A Bootha Kola is a sort of shamanistic ritual where you summon Bootha’s or Daivas- spirits neither malevolent or benevolent who reflect the relationship between the tangible and intangible world. Or the farmlands and the forests.
These pictures are from one where Kalurti was summoned. She’s mute and howls while she dances. I couldn’t take a video- it would have been blurry anyway- even though most people don’t care what you do at a Kola. People would text or greet relatives right when the Bootha was dancing away or proclaiming judgments in front of them. It’s not that they don’t care, they don’t think the spirits mind.
During intervals in the dance Kalurti would point to people and make hand gestures that indicated if she was happy with them or not. But while dancing her face was expressionless. She lept and howled, carrying a touch that she beat against her chest while she circled the people who’d gathered. My grandfather said in Tulu that she was just trying to throw away her legs and arms. The performer was who really interested me. Nobody spoke to him; he never said a word- before or after the performance. These pictures were my attempts to capture any emotions the silent shaman showed under all that makeup.
At the vacant beach
Wave after wave of memory.
On a bike, I cycle all the way
To my childhood.
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.
more and more stars
on swaying leaves.
Where is the pain of travel
When the road is your home?
Is it this new desert that is barren
Or my soul?
Far way from the soil
You must know
The rituals of death
Come from tradition.