I hadn't watched any of Manikandan's films before this. I know how that sounds. Now that I have watched Kadaisi Vivasayi, I want to watch his earlier works. This man has narrated a powerful story with a strong message without being preachy or weepy about how important that message is. With a slew of films that have come our way in the past few years, discussing and debating various societal issues, (films like Ponmagal Vandhaal, Jai Bhim, etc.) I was a bit iffy about watching this film. My only strong motivations were the presence of Vijay Sethupathi in the film and the wonderful interview that Baradwaj Rangan conducted with Vijay Sethupathi and the director.
The film is about Mayaandi, a farmer and his plot of farming land. This film is also about the people of the village he lives in. This film is about the love for the land and farming. This is a film also about transformation. This film is also a commentary on politics, consumerism and our judicial system. This film is also an insight into what makes one a farmer. This film is so many things. And it is these many things all at once.
The main story is about Mayaandi, (who is the last farmer in the whole village) who has to till his land and cultivate some rice which has to be offered to the village deity in a ceremony so that the rains are back and the village flourishes once again. In his endeavours to do the same, he gets caught in a misinformed case that throws a wrench in his life and farming. Now, this is all I can do to talk about the plot without giving any spoilers.
Having set the plot, let us take a look at the different aspects that Manikandan covers in his film. This film moves from metaphor to metaphor in a seamlessly organic way. The thing with a film with metaphors is that they can become too abstract or too direct. The key lies in the writing and the editing of the film. Thanks to Manikandan, he helms not only these two departments, but he has also written the dialogues, shot the film and produced it as well! My favourite part of the metaphor is when Mayaandi is held captive and falls sick. But his falling sick is shown only after how his crop dies. I don't know how else one could show how deeply he is connected with his land. Just like a mother, he falls sick after the crops fall sick. When a doctor suggests some hot water after giving him a shot of medicine, we get to know that this is the first time he fell sick in 40 years!
There is another wonderful running gag about a bald man who tries just about anything for his hair growth. At one point he actually lets a cow (or a bull, I'm not sure) lick his bald head. This is is a beautiful metaphor on how, we, caught up in the daily trivialities (of how we look, etc.) let go of the deeper and more pertinent issues far away from our sight.
The dialogues add to the beautiful, organic flow of the story. Witty at places, the cryptic dialogues add various dimensions of depth and meaning to the screenplay. Take, for instance, the scene where a man tries to convince Mayaandi to sell his land for a sum of 7 lakh rupees. He vehemently refuses. Unable to haggle with him further the man returns and says to who seems like his manager, "Arivillaathathaala yemaatha mudiyala" Meaning, "Since he is illiterate, I'm not able to fool him." Could there be a better dialogue that shows how cunning the apparent "education" makes human beings?
At the beginning of the film there is another beautiful dialogue where Mayaandi, on being suggested that if he uses certain tomato seeds, the produce would be seedless. He says, "Would he like it if the man who invented these seeds had a son born to him without balls?" As comical as it sounds, this is something to think about, don't you think?
The film is not a wailing plea to the audience to save farming. In fact, it is the opposite of that. The film shows that farming and agriculture are essential ways of life. This way of life is simple and hassle-free. (There is a point where we learn that Mayaandi lives a life in his house without electricity and the character that discovers this says, "One should live life King-size, like him!") However, if you choose to have a different profession, that is okay too! There are no scenes or dialogues in the film that sermon us or guilt-trip us on letting go of agriculture and embracing a different lifestyle. However, there is a rhetoric that Yogi Babu's character asks, "What are you doing with all the land that you bought from us?"
While establishing the life of a farmer who sticks to his roots and ground (forgive the pun), the film also narrates a parallel story that elevates the film to a level of surrealism. I thought the character of Vijay Sethupathi, Ramiah, would be akin to the plot of Bawarchi. But I was pleasantly surprised. Thinking about it, his arc feels more like that of Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Even though his plot point doesn't really affect the screenplay, I didn't mind it. It is because the film doesn't necessarily follow one specific point-of-view while narrating the story. The movie is more like a novel that shows the life of a people in a village than following the story of one particular character. When you belong to one such people you would witness all of these from an outsider's perspective while being a part of their life, won't you?
Santhosh Narayanan and Richard Harvey's background score adds to the screenplay in a beautiful way. There are no wailing violins or choruses in the background that give the story a cry-baby treatment. On the contrary, the music is minimal which enhances specific emotions in certain scenes and the overall mood of the film in general. Despite the absence of the songs, there is no point in the film where you would feel bored. Full points to Manikandan for his brilliant writing and terrific direction.
This film entertains you, engages you, answers some of the existential questions that one has had and takes one by the collar and asks a few more pertinent questions that we have been oblivious to. Beyond the message about farming and agriculture that forms the plot of the film, this film is about who we are and what are we doing to the planet we live on.
Beyond the aerial and wide shots that are for the big screen, I think this film is a very intimate one. A kind of film that needs to be experienced in a closed environment of just you and the phone. No one else, nothing else. If you have watched the film already or missed it in theatres as I did, do watch it on SonyLIV without fail (again)!