Watching films written by Kamal is a unique experience. After growing up watching the film one would discover an aesthetic element, an angle of storytelling that was completely hidden till one sudden viewing. Then on it is impossible to not see the movie without feeling that pattern. In fact it could be so weak that one may not find anyone else who would agree with the interpretation. But then, well made films provide for each viewer’s experience to extend beyond the content of the film.
This happens to me on a regular basis with Kamal films. I can never be sure that the way I enjoyed it this time would be the same as it was last time or the next. Kamal written films tend to be highly deliberate: a line of dialogue, a frame of screenspace exists because it was meant to exist that way. This is what propels you to wrestle with questions about why someone said/did something on screen. And it is most often rewarding.
I have lost count of the number of times I have seen ThEvar Magan. It is a movie that raises complex questions about the nature of responsibility, heritage and individualism. Right from the very title the movie it puts into focus the simple truth which most Indians find anything but simple, that ‘the individual’ is an artificial construct.
Any social critique in India will be incomplete without the artist’s expressed view on God and religion. One of Kamal’s pet themes of atheism, or atleast the impossibility of celestial relief for human problems, is presented quite centrally in movies like Mahanadhi. In others like Hey Ram and Kurudhippunal, they find direct mention. But in ThEvar Magan the issue is handled very subtly and beautifully.
Elements have always enjoyed a supernatural status in our tradition. But in this film they are cast as spectators and sometimes as part of man’s weapons against his fellows.
All is well on the surface, till Sakthi gets Esakki to break the lock of the temple. A temple that is everybody’s and nobody’s like the sky.
But the heavenly quest ends in the gruesome disaster that sparks things off. Ramu and co. respond by setting fire to the opponents’ huts.
The opponents reply by blowing up the reservoir and letting the water flood in and kill.
When Sakthi gets the better of that challenge (with a highly visual image of being soaked in the wet earth), Mayan is disturbed. The lawyer’s cunning idea is to get back through land. The scene ends with the lawyer’s wink and Mayan’s smile cutting to a shot that is on a hole in the reddish brown earth where the fence is being planted. The plan sees the end of Periya ThEvar.
The last faceoff does not end in a granary — as it could have very easily been. But the fight is broken into two and a chase is inserted — even at the great risk of losing tempo which is why I feel very strongly that the whole thing is highly deliberate. The chase takes Sakthi and Mayan into excessively windy open fields.
The final encounter happens with veshtis fluttering wildly and Sakthi uses a minor God’s weapon (which one may think of as the culmination of the cycle mishaps that began at a temple).
Note that the wind may seem like a really weak link here. But there is more than one shot of it which makes my case slighly stronger.
- When Esakki and Kanakku lead a gang to attack Chinna ThEvar’s house, they rise from below in a frame. The crop in the foreground is seen to sway to wildly in the wind.
- Similarly when someone passes the news of Mayan’s hideout to his mother, the atmosphere is very windy in the backyard.
This whole attempt to see the story in the backdrop of an elements may seem nebulous but I put the reason why I put it forward is because of this:
In the discussion in Chinna ThEvars house, Chinna ThEvar asks what is the course of action. The possibility giving them a taste of their own medicine by burning their huts in reply, is ruled out. The henchman appears silly by replying: “adhu mudiyaadhungayya, mazhai peyyudhulla, amaththippudum” to which Mayan replies with “neruppukku badhil thaNNi dhaanE”: isn’t water the (fit) response to fire ?
On the surface this looks as if a gem of an idea germinating from the henchman’s stupid remark. But I argue that it is more than that. It was a broad hint of how the elements are pitted against each other in the rest of the film.
This helps connect ThEvar Magan to Kamal’s other films where he puts the onus of social ills, squirely on individuals. Not blaming religion per se, but blind faith. The aesthetic appeal lies in the fact that, the views do not decry the institution of religion itself. For instance Periya ThEvar’s famous dialogues in the rain-scene, seem very much in line with the Gita-vian emphasis on every individual’s duty and is of universal appeal. And it is perhaps hinted, that it is highly compatible with rationality.
PS: Thanks a lot for the pics, Thilak.
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