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Hats Off To Tamil Cinema…

November 21, 2016

Review of Tamil Films : (1) KANJIVARAM          &      (2) VAZHAKKU EN 18/9


Two back-to-back Tamil pictures in last 2 days of which I had clues but not read reviews. Ofcourse I am always late in watching/reviewing films. I am clubbing both reviews under one title because both have social issues as crux of their screenplays.

Kanjivaram : the weaver’s story


Vazhakku En 18/9 (court case 18/9)

I am not generally for the new genre Tamil pictures, the language is too crude. Now and then I have watched some like Myna, Jigarthanda (hot and cold), Kaaka Muttai (egg of the crow) and Irudhi Sutru (last round). Except for Myna, the other two were my son’s recommendations. He likes these typical local films which are glaringly a prism of urban ugliness. I cannot digest what he in his young age and new blood can. But from what little I have watched, I must say I am simply flabbergasted by the compelling scripts and strength of their characters, the hallmark of good pictures.

This is why I wish Aamir Khan, SRK, Salman Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Fawad Khan, Ranbir Kapoor (any others?) commit mass suicide at one go 🙂 🙂 What a waste of resources: time, efforts and money. Empty guys who make the most noise. I am really surprised how these men without any substance can actually have female admirers. And how the masses are ready to receive their stupid, banal films. Still cannot digest SRK arriving in helicopter in a palatial home in London in Karan Johar’s film ‘Kabhi kushi kabhi gham’. South Indians must be mature audience. Our budgets are very tight but we deliver class stuff: a challenge to your mind and soup for your soul. There is still a light element of entertainment and the films go on to make a decent profit.

Rarely pictures touch your soul, make you feel responsible, make you feel angry at and ashamed of yourselves.

I have had such an experience with thespian director K Balachander’s pictures. In my teenage, I pictured myself in my mind as KB’s heroines. KB’s films but were rather refined. Today’s Tamil film directors may not match his class, but have carved out a niche for themselves, daring to breach boundaries that not even KB did in his times. Or may be he lived in better times! Of ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. World then was a kind place.

No, actually there has been a marathon of good movies since last evening and the second film I watched was  ‘Unnal Mudiyum Thambi’ starring Kamal Hasan and Gemini Ganesan (Bollywood Rekha’s father) as his dad. But the film along with its title always sounded to be a bit cliched to me. The title translates as, ‘brother, you can!’ Predictable but told in an interesting way. It is a worthy watch any number of times. KB always felt a certain social responsibility towards the society and I join him in his empathy towards the marginalized, the weakest and the oppressed.

New age Tamil film directors are a step ahead in the sense, when KB still maintained a decorum of civil language, the young men of today’s scene do not restrict themselves to such a mundane civility. They go all the way to reflect and expose the hypocrisy and shame of our society stark naked for one and all to see.

Balaji Sakthivel was the director of the film Kaadal (Love) 10 years back. In fact it was his debut picture. Through all our lives we see a variety of love stories in both Hollywood and Bollywood. But if there was one love story that hit you like a bolt in the head, it was Kaadal. I knew, a sensible director was born that day for Tamil screen, one who was sensitive to certain unique human emotions and strange life circumstances that normally escape an average storyteller’s eyes.


Kanchipuram it is. The temple town 70 km from Chennai famous for its dozen or so Pallava architecture temples dating back to anywhere between 1000 to 1500 CE. I have one more connection with Kanchipuram. Family connection. The town is not only famous for Kanchi Mutt of Shankaracharya but also for Kanjivaram silks, most expensive silk in entire world, the pride of Tamil Nadu/India.

The family connection is that, I am from Senguntha Mudaliar community who are traditional silk weavers. I won’t say all of my folks are/were therefore rich. The loom owners have been prosperous for centuries but the rest of the community have been weavers only. The community is based in Kanjivaram, Vellore, Arni etc., famous for silk industry with slight variations. Ofcourse, my father-in-law’s family were leading silk businessmen even after the turn of the century after which the family diversified into other trades/professions.

