Thursday, March 5, 2020


Release date:
February 28, 2020
Dr Biju
Saritha Kukku, Indrans, Govardhan, Krishnan Balakrishnan 

It is astonishing how a film with so much movement can achieve the appearance of such stillness and quiet. Dr Biju’s Veyilmarangal (Trees Under The Sun) is a story of Dalits, displacement and degradation of both the social and ecological kind. Its leads are a woman, man and child whose island house in Kerala is inundated, leaving them homeless. 

The nameless family – Mother (played by Saritha Kukku), Father (Indrans) and Son (Govardhan) – are poor Dalits who eke out a living from hard manual labour and the running of a peanut cart. The land where they live has been abandoned by most of its inhabitants as water levels have risen over time and threaten to submerge it. As Nature wreaks her wrath on them at one end of the spectrum, at the other, they must deal with constant reminders of their deemed insignificance by fellow humans.  

There is no screaming, shouting or voluble, overly busy background score accompanying the narrative. That is not how Dr Biju tells his stories. But in the climactic scene, when the lead trio explode with anger, as in an earlier scene when the Father can barely let the words out of his mouth after he is subjected to a humiliating, unjust incarceration, we are left in no doubt that even in their silences there is resentment and a boiling, bottled-up fury. They fight then only in self-defence but the energy for that momentary outburst comes not just from the episode at hand but from years of pent-up indignation that has not and should not be forgotten. This scene perfectly paraphrases the title of Indian poet Aamir Aziz’s Hindi verse Sab Yaad Rakha Jayega (Everything Will Be Remembered) that recently gained global attention when Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters read it out at a public function in London: “You write injustice on the earth, we will write revolution in the sky.” Because “everything will be remembered”.

Veyilmarangal is unlike Dr Biju’s Valiya Chirakulla Pakshikal (Birds With Large Wings), a well-intentioned, informative but tedious, somewhat indulgent chronicling of Endosulfan poisoning in Kasargod. Like the director’s 2017 film, Kaadu Pookkunna Neram starring Rima Kallingal, Indrajith Sukumaran and Indrans, this one too extends its economy with dialogues to its use of time. It is a minimalist work, and despite its conciseness, it is packed with activity and commentary. 

There is no overt sermon about caste and gender politics yet both are ever-present entities whether in Communist Kerala where there is an appearance of social equity or Himachal Pradesh where a landlord openly calls his employee a "ch****r" and a lower-caste man is physically attacked for touching an upper-caste man. In my favourite scene in the film, a group of Dalits in a meeting with a government official all stand to attention when the national anthem is heard being sung by some young voices nearby. Right before and when they seat themselves right after, the poor gathering is informed by the sarkar’s rep that there is little he can do about the fact that the government’s rehabilitation work for them will be hampered by their lack of Aadhaar cards. Can there be a more telling statement on symbols of nationhood getting greater respect and consideration than humans who make up the nation?

Some of Mollywood’s finest talents have participated in this project. The subtle background music is by commercial cinema’s darling, Bijibal, and the absolutely stunning cinematography is by M.J. Radhakrishnan. As in all Dr Biju’s works, the environment is a character unto itself in this film. Kerala is no doubt gorgeous, as is Himachal, but Radhakrishnan’s camerawork goes beyond merely capturing the natural beauty of both states – it is designed to have a calming effect on the viewer. 

And then of course there is the cast, each one a naturalistic actor. Kukku, Indrans and Govardhan are so good that they actually come across as a real family living in harmony with each other and with nature. The charismatic Krishnan Balakrishnan, who plays their Malayali friend in Himachal, is memorable in a smaller role. 

Veyilmarangal does not feature any of the elements that conventional wisdom tells us give a film commercial appeal, but forget conventional wisdom if you are in the mood for a sublime cinematic experience. It is a sedate, realistic slice of life, or rather slice-of-two-years-in-the-life-of-the-sweetest-family-you-can-imagine, and completely worth a visit to theatres.  

Rating (out of 5 stars): 3.5

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
134 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Posters courtesy: IMDB

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