Ascent of an Untouchable / Gramavrikshathile Kuyil
Dir: KP Kumaran / India / 118 Minutes / Malayalam / / 2019
At the turn of the 20th Century, Kerala, like much of India and the world beyond, was in the throes of cataclysmic change. Social and political turmoil engendered by the struggle against colonialism and oppressive social norms engulfed society. And yet, it was a time of hope, aspiration and above all, of great poetry and literature.
No one better encapsulates the magical essence of this epoch than Kumaran Asan, the poet and social revolutionary. Inspired by the saint and social reformer Sree Narayana Guru, Asan worked tirelessly to establish the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), the first organization dedicated to the upliftment of India’s backward castes. Asan’s political activism made him a central figure in their struggle for self-respect and inspired historic social reforms. Beyond his politics and his poetry, Asan’s personal life attracted unwanted attention from friends and detractors alike. His marriage to a much younger Bhanumathi engendered caustic exchanges with contemporaries and provided fodder to his adversaries.
These relatively less known aspects underline the complex realities that confronted this poly-faceted personality, until his sudden death in a boat accident. ‘Grama Vrikshathile Kuyil’ is the forgotten but inspiring story of Kumaranasan’s life and times, his work and relationships. It is a rare biopic that brings to life one of Kerala’s great cultural and political personalities. The film adopts an unique narrative style built around the poets work. The beauty of Asan’s poetry that is the leitmotif of the movie gains vitality through the verdant richness of Kerala’s landscape.