[Note on 4/8/21: I have returned to this post to find that all of the videos have been dropped from YouTube due to a suspended account. (Or maybe it was the work of anti-communists.) I am going to try to find and replace all of these lost videos.]
Since the last time I looked, a number of new clips have appeared from that classic communist film from Kerala called Ningalenne Communistakki.
I’ve found clips to replace old ones that disappeared (which I am now doing in some other posts – gradually), clips of songs from the film that I have never seen on YouTube before, and clips of the entire film (which definitely were not posted before the last couple of years). Unfortunately, I still cannot find a copy with English subtitles, but I have found one small song translation – in the comments section below one of the new(er) videos. I’ll get to that in a minute, but right now I would like to mention – for those who don’t know this already – that this film, the play it was based on, the group that first produced it (that is, Kerala People’s Arts Club), and the history of communism in Kerala have been subjects of interest to me for quite a while, going back more than ten years before I started this blog. And I have referred to these subjects almost since the blog’s beginning, before the blog even settled into being a full-fledged Indian film blog (and then some). For these reasons, fairly soon, I plan to post a list of links related to this subject, from this blog and at least one other blog as well. (I will add it either as a postscript or a sequel post. But if you want to give yourself a preview before I do that, you are welcome to search for this film title or KPAC or Kerala, and you will find a whole lot of things.) For today’s post, though, I’m going to give these subjects a somewhat lighter treatment, because I mainly want to focus on the pleasure of finding, hearing, and watching the songs – even though I, myself, don’t know a word of Malayalam and may never learn it, either.
Now let’s start with the song that I just said I was going to get back to, which is “Kothumbu Vallom….”
And let me say, this song would feel uplifting to me even if I didn’t know anything about the meaning of the words, but I do, thanks to the translation that appears in comments below the YouTube post. The comment poster, Vinod KB, apologetically calls this translation “rough,” and it does include some errors in punctuation and spelling (which I have tried to clear up a little here) as well as some phrases that maybe don’t make sense. But despite its drawbacks, I think it does help us to understand the contents of the song – as well as the likely gist of a few of the others.
Rowing the small canoe, you farmer lady, who is the blacksmith lady who made your sickle used for reaping. Blacksmith lady who made the sword for Unniyarcha lady and who also made made the shield for Pazhassi Lord, you made the the shield in olden times, you blacksmith woman. By blowing the wind to the kiln, you spread the fire in red sky when sun rises. You made the anklet for Leo (month), moonlight girl. For the Virgo, Libra (months) rain clouds, you made the rain clouds. You made the fan for the storm in the courtyard of western sea, the rainbow made by you, blacksmith lady. You made the Veena for the singers of revolution, you, blacksmith lady. You made the lamp for the huts of Vayalar, small lamp made by you, blacksmith lady. You bloomed one silver flower, blacksmith woman, in the sky which gets dark when it sleeps.
Vinod also provides an explanation of the symbolism in the song – especially as it pertains to the history of India – but I’ll let readers travel to YouTube to see that. Actually, the explanation was a little (more) confusing to me, though there is much useful information there, too. And much of the symbolism and the social ideas in the lyrics (as translated here) were clear to me from a more general context – as they should be to many people, especially if they know a little about the socialist/Marxist perspectives and history. While I can’t really say anything about the meaning of the lyrics in the other songs in the film, I can imagine that some of those songs also have references like the ones here to the “red sky,” the coming storm (“in the courtyard of [the] western sea”), the “singers of revolution,” and the blooming of “one silver flower” (among a hundred blooming flowers, I assume). These kinds of lyrics capture the excitement and hope that would be present at the height of a radical or revolutionary socialist movement. (And maybe some, like this one, are also heartfelt tributes to members of the agrarian working class.) This is something that I have kept in the back of my mind while I viewed the other clips in the film. Out of necessity (because I don’t understand the lyrics), I do have to give the other songs a somewhat lighter treatment, talking more about their qualities as film songs, my love for the sound of the vocals, and my thoughts about the moods and emotions that the song sequences convey. But they are also excellent songs for those reasons alone – which is why I think they are probably just as impressive as the socially conscious/leftist songs from Hindi cinema’s Golden Age. (If only I could get one good, full translation or set of subtitles… If there are any Malayalam speakers out there who’d be up for such a project, please let me know!)
Now, there is another activist rallying song in the film that I have known about and enjoyed for a number of years, “Pallanayarin Theerathu.” Although I don’t know the exact context of this scene and I can’t understand any of the lyrics, I have always thought of this as the “campus rally song.” This is one of the songs that I particularlylly like for its vocals and music. I am especially charmed here by the singing of P. Susheela, whom I (and I guess most people) know from her playback in Tamil films. (Of course, I first became acquainted with P. Susheela as one of the Tamil playback singers for Padmini.) The male singer here is M.G. Radhakrishnan, who became renowned in Kerala as both a Carnatic singer and a music director. However, this song was made a while before he would take up the role of music director. The MD for this film is the great D. Devarajan.
