What the Huguita controversy in Kerala is all about, explained


A cultural debate erupted in Kerala in late November, starting with Congress leader Shashi Tharoor sharing the poster of the upcoming film, and now has the state’s intellectuals lining up on both sides of the aisle. The reason? Malayalam director Hemanth G Nair’s upcoming film Higuita Renowned author NS Madhavan disputes his title, claiming that the rights to a film titled and based on his short story are being taken away from him. Higuita.

Confused? We explain.

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What is the Higuita controversy?

On November 28, Thiruvananthapuram MP and senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor released the poster. Higuita on his Facebook page.

The next day, a Twitter user shared the poster, tagged Madhavan and said that whenever they hear the name ‘Higuita’, the first thing they think of is the author’s short story. Madhavan then tweeted that message, where he first alleged that this film was taking away the rights of a film’s title. He also said, “I wish that no writer in any language should suffer my condition.”

However, Nair has denied any connection between his film and Madhavan’s short story, stating that the title was a symbolic reference to former Colombian goalkeeper René Higuita. Incidentally, Madhavan’s short story was also inspired by the legendary footballer. Nair questioned how anyone can judge the film when the preview is not yet available.

Higuita is my first film. I have no plans to change the title at this time. The title was officially released on 8 November 2019 with the support of eight leading stars of Malayalam cinema. After facing Covid-19 and many other crises, we have the opportunity to release the film right now. I wonder why such a problem has arisen when no one has faced any problem so far,” Nair told reporters.

Meanwhile, speaking to Malayalam news portal Onmanorama, Madhavan said, “Higuita was not a popular wicketkeeper. If you go through the 1986 reports, you may see his name two or three times. The player entered the consciousness of Kerala through me. If I didn’t write that story, there is no logic in naming the movie Higuita. They are trying to overcome the popularity of my story”.

On December 2, however, Madhavan seemed to have won, and the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC) reportedly rejected the film’s title, saying the maker had filed a complaint. “The people behind the film should have consulted the writer before finalizing the title,” said chamber president G Suresh Kumar.

KFCC provides certificates of title and publicity clearance before a film is certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

Where is the Higuita debate going now?

Madhavan reacted to this development with a tweet saying that he was grateful to KFFC. “I wish young director Hemanth Nair and his film all the success. Let people come to watch the Suraj-Dhyaan film,” he added, referring to actors Suraj Venjaramoodu and Dhyan Sreenivasan.

However, Nair denied his earlier stand that his film had nothing to do with the short story, and said the filmmakers would take legal action.

Prominent cultural figures from Kerala have joined both sides of the debate, with some saying Madhavan retains the rights to the title, while others question how a living person’s name can be the exclusive property of a man.

Asianet News reports that Kerala Sahitya Akademi president K Satchidanandan supports Madhavan’s claim to the title. He also reportedly wrote a Facebook post defending the author, which he later deleted after being trolled.

Leader of Opposition and Congress MLA VD Satheesan also came out in support of Madhavan. “The Malayalam audience knows not only the footballer but also the short story written by Madhavan, which is one of the most famous in Malayalam literature. His grief is justified. The filmmaker should have asked for his permission,” he told reporters.

The well-known novelist Benyamin, who has written books such as Days of the Goat, took a more balanced view of the debate. Madhavan wrote on Facebook that while he was in no way the owner of Higuita “double standard” of filmmakers. it cannot be ignored.

Who is NS Madhavan and what is his short story about?

Madhavan, 74, is one of the most popular and acclaimed authors in Malayalam. His 2003 novel Lanthan Batheriyile Luthiniyakal It is a history of Kochi and its people and is his most significant work. He won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for the novel in 2004 and was shortlisted for the 2007 Man Asian Literary Award.

He is also known for his short stories – these are just a few examples Higuita, Thiruthu and Vanmarangal Veezhumpol. Most of his stories chronicle the anxieties of the modern world as it collides with traditional ways of life.

Along with this, Madhavan is a frequent football commentator and travel columnist. He joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1975 as a member of the Bihar cadre.

Madhavan is a distinguished member of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi and has won several awards for his work. In 1993, he won the Padmarajan Award Thiruthu. In 2015, he was awarded the Padmaprabha Literary Award, and in 2018, he won two awards: the Mathrubhumi Literary Award and the Bahrain Keraleeya Samajam Literary Award.

Higuita, was published for the first time in 1990, XX. It is considered one of the best Malayalam stories of the 20th century. It revolves around a Christian priest, Father Gee Varghese, who is an ardent fan of Colombian goalkeeper René Higuita, and is inspired by his hero to save a tribal girl from being trafficked. The story has also been adapted for the stage by Sasidharan Naduvil as Higuita: the anxiety of a goalkeeper in the penalty shootout.

The short story won the Odakkuzhal Award in 1994 and the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Story Award in 1995. He also won the Muttathu Varkey award in 2009.

And who is René Higuita?

Born José René Higuita Zapata in 1966, the former Colombian footballer rose to fame as a star goalkeeper with a flair for the dramatic. Higuitari was nicknamed El Loco (“Crazy” in Spanish) for his high-risk ‘escort’ playing style.

He rose to global prominence at the 1990 FIFA World Cup – after his farewell match in 2010, the BBC wrote: “He was a pioneer in terms of his ability with the ball at his feet and his willingness to take responsibility in 40m situations. goal. Before the change in the back pass rule forced goalkeepers to develop these skills, it was already showing that a team is made up of 11 footballers, not 10 players and a goalkeeper.’

Higuita is said to have invented the ‘scorpion kick’, a movement in which the player jumps forward, puts his legs over his head and thus kicks the ball with his heels. He was ranked the 8th best South American goalkeeper in history by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS). He also scored 41 goals between 1985 and 2010, making him one of the top 10 goal scorers in the world.

He was involved with Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and was arrested in 1993, accused of profiting from a kidnapping case. However, he was released after seven months and all charges against him were dropped.

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In The two Scobars, an ESPN documentary, Higuita said he was arrested for visiting Pablo when the latter was imprisoned, wanting to thank him for stabilizing Colombia for a short time. He supported this theory by saying that during his imprisonment he was only questioned about Pablo Escobar himself and that he had no kidnapping case.



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