‘Il Postino’, Pablo Neruda and Makhdoom


“And it was at that age…Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.”
Pablo Neruda

‘Il Postino‘ (The Postman) is a movie about a fumbling postman whose job is to deliver mail to Pablo Neruda while the latter is in exile on an island in Italy. This is partly fictitious. I don’t have his autobiography with me so I cannot verify about this incident if at all it is mentioned in the book, I don’t remember reading about it.

Mario watches a documentary news item in a cinema recounting the journey of Neruda to Italy. When he is asked to deliver mail to him, he gets interested in Neruda’s poetry so that he too, like Neruda, can “impress the girls”.

Starting with this rather innocuous motive, he begins to understand the art of writing poetry and imbibes ideas from Neruda himself. The dialogues are wonderful and the interactions between the postman and the Poet are a delight every time Mario goes to deliver mail to Neruda. The rustic intelligence of Mario is pitted against the wisdom of the Neruda and the brilliance comes through despite the translation.

There area couple of sentences that I particularly liked. Mario takes a poem from Neruda to impress a girl he likes (called Beatrice). When Neruda castigates him for doing so, he responds with the following, leaving the poet speechless:

Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it, it belongs to those who need it

Later, his friendship with Neruda evolves and he starts understanding “complex” words like “metaphors” and starts writing poetry himself. Neruda also helps him in convincing Beatrice to marry him. When the priest discovers that Mario wants Neruda, a well known communist, as his best man, he is outraged:

Priest: Find yourself a person who isn’t a communist. If Neruda doesn’t believe in God, why should God believe in Neruda. What sort of a witness would he be?

Mario: God never said a communist can’t witness at a wedding

The movie is peppered with snippets from Neruda’s poetry. Here is a short (abou 9 minutes) clip available at youtube where Neruda composes a poem, and Mario begins to interpret it. At the end he makes a powerful comment:

Is it that the whole world is a metaphor for something else?

The clip:

A spoiler here, so don’t proceed if you intend to watch the movie yourself), Mario is invited to attend a communist demonstration and dies there. At the end of the movie, Pablo Neruda returns and finds that Mario’s son, born after he has died, is named Pablito.

Mario also records the sounds of his islands to send them on tape to Neruda. This clip captures that recording.

Needless to say, it has been one of the best movies that I have seen for a long time (not that I watch much), it is perhaps also the only movie I was able to watch without any break- and it was twice in two days.

Incidentally, the role of Mario was played by the actor- writer Massimo Troisi who died one day before the movie was released. He had deferred his heart treatment so that he could complete the movie (from Wikipedia)

‘Il Postino’ reminded me of a similar episode in the life of Makhdoom Mohiuddin, the communist poet from Hyderabad. It was recounted in the TV serial Kahkashan, and what I recollect is recounted here.

When the CPI was banned in 1948, Makhdoom was incarcerated in a jail where his cellmate was a young man who had been jailed in trumped up charges by the family of a girl he was in love with. Makhdoom leads him via his poetry to become politically educated. The young man is somehow released and Makhdoom as well, after a gap. Years later, while passing by a town he is informed of the sacrifice of a young man and a woman during the Telengana struggle. Makkhdoom finds the graves of the young man who had been his cellmate and beside his grave, that of that of the girl he had loved.

Makhdoom wrote a very moving nazm when he saw this.

The Kahkashan version is here, it has also been used in a Bollywood film Cha Cha Cha.

Thanks to HD for recommending the movie.

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Published by

bhupinder singh

reader, mainly and an occasional blogger

5 thoughts on “‘Il Postino’, Pablo Neruda and Makhdoom”

  1. The idea of conversation between a poet and a ‘rustic’ person is very interesting.
    Thanks for sharing that Makhdoom anecdote…had heard the nazm, but somehow could not appreciate it that much…now it makes sense.

  2. Wow, so you managed to finally see it. I liked the movie a lot too though at places I thought it overemphasises and sentimentalizes the idea behind poetry. but still it is better than films of this genre, Dead Poet’s Society for example which is more sentimental.

  3. siyaah: I also appreciated the nazm only after I came to know the context. If you can get to watch those episodes of the TV serial, you will surely like them a lot (and let me know if you get a VCD or DVD of the serial).

    alok: I am not much of a movie watcher, but I thought that this one brought out both the romantic and the revolutionary aspect of poetry, in a way different from Faiz’s “mujh se pehli si mohabbat”, which is what also reminded me of Makhdoom’s nazm.

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