An attitude woman

My friends might shake their heads when they find out that I skipped the new star wars for this movie, but no start war can do what Pilibail Yamunakka can.

Posters for Pilibail Yamunakka feature an old lady with a large sootay-kathi (machete) wrapped up in the back of her blouse. Women who are quiet fierce or sarcastic are also called sootay in Tulu. “Vengeance takes over humanity this September” announces a poster for the movie below a range of serious faces.

This isn’t a very serious movie. Well it is but not how you know serious movies. In fact the movie seems so far away from the usual tropes and such a mish-mash of genres that it seems like an art film. But it is important to remember that Tulu movies and drama are almost always comedies.

The movie begins with a man rushing through the fields carrying a knife in the middle of the night. I must admit I giggled when I realized his cloak was a blanket, but it adds some sort of authenticity. The old lady in the poster awakens and declares that she knows someone is coming to kill her. But no one arrives. The next thing you know its morning and her sons make jokes about how she isn’t dead yet.

This scene was actually shot at my great-aunts place and it’s not very far from reality either. In many of Jain Zamindar household sons and branches of the family were often vying to inherit property from the heads of the family who were more often than not old matriarchs. It might seem a little morbid to outsiders but this is almost a stereotype to be honest. The old woman, Yamunakka of Pilibail complains about her sons and their “kirikiri” while decked in gold and having a doctor massaged her legs with oil.

Cut to three jobless guys who hang out in the city. They get drunk and share the good doctor’s advice on how to drink alcohol while fooling your liver. That’s Dr.Vijaya Mallya. Of course there is always that character that has a lecture ready right after his daily prayers. Someone farts at him. One of the biggest fears I had about this movie or any low budget regional film is how they tend to rely on the usual tropes of cinema or play it safe. This movie doesn’t seem to care at all for those tropes.

Before they leave the house in search of work they meet a Pourakarmika who calls anyone who fails to hand over garbage anti-national. “I’ll file a sedition case” he yells. They eventually meet two traffic cops. The inspector in this duo fails to carry out his duties because of his constant need to pee and because he is in debt to the constable. Our men continue now on a quest for love, with one eventually finding girl he wants to do “love” with. They actually just want to marry rich. He follows her around smiling creepily and holding a tiny flower. I’m sure this has to be parody and literally asks her if she wants to love. She says cool but it’ll cost you 2000.

She like many other characters in the movie is short, fat and dark. Tulu movies seem surprisingly progressive that way, only two characters are conventionally attractive. He goes home dejected until all his friends offer to pool in the money. In fact it’s the righteous Morning Prayer guy who mysteriously discovers he has the cash. The others were badly affected by demonetization and we had previously seen them paying the cops bribes with coins. They send another guy to get condom and the poor guy has to come up with innuendos to tell the shop keeper what he wants and what flavour the group wants. “Poor people have nothing to eat and you want strawberry?” says the irritated shopkeeper. Unfortunately the woman decides 4 men is way too much and walks off.

This more sexual humour is mixed in with the slapstick and sarcasm. You don’t see this mix often, and in most movies sexuality ends up becoming a crass or taboo sort of thing. More interesting was the crowd. Most of Mangalore’s theatres are in the city so you have a mix of people from both urban and rural areas turning up to watch the movie. Everybody laughed away at the slapstick and the sexual humour.

After many shenanigans, selfies, and trips to the mall where people dress up nice so that people think they are well off we end up back at Yamunakka’s house. One of her son’s decides that he needs to chase the other out so he can get the property. He hires two men to do this. They do it by pretending to be ghosts and parodying Bahubali. I don’t know why but it’s hilarious. Unfortunately the other guys’ son is convinced a member of the ghost duo killed Bahubali and wows vengeance. I’m not certain if this character is just dull or playing the jester.