The community is also known for its Trustee members of Temple administrations throughout Tamil Nadu, including Chennai. Fanatically religious. Stingy. Heartless. I am sorry, I have no good words to say about my own people. Cruel. Selfish. Most materialistic. Will do anything for money but if you don’t have money, you won’t exist for our people.

When I was watching Kanjivaram picture, all the dirty Mudaliars I had known in my life upto date lined up in my memory. I am ashamed we were once the ‘jalras’ (sidekicks) of the British. Our community made money at the expense of the tireless work of the weavers but paid them unjust. To make matters worse, my ancestors/forefathers were also landowners. Most privileged section of society until independence. Good, land acquisitions and stripping of zamindhars of their powers and treasury neutralized them to a large extent. But I have seen these bragging Mudaliars, my own relatives, as trustees of some great temples including those in Chennai/Mylapore. When I saw the loom owner in the picture, I was dumbstruck. The same kind of arrogance, haughtiness, boorishness that runs in their (our) blood…

Although the community name was never mentioned in the picture (which shows the maturity of the director as well as screenplay-dialogue writer), it is anybody’s guess.

Great work by director Priyadarshan, the director from Kerala known for his Hindi pictures. Music by M S Sreekumar, gentle and very natural with the story – not obtrusive or sounding superimposed or brash.

The entire picture is shot in sepia-tinted frames – too good a camera. Someone with knowledge in this area may be able to point out the technique. Lost on me but that did not prevent me from savouring the feel and text of the narration. It is a period picture dating back to 1930-1950 period as we can guess from the events/dates mentioned in course of the film (like death of Gandhiji for instance). No electrical lighting. Dusty rural setting. Very natural and convincing. You are transported back to the 30s and 40s. The motor car and the government bus need a special mention. Even the policeman whose headgear is torn.

What a greedy lot the owners of the looms were. The story wounds through a period when Communist party was illegal in India. Through time, we see that the ban is lifted with Russia joining hands with the allied forces in the Second World War to take on Germany. The picture ends with the nation gaining independence/Mahatma Gandhi’s death.

How dirt poor our weavers were. Kanjivaram silk is not only world class and most precious, it is also available aplenty now unlike a century back, after production started in powerlooms. But there is still a market for 100% handloom weaves. I am myself a proud owner of atleast a dozen Kanjivarams. It is the dream of every Indian woman. Even foreign tourists wouldn’t miss it at any cost. I never knew or imagined the same Kanjivaram silk weaving or production being so very difficult or expensive in those days. I took it for granted that the silk is regular because I come from a society where women normally owned and wore many Kanjivarams in the lives.

Even in Mylapore, until my 10th-12th year, I have seen some families weaving outside their homes, right in their streets. Those days vehicular traffic was almost nil. My granny used to tell me they were ‘our folks’ who rendered freelance services to big weavers and merchants from Kanchi.

But I should have known. Some years back my maid asked me for a Kanjivaram. I now know I should have got her one without her asking. I got it for her anyway. It is now her precious possession. She did not even want to come with me to the shop and asked me to get the least expensive one but genuine silk. She was worried about the cost factor. That was over 5-7 years back. What silk is to the poor – I realized, but didn’t think about it much. Ever since everytime I wear my silk sari in front of her I am so self-conscious… Now I shall be even more uncomfortable from watching this picture…

My mom I know owned only 2 silk saris: one bought for her wedding and one for grihapravesham. A vegetarian from birth, when she learned about the silk worms, she swore not to touch silk. She was forced to wear silk saris on these 2 occasions by her parents. One of the 2 saris, she cut and stitched into skirts for us girls, unwilling to drape it any longer. I wish I could be as strong-willed as she was.

Weavers in Tamil Nadu especially Kanchipuram have long since moved over to alternate and other lucrative professions. Their children are all engineers and doctors, having moved over to Madras. The co-operative societies and big showrooms do brisk business buying from few loom owners directly.  In fact there is a shortage of weavers today. Last heard, there are Nepalis spinning the silk in Kanchi!

But what lead to the turn of events culminating in neutralizing the uneven society in Kanjivaram?