The first song from Ningalenne Communistakki that I ever saw/heard was “Neelakadampin Poovo,” which I liked instantly. This is not a rallying scene. I imagine that there might be some political messaging in the lyrics, and I wonder what book this woman is holding to her heart at the beginning (hmm, I wonder if it’s the Communist Manifesto . . . ). But generally, this strikes me as a sweet and romantic kind of scene, made especially sweet by the legendarily melodic voice of Yesudas. (Among a number of songs that I’ve seen/heard by Yesudas, this is certainly one of my favorites.) The scene is also a lot of fun to watch and actually quite amusing, especially because of the exaggerated coyness exhibited by the female character. (I am not all that familiar with Malayalam actors, but from my reading of the cast, I believe the actress might be Sheela. In any event, this actress, all by herself, looks to me like a real bundle of sweetness. And the actor who serves as the face for Yesudas’ sweet voice is Prem Nazir.) By the way, there is another copy of this video that actually has better audio quality (because it comes through both channels), but I chose this one because it includes the beginning and end parts of the song/scene that the other version misses, and I think those parts are essential.
And then there’s “Ellarum Paadathu . . . ,” which repeats much of the music of “Neelakadampin Poovo”. . . I don’t think there was any version of this posted before April of 2015, and I discovered it just now, because I was looking for the second song in the film that was sung by P. Susheela. There still isn’t a video version of this posted anywhere (as far as I know), but I greatly enjoyed listening to it.
Now, getting back to Yesudas ,. . . Here is another song that showcases his legendarily melodious singing, and another sweet scene as well. (And I should add that, like the other song, it highlights Kerala’s beautiful natural scenery – maybe even more so this time.)
And then there is a lively song at the end of the film that accompanies one of the best march/rally scenes that I have ever seen. As with “Eelarum Paadathu,” it took a long time before I could find any version on YouTube, and when it finally appeared, it was only in an audio clip.. But it’s easy enough to find in the film, since it is at the very end; it is a fittingly inspiring conclusion. The song is “Aikya Munnani.”
[Note (two years later): Unfortunately, I have just discovered that this rare song is once again unavailable, having apparently been dropped from YouTube. Although I cannot find another version right now, I certainly will keep looking!]
There are a couple of versions of the full film up on YouTube now (which I would not have thought possible a couple of years ago). I am favoring the version from Entertainment Junction, although the video is stretched a bit too wide (warning: bad aspect ratio!). The other version that I saw may have the same problem, or maybe not quite as much (I’m not sure). Both seem to come from the same source… This version, however, is not packed full of ads like the other one I saw (which is a pretty horrendous thing to see in a communist film!). Also, I particularly enjoyed the description of the film provided under the video, which summarizes the context in very good way:
Ningalenne Communistakki (Malayalam: നിങ്ങളെന്നെ കമ്മ്യൂണിസ്റ്റാക്കി, meaning: you made me a communist), is a Malayalam socio-political play by Kerala People’s Arts Club (KPAC). This was the second and most popular stage play of KPAC . This drama propelled KPAC into the forefront of [the] Kerala cultural scene and played a historical role in popularising the Communist movement in Kerala during 1950’s, eventually leading to the establishment of first democratically elected communist ministry in the world in 1957 in Kerala under E. M. S. Namboodiripad.
I may have written a bunch about the historical context also, but I don’t think I could have summed it up in such a concise – and precise – way! But, of course, as I mentioned before, there are quite a few posts, articles, etc. – in this blog and elsewhere – that you might look at to get a more detailed perspective on Kerala’s most famous communist movie.
[5/19] And here it is, the postscript that I promised . . .
Related posts from this blog:
https://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2008/09/17/ningalenne-communistakki-1970-malayalam (My first post mentioning this film, close to nine years ago. But here, I include only one song, “Neelakadampin Poovo,” and then I refer to a post on KPAC at the site India9.com.)
https://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/may-day-special-songs-from-the-kerala-peoples-arts-club/ (Unfortunately, I’m going to have to replace most of the (dropped) clips here. The same is true of a couple of other related posts, which I won’t add links to until I get most of the song clips back.)
There is a post on Ningalenne Communistakki at the Old Malayalam Film Blog. But the songs are a little different – from the original play, it seems, not the film:
The Old Malayalam Film Blog has a more extensive series of blogs on KPAC drama songs. At the beginning of the series, much to my surprise, blogger Cinematters dedicated the series to me!
And that will be about it for related links for now – but more might follow. There actually is a good amount of writing out there about KPAC and Ningalenne Communistakki.