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Polandine Patti Episode 10

In this episode we take a look at parenting and childhood, by discussing four films: Salt Mango Tree, Pappayude Swantham Appoos, Manjadikuru, and 101 Chodyangal.

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Spoiler Alert! We try to remember to alert listeners to spoilers, but just in case, know that we talk about the films in-depth, so be sure to watch them first if you’re concerned about spoilers!

Episode 10 Highlights:

[00:00:40] Today’s theme is Parenting, but we’re talking about how parents and other adults are the lens through which children see the world.

[00:01:03] The movies we chose deal mostly with how kids view the world, even though the theme is Parenthood.

[00:01:13] We’re looking at this, perhaps, in broad terms:  how children are raised from birth to young adulthood, how children are supported, not only by their parents, but also by other adults in a community.  How are children’s physical, emotional and social needs met?

[00:01:27] As Harsha points out, “it takes a village,” and that was, broadly, her take-away from the movies we watched for this episode.

[00:02:01] Parenting styles:  authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved – we’ll see these in one way or another in the four films we will discuss:  Salt Mango Tree, Pappayude Swantham Appoos, Manjadikuru, and 101 Chodyangal.

[00:02:55] We start with Pappayude Swantham Appoos (“Pappa’s Own Appu”), with the title suggesting that the child is supposed to be precious to his father.

[00:03:15] Shobana plays the dead wife/mother in the film, and Katherine notes it’s a great choice, one again, to have Shobana come in and play a small role with maximum impact.

[00:03:35] Mammootty as the father is an example of an absent parent.  His son is in boarding school, and he is constantly working.

[00:03:45]  Both father and son must navigate their grief and loss.

[00:04:00]  Harsha thought this story felt very Western, in terms of recognizing the child’s individuality, and helping the child recognize his own trauma and loss.

[00:04:48]  The father must also come to terms with the possibility of losing his child, too, and figuring out how to centre the child in his life again.

[00:04:54]  The film came out in 1992, and that year is important because it’s a period of liberalization in India, and the concept of this kind of childhood which is very modern or Western is being introduced to India.

[00:05:15]  It’s not that Malayalees or Indians were not exposed to the kind of childhood we think about now, but the film is grappling with the issue of the child as an individual, and as more than an extension of a parent.

[00:06:15] Katherine finds it interesting that everyone seems to be perplexed by the child’s behaviour, because her own Western lens finds it obvious that he’s acting out because of his trauma.

[00:06:30] Mammootty’s father character was just as neglectful before the death of his wife – she has to constantly remind him to be home, for example, to take the baby to be vaccinated.  We know this is a pattern of behaviour that makes the situation worse for Appu.

[00:07:25]  Katherine finds the behaviour of Appu unsurprising.  He’s not physically neglected – his physical needs are met – but his emotional needs are not.

[00:07:45]  Harsha notes that Mammootty can have an image of a very patriarchal figure in Malayalam movies, and though he is like this to an extent, he’s also a fairly indulgent father.  He’s not an authoritarian father at all – it’s not a “kids should be seen and not heard” situation.  He’s just very casually neglectful, which is why he hires a nanny to entertain his son.  He just doesn’t want to deal with the deeper emotions his child might be feeling.

[00:08:52]  It’s the other side of the coin from authoritarian:  you’re indulgent or permissive, and it doesn’t recognize that your child needs structure, and has certain emotional needs that need both structure and boundaries.

[00:09:00] As Harsha points out, structure and boundaries are best fulfilled by a parent.

[00:09:25]  There is a servant who tells Appu that his behaviour is “naughty” or “wrong”, but it’s important that a child understand why they might need to change how they act, rather than always being told they are “naughty”.

[00:09:40]  The servant character is there to be the worst example, in not explaining what about the behaviour is inappropriate – that’s the “kids should be seen and not heard” mentality at work in the film.

[00:10:25]  Appu ends up injured, and at first we don’t know why, and Katherine was worried that it was going to turn out to be abuse at the hand of his father.  As Harsha points out, it’s a very convenient plot point.

[00:11:15]  The idea of the nanny who brings the family together also feels very Western to Harsha – for example, Mary Poppins. 

