A Film a Week - Stomp / Chavittu

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

Chavittu Nadakam is a performance art form resembling European forms of opera and ballet that is rooted in the Indian state of Kerala and practiced by the state’s Catholic community. The language of the performance is the state’s official language (Malayalam), the actors perform the dancing and singing alongside acting, while the musical background is on various percussion instruments, but dominated by bells and drums, while the floor boards of the stage also fulfill the soundscape.

It was rarely portrayed in cinema, so the film “Chavittu” (or “Stomp”, according to its international title, for a good reason since stomping is the core part of the mechanics of the dance itself) written and directed by Rahman brothers Sajas and Shinos of “Toy Maker” (2015) and “Vasanthi” (2021) fame is something of a novelty both on the topical and on the approach level. The film premiered at the Harbour section of International Film Festival Rotterdam, where we had the chance to see it.

The brothers open the film with a wide shot of a small group of people unloading a minibus parked in front of a provincial theatre called Highness Auditorium. When the bus moves, it is revealed that the people we saw are a part of a larger group – a theatre/dance company and that they are about to perform at the mentioned venue, as it is shown with the following succession of static shots of their preparations.

From that point on, Chavittu goes in various directions. One follows the preparation process on a remote location that preceded the performance itself, the other shows the content of the play that is both folkloric and contemporary, while it differs from the usual Chavittu Nadakam Bible-related topics, while the third one covers the day of the performance and the distractions posed by people holding various official positions, since our guys are not the only ones to perform at the show. The nature of their distractions and disruptions are actually the most telling thing in the film, as they expose the nature of the still caste-dominated society.

It is not an exceptionally new thing to point out that the creative and the performance processes are not apart from the world that surrounds them, and Rahmans are not trying to re-invent the wheel here in that regard. However, their approach is actually quite new and refreshing, as it is focused on blurring the lines between the documentary and the fiction, the observation and the scripting. From that point of view, they manage to achieve a balance that feels quite organic.

The majority of the cast comes from the ranks of Little Earth School of Theatre and the guys play the double role here: they are the subjects of the observational documentary and the actors in the play, constantly balancing between the most natural of the behaviour disregarding the camera and the theatrics needed for them to do their job. The technical components of the film are also impressive, from the versatile camerawork by Mukesh Muraledharan to the gentle original guitar theme by Ajeesh Anto that stands in stark contrast with the drum-dominated score of the company’s performance to Arun Lal’s choreography. Sajas and Shinos Rahman, who serve as their own editors, blend the whole thing smoothly, making “Chavittu” quite pleasant, informative and unique viewing experience that paints the layered picture of a world that is unknown for the majority of the viewers without exoticizing it.

No comments:

Post a Comment