19 April, 2021

Empty Fist Meets Empty Head

For Bombay cinema, it's native exotica—like adding a dash of pepper to jaded fight scenes. But a martial art genre plays along.

Empty Fist Meets Empty Head
Decked out like Rambo, Akshay Kumar bursts into view, machine-gun blazing. In a blink, he is surrounded by sinewy palace guards togged out in baggy pants and brandishing sticks and swords. Naturally, they don't stand a chance against the Bollywood action hero, but the scene from the film Lahoo Ke Do Rang has a special significance that is lost on the audience.

The palace guards are no bunch of extras in funny costumes menacingly waving plastic swords. They are real-life fighters trained in kalaripayattu, Kerala's ancient martial art. The exclusive heritage of the warrior clans of north Kerala, this fading martial arts tradition is finding celluloid resurrection on the extravagant and surreal sets of the Bombay film industry.

Bollywood's tryst with kalaripayattu possibly couldn't have come at a better time. The kalari tradition is struggling to survive in the land of its origin. A few families in north Kerala, who are the repositories of this ancient knowledge, have been keeping the tradition barely alive by opening schools and clinics. The box-office appeal of Hindi...

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