Director: Jeeva KJ
Cast: Murugan Martin, Ashok Kumar Peringode, Arun Michael, Kripa Daniel, Biny
The dramatic title, Richter Scale 7.6, reminds us of an earthquake. But the film is as peaceful and placid as the surface of a lake. It’s a two-character drama between a father (Ashok Kumar Peringode) and a son (Murugan Martin). The father is a folk theatre artist, a singer and a dancer whose themes are Gods, ancestors and nature. We hear many of his songs in the film and one of them goes: “Where are we headed? All I have is the sky above and the earth below to protect me”. The son is a daily wage worker in a nearby quarry. This means that he is, through his work, helping destroy the very same nature that his father sings about.
The film is one long conflict between father and son, but it’s not a generational conflict though it seems that way at first because fathers and sons don’t always get along. For example, the son wants to sell the ancestral home, a hut and a piece of land. He wants to move out because all that the hut is worth to him is a bunch of notes. But the father refuses because it’s his ancestral property: his own piece of soil and earth, his own piece of nature. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t harm even a snake that enters his house. Slowly, we get one of the metaphors of the film: the fact that the father is considered a ‘mental case’ by the son and, perhaps, even by society. Because he’s deemed mad he is chained to his bed each morning and the question arises: is the father really ‘mad’ or is it simply that his values seem crazy in today’s society?
This beautifully contained and compressed film runs for just about 110 minutes with so much packed into it. But after a while, the conflict changes direction: the son has an accident at the quarry and incapacitated. Now, he’s the one who’s chained to his bed, figuratively, as he cannot move. The father is now able to move; they’ve exchanged places.
The father becomes the caretaker and prepares food for the son (earlier we saw the reverse). The father sets out to work in the end. It leaves us with one of the saddest scenes in my recent memory. The final shot is the most spectacular in the film: it visually encapsulates everything the film talks about. As the camera slowly pulls back from the father, you finally see what the film has been saying all along, in a completely visual manner.
Richter Scale 7.6 doesn’t just want to dole out a message; it’s also a visually thought out film. It’s a piece of pure cinema. In the way the father and son are framed throughout the film, there’s often something dividing them, even if it’s just the thatched dividers that serve as the walls of their house. It suggests that they’re emotionally distant people. There’s always something dividing them and the camera makes sure that we see both father and son, but through these divisions.
A calendar in the film says that it’s 2010 but it could be any time in the modern age. The biggest irony is that the son who belongs to this generation is the one least equipped to satisfy his own needs whereas the father can actually fish for himself or do a bit of carpentry. The son buys fish at the market. All that the son can do is work for someone else for money which he then uses to buy things for himself. The father is self-sufficient like our ancestors. Hunter-gatherers were all self-sufficient. The calendar, without marking a precise time, suggests how generationally we have all changed over the years.
Both actors in the film are excellent, but this is pure cinema: it’s a director’s film. She has managed to say what she wants without holding a placard with a message. She has told her message in purely visual terms. In fact, the film reminded me a lot of Lenin Bharati’s excellent Merku Thodarchi Malai. The fact that the film’s message forms fully only in the final shot, the fact that the shot shows the entire message, is an excellent sign of things to come from the director.