Abstract: An attempt is made in this paper to study Rithu, film by Shyamaprasad, from an ecological point of view. The spatial displacement of characters from nature to culture is traced from this point of view.
Rithu, directed by Syamaprasad, presents a quagmire of issues that range from ecological concerns to the fading lines of ‘culture’ and new age savagery. But more importantly it foregrounds an ensuing struggle between culture and nature. A “culture”1 that threatens to root out even the semblance of innocence and naturality, while at the same time “weeding in” artificiality that is garbed in technology and progress. This paper analyses the futility of culture in its attempt to overpower nature, while also tracing the historical development to this technological culture that threatens to sabotage even the nadir of environmental concerns. A better understanding can be thus achieved by the appreciation of the complexities of human identity as played out on spatial displacements, which is both physical and psychological.
John Donne, in 1611, had to face a cosmology that he failed to understand and he wrote,
“Thus man, this world’s vice-emperor, in whom
All faculties, all graces are at home;
And if in other creatures they appear,
They’re but man’s ministers, and legates there,
To work on their rebellions, and reduce
Them to civility and to man’s use”.
Whether intended as irony or as straight-faced commentary, the passage ends on a note as familiar to us as was the thought to Donne: that other creatures for which we can read the whole non-human world (nature) were at the mercy of instrumental use in human hands. Later in the same poem, Donne complains that the world is “all in pieces, all coherence gone,” another resonance with our times. This sense of incoherence comes out of the snapping of umbilical cord that existed between nature and civilization (culture). This can be traced back to the ancient civilizations where successful irrigation agriculture was established in the basins of great rivers as the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates, the Indus, and theHuang He. Thus giving rise to the stratified societies which contained classes of people who were devoted to government, religion, or artisanship and who, in that specialization, were no longer in daily physical contact with soil, plants, and animals. Thus the natural world is potentially an instrument of a cultural set of ordinances. This can be seen as the beginning of regarding nature as the part of the “other”. Such trends became obviously intensified in urban societies and with the advent of Industrial Revolution this consumerist appetite developed a monstrous scale.
In the post-industrialized society, individualization of entertainment lead to the complete disintegration of the “holistic” world of inter-connected life, where human and nature became dichotomized. Walkman, the videocassette recorder, and the mobilephone contributed to this amply, where the display of the dissected innards and body parts of animals became the high arts. The television programs gravitated to the magazine format with MTV’s “desperate, quick-cut camera angles”. Most significant of all, in one national culture at least, has been a replacement of the five-day cricket game by various shorter and more colorful versions of the sport.
The thrust of global capitalism toward a global uniformity may or may not be a unifying force in human societies but it has produced a kind of “youth culture” whose transient icons are revered by millions of young people. Today’s consumerist youth, though unified in materialistic pursuits, has grown to an indifference to nature and its sustenance while becoming a metaphor for capitalistic machines. The McDonaldization of the world is outstripped only by the universality of pizza.
Is there any reflection of these long-term events in environmental connectedness? To quote a set of parallel examples is not to establish a definitive causal relationship. But it is not very difficult to see the setting out of different land-cover and water-use systems that differentiate among production, pleasure, and “nature.” Common-property resources have undergone a constant attrition through several thousand years: The open fields have steadily become privately owned in the name, largely, of more intensive production. Much open and commonly held land was enclosed and “reclaimed” as soon as legal and technological systems allowed. Special places are set aside for recreational use in rural areas. Eventually there emerged the “nature reserve” and the “wilderness’ in which wild nature even pristine ecosystems is set apart in a legal and often physical sense from the rest of the region in which it is situated. This commercial “natural reserves” has more or less become the perfect equalizers for the creations of large economic and technical areas for the setting up of supermalls and techno cities, where the common man’s land is displaced and pick-pocketed by multinationals.
Rithu as movie develops through these displacements both metaphorically and physically. When the three friends are metaphorically severed from their nature, Pranchi’s family is physically displaced from their home. Thus the film follows a spatial displacement that is both psychological and ontological. Thus when Pranchi’s displacement is physical, cruel and coercive, the other follows a subtle, disguised and self-affirmative pattern.
