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Cinema and the Production of a Popular Identity: Melodrama and the Left Developmental Aesthetic in Puthiya Akasam Puthiya Bhoomi

Dr. Muhammed Afzal P. (PhD in Cultural Studies, Department of Cultural Studies, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad) is Assistant Professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani

Location : LH5
This paper analyses the role of left melodramas in Malayalam cinema in the production of a popular identity called Malayali in the mid-twentieth century and argues how melodrama has been the dominant aesthetic subtext of the left project in Kerala. Through an analysis of the Malayalam film Puthiya Akasam Puthiya Bhoomi (New Horizon, New World, dir. M.S. Mani, 1961), the paper argues how the melodramatic address and the developmental aesthetic of the film facilitate the construction of a “people”. While thematic concerns about social reform through mobilization of the masses characterized the earlier left melodramas in Malayalam, Puthiya Akasam Puthiya Bhoomi marks a shift towards a focus on developmentalism. The paper argues how this film anticipates what film theorist Madhava Prasad calls a “developmental aesthetic” that emerged in Hindi cinema in the 1970s, engendered by the Indian state’s crisis of legitimacy. Thus, the film provides an opportunity to explore the distinct way the question of popular sovereignty played out in Kerala. Made at a time when the left’s national-popular project in Kerala was acquiring a mature shape, the film attempts a construction of a people around the idea of a “common good”. This idea of a common good has been projected as constitutive of the modern Malayali identity, and arguably led to a higher social development based on a feeling of “we-ness”. By focusing on the production of a popular identity, the paper contributes to a discussion on the distinct history of populism in Kerala in the mid-twentieth century and the interaction among language politics, cinema and left politics in the region.

Keywords: popular identity, Kerala, national-popular, melodrama, developmental aesthetic

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