[00:11:50]  The nanny also makes Katherine uncomfortable.  She’s supposed to be sixteen, though she turns out to be older, but there’s a whole sexual thing going on with the nanny.  There’s a risk of abusing the relationship, and it doesn’t happen here, but at first the nanny is seen as a temptation.

[oo:13:20]  The whole situation with the nanny also makes Harsha uncomfortable, but she’d not picked up on that when she watched the movie as a child.

[00:14:05]  The age dynamic was wonky, but Harsha suggests there is a bit of awareness in the film as to what’s going on, though it’s playing on the sex appeal of the actress.

[00:15:15]  Once again, we are all about Shobana.

[00:15:35]  This is a Fazil movie, so both of his sons (Fahadh and Farhaan) make appearances.

[00:16:00]  Katherine:  you can *never* get away from Fahadh.

[00:16:33] Katherine sympathizes a lot with Appu and the frustration that leads him to drop the tray of glasses at the party.

[00:17:02]  The film, especially in the party scene, is so very nostalgic for Harsha.

[00:17:30]  The second film we discuss is Salt Mango Tree, which gives us the opposite perspective, in that we have a *very* involved parent, a classic helicopter parent situation.

[00:17:35]  The film deals with the highly competitive education system in India, and in Kerala specifically, where you’re trying to get your child into the best English Medium school (meaning English instruction), and the over-the-top requirements that these schools have.

[00:18:00]  It’s a kind of a rat race for parents – in the US there is an element of this, especially in upper middle class families, where there is this sense that you have to give your child the best chances to retain their class status.

[00:18:35]  India, with its sheer number of people, means there is increased pressure for parents.  The film’s family is solid middle class.

[00:19:14]  The father in the film went to a Malayalam school, and he mentions several times that he is uncomfortable about it, as if his education was not up to standard.  Given his age, it’s probably an indication that he likely grew up in a rural area and possibly in a less well off family.

[00:20:05]  The film also explores the idea that kids need more than just the right school to get ahead in life.

[00:20:25]  The Shining Stars programme in the film helps parents shift their perspective, and it acts as a support for the parents as much as it is for the children.

[00:21:20]  Consider the visit to the grandparents, which serves to reinforce the Shining Stars message:  the grandfather wants to take his grandson fishing and the grandmother tells him stories.  We see the child make a strong connection with his grandparents.

[00:21:55]  The mother is the one who is very invested in getting her son into the English Medium school.  The father doesn’t have as many aspirations for his son.

[00:22:35]  The film is carried on the likeability of Biju Menon, and his father character isn’t as highly focussed on his child’s education, as many Indian fathers would be.

{00:23:25}  Dads in India have more freedom to navigate the outside world than moms do.

[00:23:43]  It’s possible that Biju Menon’s father character has already moved up, from the village to the city, so he may not see that he needs to do anything more.  His wife is the one that has aspirations for her son.

[00:24:05]  The mother could look somewhat negative, but you can understand her motivation to have the best for her child. 

[00:24:40]  Harsha points out that because the movie is told so much from the point of view of Biju Menon’s character, it makes the mother come off as the shrewish wife with a helicopter parenting style, but for Harsha, the father came off as underachieving, and the mother is then required to drag him along to achieve what their family could.  She’s more anxious than negative, because she’s the one with so much invested in it.

[00:25:40]  Katherine notes that she could feel the pressure that was on this mother.  As Harsha points out, it’s a classic example of the wife doing the emotional lifting for the family.  That kind of pressure isn’t good for her or her family.

[00:26:30]  Harsha is left feeling ambivalent about the film, because so much of the film’s charm is down to Biju Menon’s character.  The ultimate message is that a child needs more than just formal education, but Harsha didn’t feel that the child’s point of view gets heard as much.  He’s a non-entity compared to the dynamic between the parents.

[00:27:15]  The movie, despite its theme, doesn’t really take the child’s perspective into consideration. 

[00:27:35]  Katherine could connect with the film on some level, having grown up in a family where there was an emphasis on education and having a profession.

[00:28:50]  Harsha feels this is probably the most parent centred movie.  The other films in this episode really focus in on the child’s perspective.

[00:29:35]  Harsha notes this was a good period for Biju Menon, who played the loveable goof in a number of movies around this time.

[00:30:10]  Katherine finds Biju Menon to be a really great actor who can bring a lot to a role.  Harsha suggests the film is for Biju Menon fans (especially completionists).

