing society.
Kerala, as far as I know, is ahead of many states in this country, in terms of education, equal rights for people belonging to different sexualities and everything in between. But the film showcases the conservative side of Kerala, the side which roots for Ghar Wapsi and the need for women to be home before the sun sets. It is a society where cribbing grandmothers with rosary beads wince at the sight of girls washing their feet and do not hesitate from calling them a wench. It is a society where fathers beat up their daughters when they raise their voices against patriarchy and the subjugation and degradation of the female body that it brings with itself. In short, it is a society where love and equality lie at opposite poles.
Haris brings Vishnu to Kozhikode where the latter gets a job as a graphics assistant in his uncle’s right-leaning newspaper Bharatbhoomi. His uncle believes that it is his duty to uphold and save his traditions from going to the dogs and disapproves the idea of Haris and Vishnu living together under one roof. The idea of Vishnu posing as a model for all of Haris’ “naked” paintings ignites him even more. Haris’s place has scores of paintings which he wants to showcase as a part of an art exhibition and he gets a chance to do the same.
Sia, his friend who goes by the name of ‘Sia Rational’ on Facebook is a strong advocate of female body rights but is subjected to daily criticism from her conservative Muslim family. She works under a misogynist, condescending boss. Things get bad when this repulsive boss finds bloodied pads in the factory washrooms and tells the female supervisor to take care of the culprit. The supervisor questions all of the workers but to no avail. This is when she grabs one of Sia’s friends and drags her to the washroom for a strip search. The ordeal ends with Sia coming to the girl’s rescue and resorts to calling the police. The police do not take any action, obviously.
Sia along with Haris and a few of their friends decide to stage a protest while Vishnu decides to stay out of it due to its risky nature. Sia Rational ends up putting a Facebook profile picture of her bloodied sanitary pad after which they organise a roadside protest with slogans of “My body, my choice”. While some goons wait on the other side of the road with batons and swords, the police intervene. This entire incident is based on a real-life. What happens next should be discovered by watching the film.
The film is supposed to enrage you and it is successful in doing so. If you do not feel angry for the right reasons, you are not thinking rationally. Amidst all of that, you feel a certain form of helplessness, a very weak state of mind as you begin to realise how inconsiderate and close minded we are as a society and as people in general. You would feel the need to shout as you absorb the frustration and anger that the characters in the film go through while their worlds crash down, frame after frame. And this is reality, simple and unadulterated.
Many of us choose to be inside our cubicles, we don’t want to look at things and get our mind “dirty”. Many of us talk about same-sex marriages and equality but I think all of that is too distant for us. We live in times when misogynists feel disgusted at the sight of bloodied sanitary pads and when freedom of expression in the form of art is abhorred. We live in times when religious intolerance is met with death and centres to cure homosexuality operate in full bloom.
The despair that follows after watching a film like “Ka Bodyscapes” lives on for a long time, not because of what happens in the end of the movie but because of how there can never be a world where the need to make a film like this would ever arise.
P.S. If you want to catch a screening of Ka Bodyscapes, there is a screening on August at the same venue. Do follow Urban Solace for more info.