Eventually our original group of men turn up pretending to be Indian ghost busters and say “Gaar Gaar Mandali” while chasing the ghosts who eventually cross dresses and pretends to be a Byari speaking Nagavali. There’s also a romance subplot, a subplot with thieves who have to cross dress to steal diamonds so they can get settled in life, one of the men trying to hook up with their landlords wife, two exorcisms, ghosts with piles etc. that happen under the influence of alcohol and cross dressing.

Apparently I had great grand uncle who tried the same thing. Right down to Bayri speaking ghost. And I can’t believe I forgot this but there is also a subplot involving a person wearing a Goa shirt, carrying an axe threatening literally everyone in his quest to ban candy crush. “You don’t know my flash back!” he repeats over and over. It’s basically a meme in film format.

There is a twist at the end so skip this paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers. It is revealed that Yammunka wasn’t the legitimate possessor of the house but seized it after killing her abusive husband. She was formerly a maid who had an affair with the landlord. She kicked his legitimate child out and killed his mother with a sootay-kathi. He is the man we see in the beginning of the movie and eventually kills her.

The ending may feel a bit rushed or break from the tone of the movie after the comedy. The attitude woman mentioned in the title really takes a back seat for most of the movie. But that’s mostly due to the way that the movie works- mixing in things from every genre and not really caring for movie rules. If you don’t know the language or the culture that the movie is centered on it isn’t for you because I have no idea if it can be properly translated. But if you do, then it promises to be a lot of fun.

They Live

All I expected from They Live was pure 80’s camp and Roddy Pippers promise to chew bubble gum and kick ass. Imagine my delight when I discovered that this underrated John Carpenter movie is one the most subversive critique of the american dream and Reaganomics.

The short story that movie is based on is Eight o’Clock in the Morning, which is about a bunch of aliens watching and controlling people through media. John Carpenter goes a little further and has the aliens be gooey faced capitalists. It weird how the movie can have you unsure if you want to call it genius or cheesy. 

This rare product of the Hollywood left features actor Roddy Pippers play a down on his luck day laborer. In the multi-ethnic shanties that lie in the shadows of the richer LA neighborhood the nameless lead naively declares that he believes in America. It’s not long before he finds a church group calming that the world is ruled by a cabal of corrupt, evil ‘others’. It could easily take the route of a story like the Da Vinic Code and start following random mysteries and conspiracies. However it chooses to become an almost satirical but deep critic of America and class inequality.

As the movie likes to put it- “Our impulses are being redirected. We are living in an artificially induced state of consciousness that resembles sleep.The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human rights are nonexistent. They have created a repressive society, and we are their unwitting accomplices. We have been lulled into a trance. They have made us indifferent to ourselves, to others. We are focused only on our own gain.  They are safe as long as they are not discovered.  Keep us asleep, keep us selfish, keep us sedated.”

After a brutal police raid that goes noticed by the city, the lead finds a box of sunglasses. He puts them on and finds he can see the “truth” or subliminal messages in ads and media. Every other billboard screams consume, buy, obey or conform, a scantily clad woman on a travel ads say mate and reproduce and a wad of cash proclaims itself your god.

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A still from They Live

You are reminded that this is a Hollywood movie when the nameless lead beats up two alien cops and starts shooting the crap out of a bank, gunning down every alien that he comes across. But the previous nine minutes of him stumbling across LA now seeing the greed and materialism is truly cathartic. It’s one of the best metaphors for a non-materialistic perspective that I’ve come across.

The film also features a equally long, awkward and almost comical fight between the lead and a friend of his (played by another wrestler). I wonder why Carpenter decided to make the scene so deliberately unnecessary. Maybe he was trying to show us much much time and energy we wasted fighting each other instead of the aliens/ capitalists/ republicans.

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They Live: Official Film poster

This odd gem ends with (spoiler) all the main characters dying after assaulting the mass-media complex that facilitates the alien capitalists to exploit the world. Even during the action packed climax you’ll find a subtle line about the aliens treating America like their third world. These random pot shots at American foreign policy and the very 80’s soundtrack might annoy some but they just make the movie more interesting in my opinion.