[00:30:25]  Harsha notes we haven’t had much light-hearted fare coming from the Covid era, which has been especially Fahadh Faasil focussed, and he prefers darker roles. – but he easily could do a role like this father.

[00:31:20]  We turn to a discussion of 101 Chodyangal, which is probably the most critically acclaimed of the movies we’re talking about in this episode.

[00:31:30]  It’s a fairly quiet, introspective little film about a child who is set a school assignment by his teacher, and he goes about discovering life and the people around him.

[00:32:00]  The child’s story is contrasted against that of his father, who has lost his job – this is a lower middle class family that becomes poor very quickly after losing an income.

[00:32:45]  The child’s teacher (played by Indrajith) is writing a book of 101 Questions, and with the assignment he gives the child, he offers 1 rupee per question, which is money that becomes very important for the child to bring home.

[0033:05]  The movie is directed by Siddarth Siva, which is why Harsha watched it in the first place.  Prior to this he’d only really been known as an actor.  He got so much critical acclaim for this first film.

[00:33:48]  The mother here is played by Lena, who Harsha finds to be a very interesting actor.

[00:33:55]  Katherine points out that once again we have a mother who is carrying the bulk of the stress and anxiety of this situation, not unlike the mother in Salt Mango Tree in some ways.

[00:34:15]  Harsha notes that because of class differences, this mother has very different concerns, but we see the ways she and the father are struggling.

[00:35:05]  The child is teased about his name, but we learn that the name of the factory his father worked for was given to him as a third name, with the idea that the father wants the child to be the owner of the factory, not the worker.

[00:35:45]  Harsha notes that this is not a children’s film, and she can’t imagine a child watching it and enjoying it as Pappayude Swantham Appoos, which she found entertaining.  It’s a very slow, introspective film.

[00:36:10]  What does this film have to say about parenthood?  For Katherine, it’s that all parents want the best for their child, even if they cannot help make that happen. 

[00:37:45] Katherine found the father interesting – very tender with his son.

[00:38:25]  Compared to the other film’s we’re discussing, Harsha’s take-away from this film was that all parents can do is just love their children.  You can’t protect them from what the world is going to throw at them.

[00:38:55]  What the child is learning through asking his questions is the humanness of his own parents.

[00:39:25]  As children we may not clue into these things, but as adults we look back at our parents and there’s a recognition of what they’ve gone through.

[00:39:32]  This leads us to our last film in this episode, Anjali Menon’s Manjadikuru.

[00:39:40]  This is another film from the child’s perspective, it’s very child-focussed.

[00:39:50] Before we get into the film, Harsha loops back to talk about Nishanth Sagar, who played the father’s friend in 101 Chodyangal.  She wonders why we don’t see more of him, and notes he’s very handsome.  We want to see more of him!

[00:40:25]  There were a lot of actors in the Dileep film period in the 90s who had small roles in his films, but never made it big because of the dominance of this one actor.  Also, without family connections (like Prithviraj), it was harder for some of these more talented actors to break out.  Check him out as the villain in Joker.

[00:42:43]  101 Chodyangal is a movie that can make you feel sad that adults can’t protect children from everything, and that they can be frail.  This father is physically frail, but so full of love, and it’s great to be able to examine fatherhood in that way (instead of the father always being a kind of protective tree). 

[00:43:25]  A reminder that this is not a film for children, even though it often ends up on lists of films for children.  Just because a child is a central character in a film does not make it a film for children.

[00:45:10]  We swing back to Manjadikuru which deals with a kind of death children are more able to cope with, the death of an older person.

[00:45:35] There are two release dates listed for the film – 2008 is probably when it spent time on the festival circuit, and 2012 is probably when it got more attention after the release of Ustad Hotel.

[00:45:50] Katherine watched Anjali Menon’s segment in Kerala Café, and found it so compelling that she went to find Manjadikuru.

[00:46:10]  In some ways, this is the warm up film to Bangalore Days, because it touches on a lot of the same ideas but from a different perspective, with younger versions of the cousins.

[00:46:25]  Manjadikuru is a more artsy film; Bangalore Days is a commercial film.  The former is a film made right after film school or not long after, and she was possibly using her film school contacts to help get it made.

[00:47:25]  It’s very much an art house/festival film, which is not a bad thing, but if you’re seeking it out, know that’s where it sits.

