Merku Thodarchi Malai Review
Merku Thodarchi Malai - Places Tamil cinema on a pinnacle
This is a great time to be around for a movie buff as many youngsters and a few seasoned filmmakers are offering a wide range of films exploring new genres. Lenin Bharathi and Vijay Sethupathi have placed Tamil cinema on a pinnacle by realistically capturing a slice of life as it happens to a hill tribe on the sprawling western ghats and have pushed the frontiers of filmmaking in the process.
Rangu (Antony) is a young man who frequents up and down the hills in the Idukki region of Tamil Nadu- Kerala border. He is the go to man for the residents along the hills not only for carrying supplies but also messages good and bad. The story follows his dream of owning a land, which is intertwined with the lives of the other people and the very hills which are a part of his life. The screenplay holds the hands of the viewers leading them on to participate in the highs and lows of Rangu's life, witnessing his marriage, the moment his dream almost comes true and we leave him at a point where destiny and civilization developments strip him of the one thing that he values most.
Kudos to Lenin Bharathi for extracting natural performances from the entire cast who are mostly the real residents of the story setting. Antony as Rangasamy has delivered a matured performance right from his introduction as an earnest youngster till he reaches middle age and the most admirable aspect is the manner in which he expresses the dignity of his character throughout the film. Gayathri Krishna who already impressed as the activist Isai in 'Joker' has done a commendable job on debut showing a naughty sparkle in her eyes when she sends feelers to her man and then matures as her role warrants becoming a supportive wife and a mother. Malayalam actor Abu Valayangulam as Chacko the Malayalee communist who sacrifices his all for the cause of the laborers is brilliant with his subtle emoting even when he has to use a sickle to kill. The rest of the cast will go back home with you as the characters Oothu Raasa, Kirukku Kizhavi, Kangaani, Kanakkupillai, Adivaaram Paakiyam, Vanakali and others.
'Merku Thodarchi Malai' is objective filmmaking at its best as you are made to watch what unfolds as if in real life which will surely be a new experience as a movie goer. The story very slowly sucks you in with real sounds, real patchy words spoken, real winds blowing and even real rain falling. The lead character's quality as a good man is not conveyed through punch dialogues or others praising him but by his behavior on screen. Every character helps others in need and the honesty of the hill people is painted on digital celluloid with honesty. The dying man who adamantly carries his burden down the hill or the Kangani who asks the people to make fun of him when he has to leave the place wrench our hearts. The politics played out on the poor people and a shoutout for the downtrodden is subtly embedded in the script and you can even relate the controversial proposed green express highway and how it will displace the people. Politics often and nature sometimes ensure that the poor man's dream of owning a land remains a daydream and that is the theme strongly conveyed in this wonderfully written and crafted screenplay.
On the downside there are lip sync issues due to the amatuer cast. The crucial scene for the entire movie is the one in which the hero loses his bag of cardamom but unfortunately it is also one moment which seems forced. The background score is unnecessary for this film and and everytime the music is played we are jerked from inside the film and placed into the theater. When the director has completely done away with closeups then why the montage songs when more innovation could have been employed to convey the time lapse in tune with the rest of the film.
Theni Easwar is the real hero of 'Merku Thodarchi Malai' capturing the director's vision perfectly frame to frame. The birds eye view of the valleys, the changes in the times of the day and the climates are brilliantly caught on the camera making Easwar the hot favorite for this years awards. Ilayaraja's evergreen class is evident in the songs especially the lilting "Kekktatha paatu" and the master has also opted for silence in the majority of the film. At the same time the Isaigniani is also guilty of playing template background in the few places which would have been more effective with the sound effects alone. Jayachandran's art work is the other big plus making the film the lively one it is. Mu. Kasi Viswanathan has done a commendable job in keeping the flow of the long takes and maintaining the geography of uphill and downhill which otherwise could have been confusing to the viewer.
Vijay Sethupathi deserves the highest praise for backing this film and it sure is a prideful milestone in his film career. 'Merku Thodarchi Malai' is as difficult a script to conceive and film as say an 'Enthiran' and kudos to Lenin Bharathi for this no compromise pathbreaking passion project that is exceptional both as a poignant screenplay and also a huge achievement in filmmaking.
Verdict : Go for this exceptionally good film that raises the prestige of Tamil cinema on the world stage.