“Vazhiyil kuzhi undavum. Ennalum vannekkane (There will be potholes on the road. But please do come).” This slick exhortation to people to visit cinema halls, part of a poster of a satirical Malayalam movie that released on Thursday, has triggered the latest political slugfest in Kerala, with parties and their supporters taking turns to drag their rivals down the state’s notoriously potholed roads.
The poster of the film, Nna Thaan Case Kodu (Sue Me), a courtroom drama starring Kunchacko Boban, tells the story of a petty thief and his run-ins with the police and legal system. Though the movie has only a passing reference to potholes, it’s the poster that has got the goat of supporters of the CPI(M)-led Left Front government in the state, with calls on social media for a boycott of the movie.
Prem Kumar, a prominent pro-CPI(M) voice on television debates, took to Facebook to say, “It has been made with a clear agenda to insult those who try to work hard. By advertising this poster, distributors of this movie have demonstrated that they are part of an anti-people front. It is a campaign against a democratically elected government. I have changed my mind about watching this movie.’’
Advocate Resmitha Ramachandran, another prominent pro-Left voice, shared the poster on her Facebook page, along with a message: “I had hoped to watch this movie. But I have changed my decision. I will watch it only after this advertisement is withdrawn and those in charge tender an apology.”
Congress legislator and Opposition Leader V D Satheesan hit back, questioning the Left’s attack on the poster. “Those who claim to be champions of freedom of expression have come out against a film poster. It shows that they won’t spare anyone who criticises them. If the poster talks about potholes on Kerala roads, it should be seen as the filmmaker’s expression of free speech,’’ he said.
Reacting to the boycott calls, Malayalam novelist Benyamin said on Facebook, “If you are afraid of a film advertisement, then you need to understand that something is seriously wrong with you. I have decided I’ll go to the theatre to watch the movie.’’
Just as the online debate gained momentum, CPI(M) leader and PWD Minister Mohammed Riyas stepped in, leaving the cyber-attackers confused. “I see it as constructive criticism. It is a film poster and should be seen as such,’’ he said.
The poster pressed all the wrong buttons considering it came in the backdrop of a controversy over the state’s roads that have been ravaged by the recent monsoons and which have claimed a few lives in recent weeks. Last week, a two-wheeler rider died in an accident after his bike fell into a pothole on the Thrissur-Kochi stretch of National Highway 544, which is a tolled corridor. Subsequently, the CPI(M) and BJP had engaged in a blame game over the maintenance of national highways in the state.
As Public Works Minister Mohammed Riyas blamed the Centre for the lack of maintenance of national highways, BJP leader from Kerala and Union Minister V Muraleedharan hit back, saying the state government had not brought up the issue in its meetings with the Centre.
On Tuesday, the Kerala High Court took suo motu action on the motorcycle rider’s death, directing the National Highways Authority of India and the district collectors of Thrissur and Ernakulam to repair all potholes on highways in the state within a week.
There have been several social media memes over the poor condition of roads, including of people fishing in potholes. Two youths recently took their protest a step further: by stripping down to their towels and bathing in a pothole on a road connecting Pandikkad in Malappuram to Palakkad district. U A Latheef, MLA of the Opposition Indian Union Muslim League who represents Manjeri in Malappuram, is seen arriving at the scene and asking the protesters to plant plantains in the crater.
Last month, the Opposition had walked out of the Assembly after a debate on the condition of roads in Kerala. While Congress MLA Eldose Kunnapillil had blamed lack of coordination between different agencies and underfunding, minister Riyas said Kerala has 3 lakh km of roads, of which the PWD maintains only under 30,000 km.
In 2019, the Palarivattom flyover in Kochi, constructed at a cost of Rs 39 crore, had to be closed for traffic after it developed cracks, barely three years after its inauguration. In 2020, a bridge under construction collapsed along the NH bypass stretch at Thalassery in North Kerala. This year, another bridge under construction, on a state PWD road, collapsed in Kozhikode.
Referring to the attack on the movie, actor Boban said, “The movie is not targeted at any party or the government. However, all parties should understand the issues faced by the common man. I enjoyed the poster. Once you watch the film, you would understand the issue that the poster talks about.’’
Producer Santhosh T Kuruvilla told The Indian Express, “This movie was registered in 2018… It’s a story of the pit in this movie. We explained this to the minister and he was convinced.”