Karie: Mirroring Dark Reality

Despite the many genres that film critics label films with, the Malayali audience generally classify their movies into two: the award (read art) films and the regular (read commercial) films. Shanavas Naranippuzha’s debut feature film, Karie, straddles this dichotomy with perfection and ease. It is artistic, political, and highly entertaining. In the limited screenings it had so far, the film had received praise from critics and the viewers alike. However, the reach has been very limited as Karie didn’t have a general release in cinemas. The film that didn’t have the backing of a production house or distributor network is finally getting some support from KSFDC, and opens to public at a handful of KSFDC-owned theatres by end-November.

Karie depicts the journey of two men through the villages on the banks of the fast-dying river Bharathapuzha (a character in the film, a sand smuggler, declares the river dead, though) and in that process holds a mirror to the ugly reality of caste in the supposedly progressive Kerala society. The opening sequence sets the tone for the movie with the scene where it shows a poster that advertises the sale of nutmeg seedlings. Nutmeg is called jathi, which also means caste, in Malayalam. There is a clever word play with the homonym (jathi = caste/nutmeg; jathithaikal vilpanakku, literally meaning nutmeg seedlings for sale) and the pun hits home with the precision of a sharp shooter. What follows is an expose of the magnitude of casteism that has imbrued into the so-called progressive society of Kerala. Karie doesn’t just poke at the social realities, instead, with the clever use of dark humor, it goes deep and tears them open for everyone to self-introspect.


‘Karinkali’ is a ritualistic performance associated with the ‘poorams’ (annual festivals) in the temples of the region. The performer, who turns into the embodiment of a deity that comes a few notches down in the pecking order of gods, is revered for the magical powers to protect, bless and take care of the devotees and annihilate the blasphemer. The duo, Gopu Kesav Menon and Bilal, hailing from south and central Kerala respectively, whose visit had another purpose are forced by an accident to search for a Karinkali for the local festival.

As the journey progresses, the mere references to caste move on to much complex topics of caste identities, hierarchy of the gods, regional divides and the existence of your god, my god and their god. Usually, the myopic devotees and the equally short-sighted art seekers overlook the complexities of the day-to-day life of the ritualistic performers and the emotions, conflicts, hardships and the crises that they go through as they balance two different identities. But, Shanavas Naranippuzha deserves full praise for capturing these complexities with dexterity. The sarcastic digs aimed at the behavior of individual systems and beliefs pertaining to Kerala call for the cerebral involvement of viewers, but the craft of the director ensures that the ideas are well transmitted, composedly and effectively.

Colour (not just black and white) is a recurring reference in Karie. The film offers a beautiful rendition of visual and societal aspects of colours. Karie moves on smoothly, engaging the viewer throughout its duration. The cinematography that exploits the natural light so brilliantly, along with the sound effects, places the viewer on the scenes. Dialogues are particularly impressive and need a special mention for the socio-political punch they pack with the right amount of subtlety. Spontaneous and without an iota of artificiality, they ooze humor, stick to the idea and tear apart the mask of progressiveness that the Keralites wear in public.

Karie is Shanavas Naranippuzha's debut feature film
Shanavas Naranippuzha

There are no familiar faces among the actors, but that takes nothing away from the performances. K T Satheesh’s enacting of Karinkali could give many of the mainstream performers a run for their money. Rammohan, Gopu Kesav and many of the other actors who played their parts to perfection deserve special mention when we talk about this movie.

Karie deserves attention, recognition and discussion. Shanavas Naranippuzha and his debut film must be lifted out of obscurity not only because its filmcraft is topnotch but also for the social relevance of the subject it handles. If this movie fails to enthuse the audience, the only possible explanation could be their unwillingness to confront the ugly reality of caste that underlies our everyday transactions.