I’m still reeling from an encounter with Santhosh Pandit. Fortunately, I’ve come away relatively unscathed since it was a virtual encounter — he was giving an interview on television last night.
But the interview, supplemented by some of his videos on YouTube, has left me almost speechless. Which, I’m told, is one of two customary reactions to Pandit, Kerala’s newest cultural icon. The other response to Pandit and his work, I gather, is to let loose a stream of invective broken by bouts of hysterical laughter.
Who is this guy, I wondered when I saw him in action on television. And the more I saw of him, the more intrigued I was. His web site and Google threw up some answers, but his videos on YouTube were a revelation.
In a line, Pandit is a Malayalam filmmaker. And one who has donned several hats in his recently released debut film Krishnanum Radhayum. A more complex descriptor though, is that Pandit is a wave that’s sweeping across Kerala.
From what I’ve heard, his film is so appalling that appalling doesn’t quite cover it. And if the videos on YouTube are anything to go by, execrable would be a very generous description of the film. His acting sucks, his songs suck despite the double entendre, the dialogues suck — everything about the film sucks.
Yet, people in Kerala are forking out money to see Krishnanum Radhayum.
A friend who sat through the two-and-a-half-hour film said it is so bad that you want to commit hara-kiri. Audiences were either in splits or busy abusing Pandit in Malayalam, he added. Still, people continue to go for the film and Santhosh Pandit is apparently one of the top searches on Google.
So what is it about this film and its creator that mesmerises? Is it his self-deprecatory, permanently goofy expression and facial contortions? Is it his ability to create an opportunity for us to vent? Do we identify with his ‘ordinary guy living out a fantasy’ story? Or have our standards fallen so much that we, in some strange way, find him and his work entertaining?
The answer, I suspect, is a combination of all these. But it is also something more complex, a reflection in some ways of the spirit of the times.
What intrigues me more, though, is what drives Pandit. Reading between the lines of the interview I saw on television and a couple on YouTube, it seems he knows just how awful his work is. So is he, through all the clowning around, taking carefully aimed pot shots at the holier-than-thou Malayalam film industry and cultural establishment? Or is he a canny businessman, who has discovered a new path to fame and riches? Or is he just a supremely confident chap living out his celluloid dreams?
I have no idea. What I do know though is that Santhosh Pandit is having a blast with his 15 minutes of fame. Which is, I guess, a great way to live.