[00:47:50]  Manjadikuru is about a Gulf based family that returns to Kerala for the funeral of a grandparent.  They bring their son along, and the story is narrated from the point of view of the boy as an adult (played by Prithiviraj).

[00:48:10]  In some ways it evokes a lot of the films of the 80s, which is the period the film is actually set in.  Anjali Menon has said she grew up with those movies, so what she does here is very purposeful.  She’s taking inspiration from the films of the 80s and 90s.

[00:49:00]  There are some very old school movie star moments with one of the young couples.

[00:49:15]  Even the film’s setting and aesthetics are meant to call back those older films.

[00:50:20]  As a fellow Gulf kid, Harsha thinks Anjali Menon is poking fun of her own romanticized idea of Kerala. (see also:  Kuttan in Bangalore Days).

[00:50:51]  It’s a film that deals with a more authoritarian parenting style.  Sadly, we don’t see much of Thilikan (because he’s the deceased grandfather), but we understand this is a father who is very authoritarian and estranged from his children (2 sons and 4 daughters).

[00:52:00]  The adult children are interested in the terms of the will, and less tied to the family home and their parents in many ways.

[0052:20]  Anjali Menon is also looking at the idea of caste as well.  These mementos of caste – the ancestral home, the pond – these are things that have been prized/valued/idealized in Malayalam movies.  But the thread of the young maid gives us a view of a character who is not often seen in Malayalam movies.  This character makes caste visible.

[00:53:05]  The maid is 12, so on some level she’s still a child.  The children in the family treat her as a child, but the adults only see her as a servant.

[00:53:40]  The children are the ones who want to find a way to get her a ticket so she can go home.

[00:54:20]  Harsha explains that in Nair families (like this family), the system is very matrilineal, so it’s not unusual for property to pass down to women.  Men marry out of the family, so this is a way to preserve ancestral property.

[00:55:05]  Katherine feels she needs to tread carefully with the subject of caste (with good reason, it’s complicated).

[00:55:35]  There has been a bit of a reorganization of Kerala society along more patriarchal lines, but you still see the remnants of matriliniality in movies, especially movies set in Malabar.  It only comes out in very specific instances.

[00:57:00]  The property eventually is given to someone outside the family, which would be very different – and more so in this case, where the property is given to the servant, because she’s the one the grandmother loves the best.

[00:57:40]  Katherine sees connections to Nandanam, with the same actors (Kaviyoor Ponnamma, Prithviraj), but Harsha also notes that it is, again, Anjali Menon playing with older films in which Kaviyoor Ponnamma would play a grandmother and Thilikan would play a grandfather.  This cast of characters are so common in these roles.

[00:58:35]  What is the film revealing about parenting?

[00:58:45]  For Harsha, the film has a happy ending, which is typical of Anjali Menon.

[00:59:20]  Harsha’s take-away from the film is that it shows that childhood is a privilege that these parents afforded to only a privileged few.  It’s the emergence of the idea of childhood as a separate part of an individual’s life.

[00:59:40]  A twelve year old Dalit girl is not afforded a childhood, because she has to work.  Only the children recognize the fact that she’s a child, because they’re afforded a childhood and they’re treated like children, so they expect other people to treat her as a child.

[01:00:05]  The core point of the film is that childhood was only afforded to a select few.

[01:00:50]  Katherine thinks about her own parents as a western example, in which childhood ended much sooner and they had to go out to work as teenagers, which helps you understand why they might put more value on making sure children have the chance to have an education and a better future.

[01:01:00]  Harsha notes that there’s a lot of evidence in the US to suggest that Black children are often considered to be adults at much earlier ages  There’s a suggestion that the way Black Americans exist in that society is much more like caste than race.  They are related concepts, of course, but it is more similar in some ways to how the caste system exists in India.

[01:01:50]  Not being able to see someone of a young age as a child makes them much more liable to exploitation, of not being afforded the protections of childhood.

[01:02:25]  For Katherine, the films we explored in this episode made her consider what childhood is.  We may have started with Parenting as the theme, but we ask the questions of “what is childhood?” and when are you afforded those protections of childhood that we think children should have?.

[01:03:05]  For Harsha, education is a way to extend childhood, and ensure that the next generation get to extend their childhood longer as well.

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