The plight of the weavers treated like bonded labourers for centuries is something about which I had no idea. I have been presented only the rosy side of the trade by my folks, naturally.

This is also part of our history. How we evolve into a just and equitable society. How we dispense justice.

What a performance by Prakash Raj. The story drops a hint at the birth and rise of Communist Part of India and on trade union movements getting legitimized with time. Finally I got to look at the Little Red Book. I would never have known of its significance had I not been educated about it very recently in certain media write-ups.

I am wary of communists and trade union activities now but back then I understand we needed them to initiate the cooperative movements for fair prices of textiles, fair wages for weavers and other factory and estate workers, for better working conditions of labourers, for the welfare of salaried/hired employees in general. We are now as a nation reaping the fruits of such an impartial justice system that finally proved to reduce inequalities and unfair trade and other practices and provided for just and adequate compensation for those who were involved in the line of production.

The opening of the film ‘Kanjivaram’ as usual I missed in TV and got to later catch up in You Tube. But the difference was staring at my face. TV viewing and watching in computer are not one and the same. There is as much difference between the two as we have between watching pictures in cinemas and in our tv in our living room.

Not a wonder the film has bagged National Award in the year 2008 (I later googled it) and actor Prakash Raj was named the best actor award for his role as Kanjivaram silk weaver.

Unlike Hindi pictures, south Indian films are not dream factory. Ofcourse there are some telugu films and Rajni Kanth films for instance for entertainment where we do not mind the content or see logic. There are a couple of sophisticated action heroes who are like Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan as well: Vikram, Vijay and Surya. But the rest of the pictures, atleast a good majority – are a lot more pragmatic, reflecting our real life, real times. You will not be transported to Swiss Alps in everyone of our pictures and you may not get to see heroine in swim suit either. Rather the heroes and heroines of our films are platform dwellers, barbers, cycle mechanic – like you can never imagine in Bollywood films. Heroines could be housemaids, tailors, photocopy printers… Not scuba diving teachers like Katrina Kaif in ‘Zindagi na milegi do bar’, no way.

Vazhakku En 18/9 (Court Case No. 18/9):

What can I say.

Director Balaji Sakthivel is renowned for introducing new faces who turn to be pros right in their debut ventures. And he has a knack to adapt scripts that are too simple and straight to perfection. No hidden agenda. Plain. Story told right to your face, story that may strike right at your heart. I never cared for his casts and even now I have no idea about the stars. To make the story the hero of the film has always been the director’s success formula. The stars never mattered. It is the characters you remember, not the actors.

The film was nominated by India for Best Foreign Film Award in Academy Awards in 2012. It has bagged the best South Asian film award (as I found googling just now).

The first half an hour, as usual I missed on tv but caught up with it in You Tube.

I cry for all pictures even if the hero dies but for real moving stories, I only shed a single drop of tear. I don’t know why.

What an arrogance in our society that takes the marginalized people for granted. Don’t their lives count. Don’t they mean anything?

Corruption, corruption, corruption. From police department to ministers to business people, who is not corrupted in this country. Corruption is something that prevails world over. But no where to the extent it is spread and deeply entrenched as it does in India.

What a greed. Heartlessness.

I hope the demonetization will also arrest and bring down crimes in our society. Because until now, money has always played a vital role in titling the equilibrium, in denying justice, in wronging the right, in victimizing the innocent.

Atleast one direct fallout of demonetization would be that, even if our law enforcement agencies and administration and government officials do not fear their own conscience, they may fear an income-tax raid. I hope they will bribe less trying to divert justice from now… and I hope men in uniform learn to earn with dignity and honesty.

The picture was released in the year 2012. I have heard about it but missed it somehow.

Totally shaken by these 2 films.

Definitely both Kanjivaram and Vazhakku En 18/9 are a ‘must watch’ even if with subtitles.

Recommend them seriously. Aam Aadmi. Do you even know who is the real aam aadmi. Shame on our politicians. Ashamed I am born in this country where everything is corrupt and everything is for sale. Don’t we have any integrity at all.




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