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February 11, 2000
A film that was screened at the just-concluded Mumbai International Film Festival is the celluloid translation of stories by a 10-year-old boy named Abhimanyu who lives in Thrissur in Kerala.
The film Kuttumanipookal (Pretty Little Flowers), directed by M N Vinayakumar and produced by the Thrissur District Panchayat, is unique in many respects. It is perhaps for the first time in the world that stories written by a fourth standard student have been translated into celluloid. It is also for the first time in India that a local administrative body has produced a film.
The 40-minute film based on four stories by Abhimanyu does not follow the conventional narrative style. It presents the stories in a chaotic order. The thread is the writer himself, who appears in the title story and presents the rest. "We were highly sceptical whether this technique would appeal to conventional viewers. But the film evoked tremendous response in four private screenings held in different parts of the state,'' Vinayakumar, the director of the film, told rediff.com.
Serious filmgoers, who have seen the film, rate it high. "The film comes as a whiff of fresh air in the current scenario where usually adults make children's films to pontificate," said C S Venkiteswaran, a film critic.
Kuttumanipookal shows that the children have a world of their own with their own logic and imagination, he added. "While most of our children's films turn into lessons in disguise to teach or preach, Kuttumanipookal boldly strives to conceive and render the child's imagination in his own language and vision," he explained.
Vinayakumar, who is also the father of the story-writer, said that it was extremely difficult to depict on celluloid the stories which are written in a few lines. "Many people asked why we were making the film. I feel the answer to that is there in the film itself. We felt the stories were powerful despite the economy of words."
In one way or the other, the theme of death runs through all the stories. The first one, Kuttumanipookal is about a woman who loses her child due to ignorance and isolation. Sankadam (Agony) is the story of a child stunned by the death of his mother while waiting for her after a dance class.
The third story, Chavarukal (Garbage) is a tale of revenge. It is about how, after being set on fire by human beings, a pile of garbage, with the help of its lord, the wind, takes revenge by setting ablaze those people's houses. The last one, Pusthakangal tells the story of a book which tries to run away, unable to bear the torture by a mother and her children. The father jumps on to save it, but dies in the process.
Death has not been portrayed sentimentally in the film. Rather, it is as bright as any other object in the scheme of life. For instance, in Sankadam, the child's grief over his mother's death is overtaken by joy in the blossoming of the plants they planted together.
Besides Abhimanyu, the film's cast includes state award-winner for best child star, Baby Hensy, Master Siddhardhan (of Gershome fame), Baby Neetu and about 15 other children. The film, which cost Rs 600,000 got a subsidy of Rs 300,000 from the government. The rest was collected by the district panchayat.
The four stories are from a compilation published by D C Books last year. The 24-page book containing 10 stories may appear trivial at first glance. But on a closer look, one finds that the writer has adroitly cast aspersion on everyone and everything he dislikes, with the utmost economy of words (most of his stories have just four sentences.)
His observations, relating to familiar objects that fascinate children of his age, are sharp. There are no princes, magicians or witches in his stories. With amazing facility and clarity, he depicts the world around him.
Abhimanyu has also worked as the editor of Mayilpeeli, a children's magazine brought out by the Sahitya Vedi group of Thrissur.
His father recalled that the boy penned his first story when he was in the first standard. "I too know how to write stories," he told his father one day. When asked what the story was, he spoke of a little girl whose father died and how she too met a tragic end. It was promptly titled Kuttumanippookkal.
The father says that most of the boy's stories are born of his "mastery over the craft of telling lies." Cautioned Vinayakumar, in a lighter vein, "Beware of him. He is an expert in telling lies." He gave an example of the 'lie' behind the boy's favourite story, Sankadam. Abhimanyu returned home one day from his dance class and told his father that "a child was waiting for his mother after the class. After a long wait, he started crying and then an ambulance came in. The boy entered the ambulance and found the mother's deadbody in it."
On hearing the story, the father was initially taken aback, but soon regained composure and asked his son whether it was not a sheer lie. When Abhimanyu stuck to his story, Vinayakumar advised him not to tell such stories. "But you can write them," the boy was told.
The 10-year-old has already read all the books in his father's collection which includes the works of several well-known Malayalam writers. M T Vasudevan Nair is his favourite novelist.
Abhimayu needs neither a chair nor a table to write. He sits cross-legged on the floor and writes in a clear handwriting. His mother is worried about the way her son goes about his life. "He is careless and not at all systematic. He would open his books only after repeated requests to study. He is adamant and gets angry easily," she said.
But the child is quite happy the way he is. When asked who would he like to emulate, pat came the reply, "I prefer to be myself." Asked if he did not wish to win the Booker Prize like Arundhathi Roy, he shot back, "I do not want the Booker Prize. I would like to get the Ezhuthachan Puraskaram."
The Ezhuthachan Puraskaram, an award named after the father of Malayalam language, goes to the best Malayalam writer every year.
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