Tag Archives: Anees Salim

Elektra- malayalam film by Shyamprasad Rajagopal

“Elektra”, a film by Shyamaprasad Rajagopal , had not been released on the big screen because of some technical reasons. From the first frames onwards, as I watched it on Amazon Prime, I kept wishing it had.

The first thoughts that came to mind as the titles rolled on through the slow moving, fleeting images of a tiny puddle of water in a woody glade, the criss-crossing branches overhead, the tips of thin bamboo branches bending over the stream, the patches of brown wet earth around the closely growing trees, a barbed wire across which hung a few sprigs of tender green leaves lit up by the sun and others full of holes and hued with age, was how the element of music can imbue a scene with the emotions chosen for them, to set the mood so to speak.

Alphonse Joseph’s background scores definitely added a sense of sombre foreboding right from the very beginning.

Arrangements were being made for Abraham’s funeral. There is a mystery around his death as there had been, we learn , surrounding the deaths of many, many others in the “Amaram” tharavad, through their years of wealth and associated power. He had just returned from his estate in Jaffna, where he was rumoured to have a parallel life of love and lust, knowledge of which left his wife Diana cold and unresponsive to his intimacy on those occasions he chose to return to her. It also left her longing for love and a not so veiled anger towards her daughter Elektra, who adored her father and seemed to sponge away whatever tenderness he carried with him when he was with them. Diana’s resentment to both is accentuated by her strong feeling that they had been in complicity in sending away her son to Jaffna to be with Abraham. The son’s attachment to his mother, had been her sole rudder and with his going away, she felt closed in and drifting at the same time, hopeless and filled with longing to find an anchor in the swirling currents of despair.
That Diana finds release from the darkness of her existence in that huge sprawling house, which seemed to carry shadows of the inglorious deeds of its past occupants, in a secret affair with a cousin of Abraham, who had been kicked out of the family , creates further fury in Elektra’s mind, already seething with jealousy in having to share her father’s affections for her, with her mother.
The scenes go back and forth giving peeks into the disturbed mental frames of the mother and the daughter and for much of the time, the viewer is actually left guessing as to what is the truth of what they say and what is a figment of their illusions. Did Diana kill her husband towards fulfilling her aching desire for freedom and love? Did Elektra cause her father to have a heart attack by revealing the details of her mother’s extra-marital attachment?
Later , even when Abraham is interred, the complexities of the family he leaves behind, find even more bleak outpourings in words and acts. Elektra convinces her brother, who has returned from Jaffna , about his mother’s amorous trysts and about her suspicions of their father’s murder by Diana, by administering sleeping pills instead of his medicine for his heart problem. The scenes of that night are explicitly shown , but the audience is still not sure. Which of the versions is the truth? Did he die naturally of the agitation caused when Diana determinedly told him about her affair? Did she indeed hasten his death by giving the wrong medication?

The Amaram household , in spite of its grandeur, is covered in all shades of grey and black with very little light pouring in. The tones and filters used in filming the scenes ensures that the desolateness of the minds of its inhabitants seeps into you without respite. Demons lurk in all their minds.The daughter’s confused love for her father  sets her mother in her perturbed psyche, as th enemy. Her attempts at winning over his confidence in her the story about their mother’s misdeeds, their complicity in the murder of her paramour, Diana’s suicide thereafter, the son’s complicated attachment for his mother which then finds its way through incestuous hints towards his sister in perhaps a kind of transference, his tragic death …everything that follows adds darker and darker shades to the story .

You feel tense and sad with the awareness of the darkness that can take hold of human hearts in their longing for love, and their distorted perceptions of reality . You wonder about the extent of suffering each such individual goes through in the process and despair that their existences carry no chances of redemption , at least in the cases of those whose journey ends in the middle of those stretches of darkness.

There was another film by Ingmar Burgman I had watched long ago, about which i had written in an earlier blog.

I went back to that blog after watching the film, to the conversation between the father and son towards the end of the film. That gave me some relief.

Shyamaprasad’s films always touches upon all kinds of shades of human psychology and the myriad complexities of relationships. I have found almost all of them very, very interesting, urging one to reflect and review our roles of the judge.

Nayantara as Elektra and Mainsha Koirala as Diana, were superb.

Biju Menon’s character as the police officer , who is also close to the family, did not leave any imprint , but raised a lot of unexplained doubts .

Who was the caller who told him about Abraham’s death being a murder early that morning? It couldn’t have been Elektra because she didn’t seem to have left the house that night or early in the morning after her father died. And she needn’t have gone out to telephone . She could have called him from the landline in the house. If it was Diana’s lover, why ? What did he stand to gain ?

The poor chap, the officer, who does nothing that he should have done to check on the suspicion of murder, wasn’t even given enough scope to dwell on his secret affections for Elektra or may be the Director decided to go slow on that aspect lest the spectator gets swamped.

And of course it is such a pleasure to take note of my friend Sakhi Elsa’s costume designing for the film. Loved them all.

The film has English subtitles.

And now i am waiting for Shyamaprasad’s next film based on the book of Anees Salim,”A small Town Sea”

I have already read the novel , but keenly waiting to watch the story unfold on the screen with the favourite Director’s stamp on it.


