Cinema has always brought alive ideologies, as also propaganda. Communist thoughts and working-class philosophies have always found a space in films, and, in the Indian context, many films that speak of this have emerged from Kerala.
Malayalam filmmakers such as Adoor Gopalakrishnan, IV Sasi and PA Backer brought alive stories of disharmonies in the lives of the working class. This Labour Day, Silverscreen explores five films from Kerala that speak of the labour class and its myriad dilemmas.
Written by T Damodaran, Unaru is the only Malayalam movie Mani Ratnam has directed so far. He made the film in 1984, with Mohanlal and late actor Ratheesh in the lead. The film gives an inside view of the trade union struggles and the unemployment scenes in Kerala during the Eighties. Crime, drama and emotional attachment play out among the characters. The climax shows the working class rising against the establishment to satisfy its needs.
Ratheesh’s character Peter is the leader of the working people, but he gets killed during the revolt. Ramu, Peter’s friend (played by Mohanlal) rises as the new leader. Music for the movie is composed by Ilaiyaraaja and cinematography is by Ramachandra Babu.
Released in 1982, Ee Nadu is directed by late filmmaker IV Sasi, with Mammootty, Rathesh, Balan K Nair and TG Ravi in the lead. The deeply political movie deals with the overexploitation of labourers by the aristocratic society of men. Written by T Damodaran, Ee Nadu’s final sequence shows the unity of the working class and how they come out in public against their oppressors. TG Ravi, who played the villain, was praised for his performance. Music was composed by Shyam while Yusufali Kechery wrote the lyrics.
Another gem from IV Sasi is Adimakal Udamakal. As the name suggests, the film deals with how slaves become masters by overthrowing the traditional system of administration and winning back their rights. This movie, released in 1987, was also written by T Damodaran, and featured Mammootty and Mohanlal. The plot revolves around a factory and its newly-appointed manager Mohan Cheriyan (Mohanlal), who is to solve the company’s issues with trade union leader Raghavan (Mammootty). But, Raghavan gets killed by his own people. Jayaram V handles the camera while Shyam scores the music for this film.
Murugan is a migrant worker from a village in Tamil Nadu, who shifts to Cochin with his children to earn a living by ironing clothes and doing other odd jobs. He’s very fond of his children, especially visually-challenged Malli. The script makes the audience feel for the characters, and you wait for their emancipation. The film also stars Meena, who puts in a good performance as someone who decides to help the family lead a better life. Written and directed by Kamal, the film won many awards, including the 2006 National Film Award for Best Film on Family Welfare. Karutha Pakshikal was released at a time when migrant workers started pouring into Kerala seeking a livelihood.
This 2011 movie explores the subjects of identity and space, especially among workers who head from Kerala to West Asia in the hope of a better life. Khaddama is also directed by Kamal, and he collaborated with K Girishkumar for the screenplay. The film has Kavya Madhavan play protagonist Aswathy, who goes to Saudi Arabia clothed in a burqa to work as a domestic help. She goes through severe abuse, physical and sexual, to ensure she sends back money home. The actress won many accolades for her performance. M Jayachandran composed music for the movie.