Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Kanchivaram


With a long line of inane comedies in Hindi, Priyadarshan has been virtually unrecognizable as the director who made all those subtle, sensitive comedies in Malayalam a long time ago. But even for those familiar with the director's earlier works, Kanchivaram comes as a complete surprise. Set among the weaver community in the city of Kanchivaram in 1948, it is a sensitively-crafted emotional tale about a father's ordeal to keep a promise he makes to his daughter.

The silk weavers in Kanchivaram are too poor to afford the saris they themselves weave. Vengadam(Prakashraj), a weaver, had proudly proclaimed that he would bring his wife home draped in a silk sari. He was unable to do that but promises his newborn daughter that he would marry her off in a silk sari. He is determined to keep that promise but its not going to be easy.

Kanchivaram - or is it Conjeevoram, as the board on a bus proclaims? - lays bare the sorry plight of weavers in those times. As they are paid a pittance(a weaver is paid Rs. 7 for a saree that is sold for Rs. 800) and are unable to see their own labor of love being worn, it is clear that they are being exploited. And what makes it more powerful is their complete acceptance of their plight. They find happiness in the smallest things and the times when they are the happiest - like when Prakashraj gets a measly bonus or when he and Shreya steal a peek at a woman wearing the saree he wove - is when their plight really touches us.

More than anything, Kanchivaram is about a father's love for his daughter. Prakashraj is an honest, idealistic man who genuinely cares about the plight of the weavers. But he indulges in actions that are wrong and takes steps that are not in the weavers' best interests. We see that every one of these actions is an attempt to make good on a difficult promise he made to his daughter. His love for his daughter towers over everything else and in conveying that love, the movie is less overt but more compelling than movies like Abhiyum Naanum, which dealt with the theme in a more straightforward, obvious fashion.

The story is told in flashback but in segments, as Prakashraj reminisces about his past while being taken home from jail. This technique is a bit overused now but the way some happening(a baby crying, rain falling on the windshield, etc.) in the bus triggers each of Prakashraj's memories feels natural. With this technique, Priyadarshan avoids the story getting a disjoint or incomplete feel since our memories about our past usually bubble up to the surface in a rather disjointed fashion. And the characters on the bus, like the cop fretting over his badge being torn off from his cap, get their few minutes too. But the way Priyadarshan foreshadows upcoming events feels a little overt. For instance, when Prakashraj chides his daughter about misplacing the bottle of rat poison, we know that it is going to play a part later and when it does, its a little disappointing.

After keeping things low-key for most of the movie, Priyadarshan handles the final portions in a slightly heavy-handed manner. He drags a few of the scenes on for more time than needed and that dilutes their impact somewhat.

Prakashraj finally gets a role deserving of his talent. After so many movies where he hammed his way through cliched villain roles and over-the-top sentimental roles, he puts his heart into this role. He plays it softly but is able to bring forth a quiet intensity when needed. Whether its the love he pours on his daughter or the passion he shows when talking about communism, he is excellent. Shreya Reddy looks the part and provides good support to Prakashraj. The rest of the cast does well too with the actor playing Prakashraj's friend catching the eye. M.G.Sreekumar's background score reminds us of a couple of other scores(like from Naayagan) at times but the one song is very melodious and suits both radically different situations it is played in.

9 Comments:

At 6:05 AM, Blogger Extra-Ordinarily Ordinary said...

I heard quite good reviews too. Did you get a DVD or is it there online, somewhere?

 
At 8:02 AM, Anonymous ram said...

so glad to see this review that i am taking a cpl of minutes in the midst of an insanely busy day to comment - yep, terrific movie...I loved the way the "lullaby" was used in two different places...BB, did you spot a similarity between the way Prakashraj does something little everyday over a period of a few years and what Tim Robbins did in Shawshank Redemption (a fav. of Priyadarshan) in jail?
I loved the portions where Prakashraj goes gradually outside of his honest character becoming increasingly obsessed with the promise...I also loved the moment when the baby unknowingly lets out a small cry when he gives money to his brother-in-law...
beautiful movie...

 
At 3:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

slow, badly written, nicely photographed, and most of all, shreya reddy is fly

 
At 6:28 PM, Blogger Sujay said...

I had to look what "fly" meant in that context!

fly 3 (fl)
adj.
1. Chiefly British Mentally alert; sharp.
2. Slang Fashionable; stylish.

 
At 10:24 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

extra, I saw it online at the time it was making the rounds in the Film Festival in Goa and then revisited it recently :)

ram, didn't not the 'Shawshank Redemption' similarity but its a nice little homage if it is priyan's favorite. the baby crying when he gives the money is another nice touch I didn't notice :)

anon, won't agree with the slow part. I was totally engrossed the second time too. not sure sure about the badly written too :)

sujay, didn't know that. thanx :)

 
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At 12:04 AM, Blogger sandhya said...

The Film Festival of Indian Panorama has awarded Priyan as the Best Director! cool right?? Read it here

 
At 12:02 PM, Anonymous SS said...

Just saw the movie online after reading a news about Prakash Raj bagging a National award. Awesome movie that will touch the hearts of many concerning the lives of the Silk Weavers in Kanchivaram post independence. Ace action by Prakash Raj and the whole team. Special kudos to Priyadarshan for giving this brilliant movie!!

Comparing to Shawshank Redemption may not be apt as the central character emerges victorious and in this movie it was all a futile attempt at the end taking such a severe punishment to lose everthing in his life.

 
At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some times I wonder whether how good of a review an Indian can write. One has to really put into contest the plight of an average Indian, even an educated intelligent Indian who is adulterated by the junk Hindi, tamil and telungu cinema. The main stream Indian cinema (the junk) has redefined what cinema is today and an Indian reviewer is comparing every thing to the junk. It is a sad situation.

I always believed that Pridarshan is capable of making a reasonably
good film but the junk may not let him. This may be his attempt to break away from those forces at least in a small way.

 

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