KOCHI: He was calm and collected. And in his characteristically candid style, he remarked it is nice to win awards. The nonchalant comment doesn’t sound surprising as this is the third time
C S Venkiteswaran has won the national film award.
CS has always made himself available on the stage of cinema for the last three decades. Like an interpreter who guides a clueless traveller along obscure foreign lands, Venkiteswaran has tried to make sense for the viewer about the wonders that come alive beyond the silver screen. He was also a cartographer, painstakingly plotting contexts and drawing subtle meanings for images that flit on the screen. He was also Aristotle-like, raising pertinent questions and coming to conclusions regarding the representational tendencies and trends prevailing in the cinematic
The exercise is not always pleasant. “At times it is like keeping track with trash,” he says. CS sifts through the entire geography of cinema, from low-brow mainstream cinema to high art. In fact, the national award for the best film critic is a testament to the man’s range. It included articles on Silk Smitha (‘Smitha Enna Kaalam’) and Kalabhavan Mani (‘Karutha Udalinte Thaarasancharam’) and also about Adoor Gopalakrishnan (‘Niyamavum Neethiyum’ — an appreciation of ‘Oru Pennum Randaanum’).
CS considers a film not as a mere work of art but as a product of the existing social system. “There had been two approaches towards film criticism — the
aesthetic approach propagated by critics like I Shanmugadas and the ideological approach adopted by G P Ramachandran and Raveendran. Unlike them, I try to conceive film from a cultural perspective,” says CS.
His zest for films can be traced back to his school days when he was an active member of the local film club at Irinjalakuda. “We travelled all around Kerala distributing classics to local film clubs, thereby gaining an opportunity to know the rich fare of meaningful films from across the world. After pursuing my post graduation in Economics, I worked in Bangalore. There were regular film shows at the Alliance Francaise, the leading cultural centre of the city, coupled with post-screening forums that encouraged academic and intellectual debate on cinema.”
A certain idealism seeped into CS through the film clubs, especially John Abraham’s Odessa. “In the 70s and 80s, film clubs were something you had to be part of. I got involved with the activities of the Odessa Collective at Kozhikode which went on to revolutionise film production and distribution,” he says.
And like a true foot soldier of a revolution, he quit his job and enrolled as a PhD student at the Calicut University. “Initially I considered my research as an alibi to get involved in film club activities. We travelled far and wide distributing films. We considered film as an empowering and liberating medium. John Abraham made ‘Amma Ariyan’ with contributions from the general public. We collected funds for the film by screening Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Kid’ and screened the film on a non-commercial basis throughout the state. It was a phase of self-revelation.”
After John’s death, CS went back to research. A PhD holder in Economics, he is now working at the Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation, a public finance and taxation Institute. CS is unforgiving when he dwells on the state of the Malayalam film industry. “In Kerala, star names are one of the mechanisms used by the film industry to predetermine audience expectations. Around the world, films have become more spectacular while in Kerala we are churning out redundant films with the advent of television. At present, theatres are reserved for men and television for women. Our theatres are becoming hostile with an anti-family attitude.”
CS writes in English magazines, both foreign and Indian. But writing in Malayalam periodicals and magazines has given him more recognition. He has published a book on filmmaker K R Mohanan, ‘Samanthara Yathrakal — K R Mohanante
Cinema’ and edited a book on Adoor Gopalakrishnan, ‘A Door to Adoor’. He is not a writer who insulated himself from the rigours of filmmaking and has stood behind the camera twice. His documentary on Ammannur Madhavachakyar (1998) won him his first national award. Later, he made a highly acclaimed documentary on former Naxalite Mandakini Narayanan, ‘Mata to Maa’. The second national award came his way six years ago as the special jury prize for film criticism.
CS considers filmmaking a more strenuous and time-consuming task. That is the reason why he devotes more time to writing. His writings have done to cinema what rumblestrips have done to the mad rush of vehicular traffic. It has forced a slowdown and induced a sense of sanity. ‘Rumblestrip’, incidentally, was a column CS handled for The New Indian Express for nearly a decade.