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Poland and the Malayali connection: A cult film and a timeless meme

Why do Malayalis say 'Don't talk about Poland' and what does the Malayalam film Sandesham have to do with it?

An epic timeless meme and a cult film do not come around that often.

Poster of Sandesham
Poster: Sathyan Anthikkad-Sreenivasan film, Sandesham

In 1991, a Malayalam film was released that immediately shot to cult status. The film was Sandesham, a dark political satire that dealt with the political activism of Kerala at the time. The cast included Thilakan, Jayaram, and Sreenivasan as the father and his two ideologically opposed sons respectively.  

The film plot

The film is set in the home of a simple middle-class Malayali man, Raghavan Nair who worked as a Station Master in the Railways. He worked hard and wanted only for his sons to settle down well. But his sons were useless profligates, indulging in political activism and living off their father’s money.

The lead up to the meme

the argument scene from the film  'don't talk about Poland'

Both the boys supported opposing political parties in Kerala. The elder one supported a socialist party and the younger one a capitalist party (read Indian National Congress). When the capitalist party won the national elections in India, an argument ensued at lunchtime in their home. The younger one started rubbing it in the face of his socialism-supporting elder brother. The elder one was not one to budge and stuck his ground in his arguments as the hapless father looked on. World Bank, devaluation, gold, the story of the working class, growth - everything was on the table!

the argument scene, don't talk about Poland' - film Sandeshan

The younger brother began to cite the major issues plaguing socialist countries and the elder brother gave examples of Vietnam and Romania. The younger one retorted, why are you giving examples from across the world instead of focussing on the problems right around you? Why can’t you accept the mandate of the people and accept defeat? (Ouch!)

Now after the Second World War, with a decline in Soviet dominance, Socialism was being ousted from most countries across the world or was breathing its last. The Polish socialist parties too lost in Poland making way for capitalism. This caused huge angst among the Communists of Kerala ☭ and was quite a sore point with them!

screenshot of film when 'ask me about poland' was said

As the argument of one-upmanship ensued among the brothers, with the elder one still aggressively supporting socialism, the younger one – ‘brought in Poland’ into the argument’.

To which the elder one responded with the iconic one-liner, ‘Don’t utter a word about Poland’!

don't utter a word about poland

Why did this line gain such a cult status?

‘Don’t talk about Poland’ became the symbol of the hypocrisy that ailed Kerala and hence appealed to the youth. It showed them a mirror they wanted.

On a deeper level, despite all the high literacy rates and the favourable HDI, Kerala remained high in unemployment with youth being forced to go out to seek employment. It highlighted the high interest the Malayalis had in global issues whilst not realising the problems in their own state. The film also successfully depicts the struggle between the neo-liberals and the commie post-war.

The sentence by itself was epic as it meant, ‘don’t talk about Poland because if you do, then I lose my argument’! Since then ‘Don’t talk about Poland’ is understood to be the go-to line of the losing side!

The success of the film

The Malayalis absolutely loved the film and raised it to cult status! The performance by the entire cast was exemplary. The meme is alive and thriving even decades later! The film was a huge commercial success and today is counted among the Malayalam classics. IBN live list added it to the 100 Greatest Indian Films of All Time. It was even remade in Tamil!

Wanna watch the clip? Of course, you do! You can move straight to 4.27 minutes and hit play. 

One would want to learn Malayalam properly just to be able to relish this film fully! But if you need some more reasons to learn Malayalam, read:

4 Reasons you should learn Malayalam!

Do you think the film Sandesham and the subjects touched upon by it are relevant even today? Let us know in the comments.

All images: screen captures from the video clip posted above.

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