Thus an ecological understanding of the movie, can lead to a better knowledge of their actions which happens in the course of the narrative. This can be variously done by juxtaposing the montage of lake with the narrative of the film which moves on to the four walls of aTechnoCity, a symbol of culture (which is paradoxically brought up by evicting the true inhabitants of the place, for whom it was their nature). But a still better understanding can be achieved by a language of montage that arises from juxtaposing each character with their movement out of their nature. The two narratives in the movie must be dealt in differently, as a better understanding of both can bring out the subtle inter-relations between them.
Rithu is about youngsters working in the IT sector. The first narrative follows the lives of three childhood friends: Sharath Varma, Varsha John, and Sunny Immatty. The trio was almost inseparable as friends and they grew up in the same neighborhood in their love, bonding, and innocence. They shared one single dream of journeying together in life forever. Sharath leaves for US to help his brother-in-law with his business. He also aspires to write a book some day. But still he clings on to the memories of the good old days with his friends and wishes to reunite and work with his friends again. So after three years, he comes back toIndia and starts a small company with Varsha and Sunny to initiate an ambitious new project. But he soon finds out that their strong bond of friendship has almost vanished. Both Varsha and Sunny’s lifestyles and mindsets have changed over the years. Varsha flirts with men over the phone while, Sunny shows homosexual traits.
The three main characters Sharath, Varsha and Sunny are presented (very interestingly represents the three seasons, also the movie is named ‘Rithu’ which means seasons) from their innocent days to their journey to new worlds and experiences. While Sharath leaves forUSA, Sunny and Varsha leaves forBangalore, the techno city, promising a return to their dreams once they bag the key to them, money. For Sharath, it was to enter the world of literature, for Sunny to start a music store and composium, and for Varsha to do something voluntary. But all these have to be realised in their home which they plans to buy near their playground (lake side). Thus lake and its surrounding referred to as their ‘playground’ is both their ‘nature’ and unconsciously their mother. More they move away from her, more they loose their ‘nature’ to ‘culture’. It is from this background that a better understanding of the movie can be achieved.
For three friends who grew up along the calm and serene lake, it was also place where they could bury their personal grievances and find solace in the arm of ‘Mother Nature’. For Sunny, whose mother is no more and whose father lashes him mercilessly, lake is like a womb where he buried himself escaping the annals of reality. The instance in the film where Sunny, after being lashed by his father, walks helplessly into the lake where he hopes to bury his pains forever and be with his mother (lake) shows the solace which only she can give. But when he moves away from his nature to Bangalore, the abode of the so called culture, he loses his innocence and plunges into a life of unworthiness (here unworthiness is not being equated to homosexuality though the director seems to be inclining it that way). For Sunny the only reason to accept his friend’s invitation is because of monetary and momentary gains. The very fact that he doesn’t want to go back to the lakeside shows the amount of corruption he has incurred (it is also ironical to note the reason he cites for his inconvenience, is to help his father). This becomes all the more clear when he decides to deceive Sharath for sheer monetary benefits; his nature has been supplanted by a dangerous cultural discourse that entertains only means which will cater to their ends. For him, the dreams he had are nothing more than adolescent fantasies. Thus memories for Sunny are nothing more than adolescent quibblings, which is to be forgotten.
For Varsha, who is not only the best friend but also the love of Sharath’s life, nature is only solace. Her father who is away in “business trip” is having a new life with another women and her mother waiting hopelessly for him to return. For her the lake and her friendship sustain her. She was ready to wait for Sharath, who promised to be back fromUSAfor her. But when she decides to desert the lake and migrate toBangalore, she makes a self affirmative rejection of nature.Bangalore, the symbol of culture brings out the worst in her and becomes a modern day Cleopatra. She stoops to a lifestyle that is the metaphor of a capitalistic machine. Though her heart still beats for the communion with Sharath, she fetters it to the romantic fantasy of the past. Thus when she returns back after accepting Sharath’s invitation, it is only business for her.
Sharath, who turns out to be the protagonist, is an ardent dreamer, who turns out at end to be the most pragmatic. Made to live a techno cultural life out of compulsion, he plans to return back to his lake, which becomes his past memories and spirit for future endeavors. He lives a life that is environmentally sustainable. It is he who becomes the connecting point of all the characters and incidents in the movie. He not only realizes the plight of Pranchi, but also takes courage to take up the issue, even if means the end of his carrier. In a final turn of the tables, he rises out the muddles to resurrect his life like he wanted. All the other characters surrounding him like his father, brother, Zareena, the CEO of Zybo3 and her husband Balagopal are all people who have made their decision to life and are fighting to keep it afloat.
