Director: Govindan Aravindan
Writer: Govindan Aravindan
Cast: Bharat Gopi, Jalaja, V.K. Sriraman, V.K. Sriraman
Cinematographer: Shaji N. Karun
Editor: Rameshan, Selvanathan
Thamp, directed by the Malayalam maestro Aravindan Govindan and released in 1978, relies little on the usual pillars of feature filmmaking – plot, character arcs, drama. Shot in the cinema verité style, the film follows a travelling circus in Kerala, which is set up in a village near a river. At first, the villagers are enchanted by the entertaining acts, which include a tiger leaping from one stool to another and a wonderful piece of theatre by clowns, one of whom pretends to be dead. But within three days, they’ve had their fill and moved on to the preparations for a religious ceremony. The circus tent is lowered and the troupe moves on.
Using long silences and close-ups of faces, Aravindan creates unique poetry. Thamp, which means ‘circus tent’, explores transience, marginalization and the singular ache of being rootless. The circus performers put on a rousing show. The wide-eyed, smiling faces of the audience are a testament to the joy they bring. But their own lives are threadbare and hellishly difficult. One performer, a woman who was sold to the circus as a child, simply says: I’m tired.
Thamp mixes professional actors such as Bharat Gopi and Jalaja with members of an actual circus. The film has been shot in black and white by Shaji N. Karun, who went on to become an acclaimed director himself. His camera captures striking images and seamlessly blurs the lines between reality and fiction. The awestruck faces of the villagers when they first see the circus acts echo the enraptured faces in Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya’s brilliant documentary The Cinema Travelers. Eyes widen with wonder. Which dissipates all too quickly. Human connection is tragically fleeting.
Thamp has been restored in 4K by the Film Heritage Foundation with support from the Prasad Corporation, the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, Cineteca di Bologna and L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory. The film is playing as part of Cannes Classics.