Posted by on July 26, 2019 in Movies


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Vanity Bagh- A book by Anees Salim

” In black humor, topics and events that are usually regarded as taboo, specifically those related to death, are treated in an unusually humorous or satirical manner while retaining their seriousness; the intent of black comedy, therefore, is often for the audience to experience both laughter and discomfort, sometimes simultaneously. ”

So goes the description of black humour in the Wikipedia. If a literature student wanted to lay hands on a book in this genre, contextual to our times, Vanity Bagh” by Anees Salim would be a most appropriate one .

anees salim

Six muslim youth, aspiring to attain the hieghts of notoriety of the local don, Abu Hathim, form an allegiance and wait for their moments of specious glory, meeting daily on the stairway of the mosque in their mohallah, Vanity Bagh, of which Bushra Jabbari, the mother of the narrator of this story had said,”The moment the rikshaw stopped, your abba had said, This is Vanity bagh, where we will build our home and make it heaven-like”. She would later speak of the row of dusty green colonaded structures with balconies made of wood and railings of wrought iron, “In my memory these buildings haven’t changed a bit in thirty years”.

Bushra Jabbari and her husband, the Imam of the local mosque , would never have foreseen that their son, Imraan Jabbari, would be incacerated for fourteen years , having been judged guilty of having triggered off the deaths in the 11/11 scooter bomb blasts. Neither had Imraan Jabbari and his five other friends expected the twists in the tales of their macho manhood that they were scripting for themselves. Yes , they had names of famous Pakistani personalities …Imran, Zia, Zulfikar, Jinnah, Yahya and Nawaz Sharif. Yes, their Mohallah had earned the nickname “little Pakistan” after a riot had broken out outside the hair-dressing salon of Sharif Khan, when he and some others had started to celebrate Pakistan’s victory in the world cup by bursting crackers. But all that these youngsters had wanted, was to do what Abu Hathim had done when he was their age,”guarding their mohallah, being saluted by the mohallah-wallahs, collecting haftah, being salaamed by the mohalla-wallahs, making a fortune, being salaamed by the mohallah-wallahs , beating up the mohalla-wallahs , being salaamed still more by them ” and so on. Jihad was not on their minds.

It is indeed a feat to handle a subject ,so sensitive in these times, in a way that even the grimmest of situations is presented thus, that makes you smile.The narrative is interspersed with quotes from members of the mohallah and from the English films that the youngsters watched, mostly on the VCD, after Nawaz Sharif’s Abba pulled down the shutters of the salon for the day, which chips away at the darkness of the situation and lends a lightness , even as it evokes discomfiture in the reader.

And then there is Shair Shoukath , who deliciously steals lines from others and makes it his own , with a flourish , much to the grief of Professor Suleiman Ilahi and Rustom Sahib, the other members of the local Poetry club..

“Cowards die many times before their death. The valiant never taste of death, but once”-Shair Shoukath
“Now you are stealing from Shakespeare.That’s improvement.”-Professor Suleiman
“That’s Shakespeare? Sure? I thought Majrooh Sultanpuri wrote that” -RustomSahib.

I had watched the film “Shahid” , last night , produced by Anurag Kahsyap and directed by Hansal Mehta. It is based on the real life story of Shahid Azmi, who had enrolled himself in a jihadi training camp after witnessing a riot in which many of his community had been butchered and burnt alive , but had fled from there , unable to assimilate the violence the jihadis professed and practiced. He was imprisoned for his suspected terrorist links and spent many years inside. He picks up his life however, goes on to become a lawyer and decides to take up cases of innocents who are jailed on the flimsiest of reasons under the TADA. Shahid himself was murdered. In the short time that he had practised as an activist lawyer, he had acquired eleven acquittals.

The film had many undertones as does this novel, both pointing to a situation that has loads to despair about. But while the film never for a moment lets go of the seriousness of its tone, albeit very well executed, ” Vanity Bagh ” grips your attention with a kind of seeming flippancy which in fact adds to its poignancy.


The figure that remains starkly etched in my mind is that of the Imam , Imran Jabbaris’ father.

“The only time he wanted to be a human bomb was when Ammi came back from Haja stores on the eve of Eid with too many shopping bags and a Chiese umbrella. He frowned at the bags and announced it was time he took Khomeini sahib’s fatwa seriously and blew himself up when Rushdie was around so that Ammi and the rest of us could wallow in the same degree of luxury Mr. Mir sahib’s wife and children were spoilt with “, narrates Imran Jabbari.

He, who rendered the azan in his own inimitable style “that made the mohallwalahs wonder whether to laugh or complain to the Muslim Welfare Board” , had later on started to dread it. ” He dreaded the azan, something he used to love so dearly and with his own sense of rhythm that Wasim and I used to blush when the muezzin’s call drifted across the mohallah. He now feared his voice would be met with boos from the street. He had five three minute ordeals to live through everyday”.

That kind of summed up the tragedy of religion gone awry, of ghettoisation, of politics that fanned hatred , of our loss of empathy and inclusiveness , of the mistrust on both sides, of the resultant belligerance.

It is not a story of hope, Anees Salim had warned us. It isn’t .


Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Books


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