In a perennial debate deconstructing the practice of Ahimsa, in perspective of what all is happening around us today, perhaps this is the most apt time to revisit the Gandhian interpretation of the concept that we have been tutored to imbibe all these years through academic, political and sociological discourses. But is that idea propagated and popularised during the Indian National Movement and later, that absolute? Shri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says, “Ahimsa Paramo Dharma, Dharma Himsa Tathaiva Cha (non-violence is the ultimate dharma. So too is violence in the service of Dharma).” Here Ahimsa, loosely translated as non-violence (absolute in its meaning in the English language), can be used relatively when violence can also be considered Ahimsa if it is used to stop greater violence.
For example, a king should always raise his rod of chastisement to keep peace and order in his country. He will fail in the discharge of his duty if he does not punish the wicked, and his country will be in a state of utter chaos. To hang a murderer is Ahimsa for a king. To kill a man who is taking away the lives of many is Ahimsa. Now think of the scene in Malayalam blockbuster Malikappuram where Unni Mukundan’s character beats up the baddies at night in a jungle while taking Kallu (Deva Nandha) and Piyoosh (Sreepath) to Sabarimala. Considering he is a ‘swami’ donning the black attire and the holy beads around his neck, he is supposed to refrain from indulging in violence (he says that as well in an earlier scene). But, such is his adherence to dharma that he safeguards the children, especially Kallu, from being abducted by the child traffickers.
In a scintillating sequence high on atmospherics, brilliant sound design and edgy action (carrying mesmerising imagery of Mukundan vanquishing evil with arrows reminding us of the famous Lord Ram sequence in SS Rajamouli’s RRR), it is quite telling how Kallu envisages this man as her Swami Ayyappan. Swami Haneef later reiterates this train of thought as he explains how, when it is needed, God appears in the form of humans before those who have absolute faith in divinity to save them from danger and trouble.
In a seemingly innocent family drama (thought-provoking writing by Abhilash Pillai) with two child protagonists, director Vishnu Sasi Shankar drives home certain significant points about Sanatan Dharma, beliefs, customs and ultimately the core values of a family system that urban Indians seemed to be gradually losing their connect with. For instance, Kallu’s strong urge to meet Lord Ayyappan is not divorced from the storytelling sessions she enjoys with her muthassi. Lores from ancient Upanishads, Puranas and Hindu religious texts were always told by grandparents to their grandchildren earlier when the joint family system formed the basis of a Bharatiya social setup. These carried forward folklore traditions. Kallu too, hears tales of wonder and valour from her grandma and father that instilled in her a heartfelt desire to travel to Sabarimala and meet the Lord.
The buildup of this want and the journey of Kallu to her destination makes Malikappuram such a relevant, satisfying and exciting tale. Because unless the Lord is ready to meet the devotee, nothing can drive the difficult journey. In a spectacularly shot sequence where Kallu walks up the 18 divine steps, this truth is depicted about a devotee’s extreme faith that ultimately steers him towards the Almighty. The chaos around a faithful is silenced as utmost reverence bridges the distance between the man and the God he loves and believes in. What a splendid moment captured in cinema by Vishnu Narayanan for posterity!
The narrative is not devoid of characters who make us question the very tenet of human values and strength. For instance, while it isn’t clear whether Ajayan (Saiju Kurup) ends his life to evade monetary hassles or due to the humiliation he faces in the hands of a ruthless loan shark, there is no denying that his decision reeks of a man with a weak personality. He gives up never realising what his family will go through. Similarly, there are crooks like Mahi (Sampath Ram) who tarnish the reputation of Hindu pilgrimage spots such as Sabarimala because of the rackets they run. But, the bad is balanced by the good.
For every Ajayan, there is a friend like Unni (Ramesh Pisharody) who selflessly stands by his grieving neighbours. For every Mahi there is CPO D Ayyappadas who does what he does without letting the cat out of the bag. After years of seeing the police depicted as corrupt, conniving and vile in left-centric cinema churned out by Kerala’s film industry, here is an initiative to clean the image of those hard-working men in uniform. Commendable!
In Rahul Bhole and Vinit Kanojia’s Gujarati movie Reva (released in 2018), the protagonist Karan’s evolution had become the crux of not just the story but the comprehension of the definition of Tat Tvam Asi.
The profound philosophy embedded in Sanatan Dharma reappears in Malikappuram as well when Swami Haneef (a masterstroke in casting that highlights how the power of Sanatan Dharma welcomes all believers in its fascinating fold) disentangles the reasons why his colleague rescues and then helps the little children. And therein lies the attraction of this languid but thoughtfully written film that caught the fancy of not just Kerala’s but the world’s cinema lovers hankering for a drama showcasing the gravity of a devotion that makes pilgrims throng to Sabarimala frequently to pay their obeisance to Swami Ayyappan.
Sharmi Adhikary is a senior lifestyle journalist and columnist with a yen for exploring interesting concepts in fashion, culture and cinema.