A few movies have moved me the way Kannathil Muthamittal has done. Looking back, I see how it explores the idea of motherhood, love and the feeling of unity that shared culture can bring to people. It atomizes identities to figure out what lies within. The deeper it looks, it finds out how meaningless these identities are. And rather than seeking to unite, how they end up separating us.
South Asia is a minefield of mindless seperations. It has literally been partitioned, with sealed boundaries that have acted as man-made barriers to diffusion of culture. When we talk about cultural diffusion, we often miss the organic aspect of it. It is literally the blood that flows through the crevices of social isolationism. No matter how we try to keep communities isolated, the biological impulse to explore the other pierces through the barriers. The ‘walls’ between communities are a carefully curated list of lies that work together to create mutually repulsive bundles of humans.
The ‘bundles’ start their lives from the heads of people who hold the levers of power. They could have been long gone, but the reasons behind their imagination of communities tend to persist over time. It could be the intense competition for resources and domination. To accumulate the kind of power that is required, it is necessary that people are fed with stories, ‘memes’ and a shared cultural space where they could be at home.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To feel connected to a larger body is an organic human need that finds expression in various forms across the world. However, it takes another shape, when the same impulse is being used to divide people. Modern politics is all about eliminating the worst outcomes when such a contest for resources happens. In the complex maze of identities and ‘belongingness’ that emerge out of this mess, not everyone will be well off.
In the movie, I feel that it is this ‘belongingness’ that is at the centre of the identity question. Whom do you belong to? Is it the biological mother - who went through the process of creating your body that marks you? Or is it the adopted mother, who walks with you through every step of your life as you went on discovering yourself? This is a difficult question to answer. A lazy answer would be to claim that you belong to both - but that wouldn’t address the core dilemma. It is about where you should be, when the time comes after which you cannot choose at all.
What makes this a tragedy is that this is not a hypothetical question at all. Think about the partition of India. Within a span of three days, a people was split into two. An organic body was cut into two and maimed at edges. It was no surgery, but a brute cut with the most unkindest cut being done by uttering the name of god who had abandoned us all.
They stared at a future, where invisible walls stood between them - separating them from their lives, livelihoods and the love they nurtured towards anything that was ‘different’ from them. Between almost everything that you have considered yourself, there appears a state sponsored chasm that will keep you away from them. There, it is not your choice that matters. Heck, it is not even the invisible hand of fate that mizzles this misery upon you. It is the omnipresent tentacles of the state that effectively builds a panopticon around you and your people.
This is another reason why colonialism becomes an ugly and noisome artefact from the past. It has maimed many great cultures and pushed people into graveyards that were not of their choosing. Mass graveyards with no sepulchre to commemorate their loss. Two million people lost their lives within 72 hours of Indian Independence. That was the cost we paid when we were forced to answer the question of whom we belong to. Perhaps, we belong nowhere. We are just meatbags that could be ground to paste and be applied on the idols that bestow power upon an elite that thrive at the altar of human sacrifice. Or maybe that’s just a very reductionist way of looking at history. Anyhow, mixing up of identities and their connection with motherhood forms the central theme of “Kannathil Muthamittal”.
It is the language that binds Northern Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. However, this bond has been ravaged by many assaults in the past. But their story is also the story of millions of people across the globe. How you have been uprooted from your sanctuary, driven out by unseen machinations of forces higher up - yet failing to understand what transpired. Running away with life and meagre belongings in hand as fire rains down your beloved land. When mortars pulverise the concrete manifestations of your ‘land’, you choke in gunpowder fumes and wonder. Who and I? What did I do to deserve this?
More than the answers to these questions, what matters is what you are at that moment. You are a human being, deracinated by the powers that be. And you are not alone. There is a strange commune of peoples across the globe, living in pest infested encampments away from the land and culture that nurtured them. You call them many names. But they all are essentially the same. They live and die in nostalgia, preyed upon by radical elements that competitively other them in their host countries. Always dreaming of a ‘motherland’, that will never be theirs.
To be called termites by pangolins who occupy the podium of power, and feast upon them, their agonies and their humanity. It is against them that we create alternate political programs for. The greatest achievement of these pangolins with dead eyes is a giant machine of hatred that hangs from the heavens. This propaganda machine has a thousand eyes and ears hearkening to the multitude of human emotions. It is designed to filter out all the great emotions that literature mops up so neatly - lovely, affection, compassion and the ability to embrace the destitute. Rather, this triangular machine hangs from the heavens on a fine thread and fans communal passions across masses that already reel under the quirt of an extractive regime.
Yet, all those stories eventually come to an end. That is where the slaying hand realises how futile it is to extinguish the light from this world. For, the earth goes round and round, squishing wishes if tyrants like a blacksnake squelched under the rock of time. That time will definitely come. And that perhaps is the only motivation that is out there to do good while holding the reins of power.
And that is no trivial motivation, indeed there are artefacts to those who ponder.
Before I close, I would like to remark how the movie has invoked all these emotions inside me. It reminded me of the unaccountable suffering across the globe. How all the people across the globe are very similar and the idea of belonging to someone or something is a powerful force that can help us change the world - for good or worse.
Thank you for reading.
If you have time, do watch this song from the movie:
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