In Ka Pae Ranasingam, directed by P Virumaandi, Ranasingam (Vijay Sethupathi) uses a coconut, few lemons and a chain around his neck to go around the land looking for the right spot with groundwater. He talks about “electricity” in his and his forefathers’ bodies, passed on generation to generation that gives him the ability to identify the right spot. Ariyanachi (Aishwarya Rajesh with a badass sounding name for a badass character), the landowner’s daughter is suspicious. This is their meet-not-so-cute that doesn’t go far but the film Ka Pae Ranasingam is too on the nose with a lot of things it wishes to espouse. And boy, does it take its sweet time and energy to drive home the point!
Ariyanachi uses bamboo sticks to treat Ranasingams when he pulls his back, the film is luddite like that. Virumaandi wants us to empathize with the familiar struggles but there’s also unnecessary romanticizing of certain elements. Ka Pae, of course, stands for kanavan peyar (husband’s name), which indicates that this is the story of Ariyanachi. And it is, Ka Pae Ranasingam is an Aishwarya Rajesh vehicle with a guest appearance from Vijay Sethupathi. The film also returns to Tamil cinema’s favourite new staple – the life of farmers, the corporatization of agriculture and the land grabbing factories. All of them topical, subjects too easy to lose your grip over with melodramatic, message-y cinema.
This is not a spoiler. Ranasingam dies, during protests and riots against the “government” in Dubai, a theory as believable as Santa Claus, and the rest of the film is the family and Ariyanachi’s struggle to retrieve his body for last rites while bringing to light the real reason for his death. Their grief is ripe for Virumaandi to flex his melodramatic muscles, a family going through the tragedy is put through an everlasting funereal period. In Ka Pae, tears are more abundant than water around Ramanathapuram, the situation so dire that if it could be harvested, these people could make ends meet. The water issue runs as a subplot, something Ranasingam used to organize protests for and the Collector played by Rangaraj Pandey promises a solution within two months. When Ariyanachi learns a hard truth about Ranasingam and an oil company, she is stranded in the middle of a bridge over a dry canal. The water/oil device is clever. In Ka Pae, the government, the corporates (a company named P-adani), police and bureaucracy are the villains, which is fair, but there is hardly any narrative cohesion. Scenes are disjointed and we jump from the village to Chennai to Delhi without a moment to ponder. The stakes get higher, a Nirmala Sitharaman type Defence Minister gets out of her motorcade to meet Ariyanachi, speaks in broken Tamil and takes a selfie to tweet for help. Apparently, there is an unwritten rule that Prime Ministers in films should all be Modi lookalikes now. He appears too, speaking in Hindi, thankfully. It is clear Virumaandi is taking the mickey out of these people (a particular Rajinikanth joke with Pandey is hilarious!) and the ending (in water, like the fishermen TN has lost off the coast that the film references) only confirms the hopelessness and the continuing cynicism in a non-existent democracy. But as a film, little of Ka Pae Ranasingam works.
The opening shot is of Ariyanachi pushing the watercart with 5-6 buckets in place and making the long walk to the source. She is admonished for not sharing the load with her sister-in-law but she is not just wedded to the family, she is also dedicated to every single member, placing more importance on her sister-in-law’s education than the chores around home. Some of the better moments in Ka Pae centre around the Ariyanachi-Ranasingam dynamic. They are truly made for each other, both capable of immense sensitivity, both harbouring turbulence and ready to unleash any moment, both the type that would stand up others as much as they would for themselves. Ranasingam is a born dissenter and she is no different. She is cut from different cloth compared to rest of the village, she can break tradition at will, dismiss sexist practices and maintain composure even in the bedlam of mourning. Virumaandi excels in fleshing out this character and thank goodness for him, it is Aishwarya Rajesh playing Ariyanachi. There isn’t an actress currently in Tamil cinema who could have pulled this off, a role equivalent to that of a mainstream masala hero, it has a little bit of everything – some comedy, some romance, lot of drama and taking on every antagonist in sight.
The Ka Pae Ranasingam review is a Silverscreen India original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.