The Elippathayam (Rat Trap) Moment Of Indian Cinema


Elippathayam (The Rat Trap) is a 1981 Malayalam film written and directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan. It tells the story of a man trapped within himself unable to understand the changes taking place around him. It seems Indian Cinema also is caught in rat trap. No, it would be a bit flattering for Indian Cinema to use the rat trap metaphor. The rat caught in a rat trap will run around vehemently trying to find out an escape route. Indian cinema is not even doing that. Like Unni, the protagonist of the film Elippathayam, Indian Cinema doesn’t even know that it has been caught in a rat tap!

The rat trap metaphor emerges after the controversy over the Information and Broadcasting (I & B) ministry’s move to drop the films “S Durga” and “Nude” from 48th  International Film Festival of India’s (IFFI) Indian Panorama section.  I & B Ministry asked the 13 member jury to select 20 films for the Panorama section. The list of selected films was submitted to the Ministry by the jury on October 13, it announced the final list on November 9 leaving these two films out.

The arbitrary rejection of these two films was an insult to the jury who selected these films. The jury Chairman, film maker, Sujoy Ghosh resigned on November 14. Two other jury members also resigned in the following days. Scriptwriter Apurva Asrani said his conscience doesn’t allow him to participate in the film festival, being held in Goa from November 20-28. Filmmaker Gyan Correa became the third member of the jury to resign. Other members of the jury also are miffed by the decision of I & B ministry.

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Malayalam movie S Durga takes a dig at the  patriarchial Kerala society by telling the story of an eloping couple and the travails they endure during the journey. The film stars Rajashri Despande and Kannan Nair.  Durga  is a north Indian girl who flees with a boy from Kerala named Kabeer.

In October the film, originally titled ‘Sexy Durga’, courted controversy after Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) suggested a change of the title and  it was amended to ‘S Durga’. The film has won several international awards and recognition: Hivos Tiger award for best feature film in the International Film Festival of Rotterdam, Netherlands; Golden Apricot for best feature film in Yerevan, Armenia; best international feature in Guanajuato, Mexico; best feature film in the Geneva International Film Festival; Asia Pacific Screen Awards nomination for best director; young jury award for best film in Pesaro International Film Festival, Italy; special jury award for music & direction in Cinemajove, Valencia, Spain; jury award for best cinematography, Zerkalo, Tarkovsky Film Festival, Russia; and special jury mention at Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival With Star 2017.

The Marathi film ‘Nude’ is directed by National Award-winning director Ravi Jadhav. The film traces the life of a woman who secretly works as a nude model for artists in Mumbai. It further shows her struggles to hide the truth about her profession from her family and son. The film stars Kalyanee Mulay, Chhaya Kadam and Madan Deodhar. The Indian Express reported that  it was originally the jury’s unanimous choice to open the Indian Panorama section at the IFFI this year with ‘Nude’.

Ever since the right wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014 it was attacking the film fraternity. Soon after it came to power BJP tried to install a TV actor Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairperson of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). The students mounted a 139 day strike. BJP won the battle and installed their nominee as the Chairperson. However, in support of the student strike and the growing intolerance in the country against intellectuals and religious minorities dozens of film makers returned the national awards they won earlier in their carrier.

Let me make it very clear. The rejection of films from Indian Panorama is a greater attack on freedom of expression than the FTII strike. This is the latest attempt by the fascist forces that govern the country to impose their monolithic interpretation of culture and curtail dissent.  The jury Chairman and two others showed exemplary courage in resigning their position. Where are the other stalwarts of Indian Cinema when their very means of intellectual expression and livelihood is under attack? Some have decided to stage token protest at the IFFI venue. This is far too little. Mere tokenism will not do. We need concrete action.

A still from Elippathayam
A still from Elippathayam (The Rat Trap)

Here comes the rat trap metaphor again. Why don’t the Indian film makers show natural instinct of a mouse caught up in a rat trap? It seems, like Unni, the protagonist of Elippathayam, they too are caught up in their own lethargic life and doesn’t know what’s happening to the body politic of India. They don’t even know that they are trapped in a ‘Rat Trap’.  Indian film makers must wake up and show the urgency to get out of the rat trap of their own creation. They must boycott IFFI, boycott all government funded film projects, they must stop sending film to I & B ministry for the ‘so called’ national awards which has of late has become ‘Hindi Film Awards’.

One telling graffiti of the FTII strike was Albert Camus’ quote “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” The fascist forces have come out of the campuses and have come hunting for your films. It is high time that the film makers who showed solidarity and support to the students of FTII showed the same courage now. I would say, not the same, go beyond that. Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) was a radical strategy that brought down the apartheid South African regime. BDS is a successful strategy that is being used against the apartheid Israeli regime. It’s time for a BDS movement for government supported cinema in India. For that to happen Indian film makers should come out of the “Elippathayam’’ (rat trap) of their own making.

PS: The director of Elippathayam, the Phalke Award winner, Adoor Gopalakrishnan hasn’t uttered a word against the greatest attack on Indian Cinema. It seems he too is caught in his own “Elippathayam”.

Binu Mathew is the editor of He can be reached at [email protected]

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