Verdict - For anyone serious enough to bear with one of our darkest auteurs
A filmmaker’s signature starts with the subject matter. And
there a few who have cared for themselves first and the
market later. And very few amongst them have lasted, living
that way. The seriousness of Bala’s productions can be felt
from the first poster, that first glimpse at what he intends
on exploring, that rush about a dark and ruthless world in
Interesting how even though this is Bala’s first time in a
period setting, the film still retains his usual ambience.
Isolated landscapes, bare feet protagonists and a continuous
feed of pathos.
The film, opening to a long tracking shot acquaints us with
the late 30s of a hamlet in the then Madras constituency. It
is the story of a group from the hamlet of Saluuru centering
around Raju (Adharvaa), a sweet, strong and slightly cuckoo
fellow about 25. Raju spends his time begging or working for
rice to feed himself and his grandmother, the only family
he’s got. We are brought in half way through the Raju-
Rangamma (Vedhika) bitter sweet relationship. Rangamma is
constantly making fun of Raju’s moderate madness, it actually
seemed quite cruel after a point.
Half the hamlet takes up an offer to work in a colonized tea
plantation to escape the famine at home. The Dalari (Jerry)
that recruits them with false promises is that usual evil of
a Bala’s film, religious on the face and unforgiving on the
inside. What was supposed to be an 18 month deal ends up as
indefinite forced slavery for the group coupled with bad
living conditions and vicious labour.
The idea of the indefinite span takes its toll on the
suffering group, all the more on Raju who can’t wait to see
Rangamma and their love child. Stuck at the plantation, he
develops a bond with Manikyam (Dhansika), a co-woker and her little girl,
who have been abandoned there by a husband who escaped from
the inescapable plantation.
There are also glimpses into the lives of The British who own
the plantations - womanizing lords and their lives of whiskey
and neatly dressed women.
As much as I’m proud that Bala picked this historical
atrocity as his subject, I’m greatly irked by his long drawn
sequences involving different sorts of suffering and over
emphasizing it with poignant music. Not that he hadn’t done
that in the past, but, with this one he was really hell bent
on the endless pathos and like the excess of anything, it
often slips into seeming pretentious. The plot setting seemed
to offer a lot of perspectives which could have been used to
intensify the stuck nature of the workers, instead the man
goes for montage after montage of physical agony.
Of the cast Adharvaa and Bala’s new set of character actors
(Jerry for one) make a distinct mark. Vedhika was one of the
let downs, she was beautiful, but, she was ruining the preindependence
aura for me with her traits of today.
Technically, this is Bala’s most ambitious work. The
cinematography, costumes, make up and the debuting art
director’s work greatly helped in creating the gone era. Like
the painful 48 day march to the plantation, the film had epic
portions reminding us of marches and deserts in films like
I’m not sure how I feel about this one, but, I’m sure the
violent injustice, the epidemics and the first glimpses of
catholic conversions endured by these plantation workers will
stay with me for a long time, may be that’s what he wanted.