The 70s and 80s kids still sing hymns on "16 Vayadhinile". Its raw characters and milieu were refreshing and path-breaking for the period. Director Bharathiraja was hailed as the messiah of rural Tamil dramas. After that, director Ameer made a flash in the pan kind of an appeal with his "Paruthiveeran" in 2007. Then, it was Prabhu Solomon who managed to climb the hills with "Mynaa" and "Kumki" with unique characters and storyline. In this lineage, I would place debutant director Lenin Bharathi who has come up with "Merku Thodarchi Malai" or the Western Ghats.
The movie is set in the lush green hills of the Western Ghats with characters who are too alien for Tamil cinema. The language they speak, though sounds Tamil, the unique dialect calls for subtitles, especially for the urbanites who want a taste of this rural recipe. There's not much to dwell on the story as the narrative heavily hinges on the milieu and the character portrayal to lunge forward.
The entire movie watching experience was so unique that at times we tend to travel with the characters on screen, immersing ourselves with the underpinnings of the milieu. Cinematography by "Theni" Easwar was a character by itself, capturing the life and times of the people and nativity of the land. Aerial shots laced with soul-stirring background score by Ilayaraja harp in now and then to unleash certain critical moments in the narrative. In other words, it is a motif that brings out the irony of the inhabitants of the land.
The beauty of the movie was the unassuming way in which the drama (and melodrama) unfolded. It was so organic and natural. The righteous communist who battles it hard against the landlords, the sly capitalists and politicians, the pitiful lives of the cardamom plantation labourers and their life-saving terrain (the ghat at large) were the soulful ingredients that made up the entire movie.
The dialogues were laced with some funny lines and dark humour at times. There was a sense of deja vu that the movie might end on an ironical note. It does indeed. Maybe we could say it does on a more realistic note, with literal motifs of giant corporates casting their dominant and haunting shadows on the labourers who toil hard and are prevented time and again from reaping their deserved dues.
The movie, though could be classified as an offbeat milieu laced docu-drama, it indeed is a strong contender at film festivals in the international arena.
Actor Vijay Sethupathi has to be lauded for producing it and all salutes to Lenin Bharathi and crew for coming up with this rare gem that would go down in the annals of Kollywood as a significant record of the lives of the labourers who inhabit the Western Ghats.