Richter Scale 7.6 (Malayalam, Roots Video/ Koode)
Starring Murugan Martin, Ashok Kumar Peringode
Directed by Jeeva KJ
Richter Scale 7.6 Review: The waves of raves are so predictable. In our country any cinema about poverty, powered and punctuated by long bouts of silence when nothing happens, gets the critics in a state of collective orgasm.
Alas, not every film about rural poverty is Pather Panchali. And needless to say, Jeeva KJ is no Satyajit Ray. The silences in this film are…how do we say it?…unbearably sultry. In Ray’s ather Panchali. the sounds of silence spoke to us in a language that needs no words. Here the silences do not speak. The shroud the caderverous plot in sheaths of disfigured distress.As if saving money on subtitles.
There are only two characters in a ramshackle but suspiciously neat hut(art director gets marks for the studied authenticity). The father Ramankunju(Ashok Kumar Peringode), the son Suku(Murugan Martin) and the unholy ghost: that being the uneasy friction between them. Father is chained to wooden cot, thereby further reducing immobility in a film that mimics the inert silences of a frozen yogurt.The older man is frequently threatened by his son. Do they have a history? If they do, this film is not interested.
Incidental characters drop in to sing tribal folk songs with the father.But the songs, traditional wails of lost generations, hardly reduces the tedium that creeps up on us like a slithering snake looking for some excitement in the land of the bland.
Halfway through, the dynamic between the father and son undergoes a sea-change. Son breaks his leg and comes home in a cast. At last, something moves. Father who until this point was a mentally unstable man, chained and singing, suddenly becomes a caring father. He cooks, bathes and mothers his son who tells the woman he loves, “It’s almost as if the sickness is gone.” She looks back coyly at the son and says, “I’ve told my father not to look for any other groom for me.”
Ah, some more suggestion of immobility.The sickness that consumes this film with a pretentious title. The sickness of staying silent , ostensibly pregnant silences . But actually the soundtrack remains inert because there is nothing to say. Of course the two central performances are undeniably strong. And the camerawork(by K Sujithlal) sketches gruff pastoral images of a dying light catching two generations in a confined space with little to bind them except their mutual despair.
There are very few happy moments in this sullen neo-realistic drama which Satyajit Ray would have watched wondering if he did the right thing by making Pather Panchali.