The crass effect of culture manifests itself in the life of Zareena and Balagopal. Zareena, a self made women (a new women, as she points out), carries out a relation with her husband, who is her “friend, guide, philosopher and life partner”, that is both simple and complex. For her when the life beckons, she cannot defeat herself nurturing her children and thus wasting life. She comes across as a practitioner of DINK (Dual Income; No Kids) way of life. Thus a modern day marriage which “prices” impotency is manifested through them. While Balu yearns for a baby, Zareena meets him only between shifts. Thus they become the embodiment of a modern day wastelander and Techno city, a modern day Wasteland.
It is the brother of Sharath who turns out be the modern day Tiresias, who could see the real yet is termed blind (metaphorically), as he is dismissed as a silly fantasizer. His evocation of the final soliloquy of Othello, stress the degradation that has crept upon mankind. He blurts out that the world is full of ‘Iagos and Iagis’. He is someone who have failed yet won his life. It is he who guides Sharath through the infinite loops of tragedies that befalls him. Thus he becomes the anti-thesis for all that the culture represents in Zareena and his brother in law. He refuses to be displaced by the molestations of culture and becomes a symbol of nature throughout. Memories for him, rejuvenates life and his advice to Sharath before he attempts his book is to visitBengal, where his father grew up. He turns out to be the satisfied of all the characters in at the end.
But all these characters either don’t see the plight of Pranchi or refuses to acknowledge them. The employees of Zybo3, though sees and understand his plight, refuse to acknowledge it and in the end turns to profit out of it. Pranchi and his family is one those evicted from their homes for the making of Technocity. They were only paid a meager amount as it was the moor land which is “economically” worthless. His father, part of the striking group that struggled for the rights of these people, who were illegitimately evicted from their homes, dies in the ‘samara pandhal’. Only they understand the value of the land, while others value it in economic terms. In today’s world of environmental crisis, only a sufferer can give a real insight into the solutions of these problems. They are in a better position as they are not only the direct sufferers of these crises but also have a better knowledge of nature and its environment.
Pranchi who is then given various jobs in Technocity as sweeper servant etc is constantly dismissed as a ‘cultureless’ person. When he accidently witnesses a misappropriation, he is victimized by all. It is only the timely interference by Sharath that saves his life. While Sharath tries futilely to bring the culprit to light, we find the character of Pranchi disappearing slowly out of the narrative. This is done deliberately by the director to bring back the attention on Sharath’s state of mind. This attitude of the filmmaker is a reflection of the attitude of the present day entrepreneur who is willing to forget the real victims for their sake of profits. Thus we see Pranchi as an eternal symbol of Nature which is being exploited to a violent extend and then forgotten easily.
Finally, these narratives converge into a climax that takes us back to the state of calm by which the narrative begins. But this is a sense of calm that has arisen out of utter helplessness. It takes a complete denial of all that is culture for Varsha to get her grace even metaphorically. Sunny ‘after the fall’ is a changed man, who wants to escape from the realities toUSA. They are now beings troubled by guilt and caught up in time. But it was the final redemption by the all pardoning nature, Sharath, which purges them of their burden of guilt. Thus nature becomes the anathema and panacea for all beings. The metaphor of “memory tree” at the climax evokes the nature, but also all those that stood for life and is forgotten. May be it stands for Pranchi, who is forgotten by all, yet stands rooted for memory, feeling and the real nature.
- The sense in which both culture and nature is used in this article may seem both reductive and forming a binary. This is because of the general sense in which the movie embodies this same reductiveness and binary.
Editor of Journal Section in Cinecook.
Post Graduate Eng Lit, Institute of English.
Short Film Maker and a self confessed cinophile
Rithu. Dir. Syamaprasad. Perf. Asif Ali, Nishan, K. P. Nanaiah, and Rima Kallingal. Innostorm Entertainment Group, 2009. Film.
Booty, John E. John Donne: selections from divine poems, sermons, devotions, and prayers.New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1990. Print.
Kirby, Peadar. Vulnerability and Violence: The Impact of Globalisation.London: Pluto Press, 2006. Print.
Scofield, Martin. T.S. Eliot: the poems.Cambridge: CUP, 1988. Print.