Kalathur Gramam is a film whose story we’ve seen and heard in other Tamil films. A small, impoverished village that’s at conflict with the powerful state and its police. One man of the village will rise up to protect the village, and in the process run afoul of the state. There will be betrayal, deceit, jealousy, anger, revenge, violence, death.
The film is a bit of a throwback to the 80s and 90s idea of filmmaking. Pitting an individual against the state, where the police are categorically evil, and the individual – the Robin Hood – will ultimately save the day. However, the cultural narratives of the people, the region, filmmaking styles and technology, and many things have changed. Films like Kaakka Kaakka, etc., have given the police a makeover in Tamil cinema, where they’re no longer agents of the state, no longer are the oppressors. We’ve moved on to fighting global terrorism, individual apathy, corruption, and the like.
So what role and what hope does Kalathur Gramam have? Going against modern films such as say, Mersal?
Especially when Kalathur Gramam does not have any big stars in the cast, and no big names involved in the production – except perhaps Ilaiyaraaja.
Kalathur Gramam is produced by Avudathai Ramamoorthy, and directed by Saran K Advaithan. The film stars Kishore, Yagna Shetty, Tharun Shatriya, Ajay Rathnam, and others. Music is by Ilaiyaraaja
The most striking thing for me, watching Kalathur Gramam was how well the production pays attention to detail. The people, their costumes, the houses, the village, the period, all feel authentic. For instance, the number plates of the police jeeps – both the Andhra police and the Tamil Nadu police – are genuinely what the respective states would have had back in the 80s. We don’t even see a single mobile phone broadcast tower anywhere in the landscape. This is no simple achievement, given today’s Tamil Nadu.
Books on the European mafia talk about the landscape and the milieu that gave rise to these Robin Hood protectors of the village. Corsica and Sicily, and the like, are described as wild lands, dense moor-like forests that is easy to escape into, and only the natives know how to navigate it. Kalathur Gramam sort of conjured up that image. Arid, dusty lands, thorn tree forests, rocky hills with small caves and ravines – if this landscape doesn’t give the feel of Tamil Nadu’s version of the Unione Corse, nothing else will.
The film begins with a brutal killing, by the police, of five people from the Kalathur village. The villagers are angry and demand justice. A one-man fact-finding commission is set up with a retired judge – played by a beefed up, salt-and-pepper Ajay Rathnam. And so begins the retelling of the story, and we go back in time.
Kidathirukkan (played by Kishore) is the protector of the village. He steals from the rich, with the help of his friend Veeranna (Tarun Shatriya). And he gives to the poor. The village has actively guarded itself from the civilising gaze of the state, and has depended on Kidathirukkan and Veeranna to protect them.
In the village next door, which is across the border in Andhra, a rich landlord has a young woman, Selvamba (Yagna Shetty) in custody, promising to raise her, but really only wanting to sell her into bonded slavery. And so Kidathirukkan must save her. And in the process, falls in love with her and they marry.
Veeranna has a reputation as a philanderer, and has already caused friction between the village priest and his wife. So Kidathirukkan’s guarantee and presence is a necessary condition for the villagers to consider marrying Veeranna to their daughters. But in saving Selvamba, Kidathirukkan has slighted Veeranna, has caused the promised engagement to fall.
Veeranna feels betrayed and his anger is further heightened when he realises his friend has himself gotten married. But the cops intervene at this point, and Kidathirukkan entrusts Selvamba to Veeranna’s care, and gives himself up. And so the first betrayal. Veeranna convinces the entire village that Selvamba is married to him, both for him to regain the village’s respect after his humiliation, and as a way to get back at Kidathirukkan.
Shortly, Kidathirukkan is released from jail, even as Selvamba becomes pregnant. Kidathirukkan comes to take Selvamba back, Veeranna causes a scene, the priest, who knows the truth of the matter, lies to side with Veeranna to get back at Kidathirukkan. In an ensuing fight, Veeranna is killed and the police arrest Kida and Selvamba.
Soon a son is born to Selvamba in jail. But they hand the baby over to Veeranna’s parents to raise. They however raise the son – Kitna, to hate Kidathirukkan and seek revenge for “his real father, Veeranna”. Kitna too begins to hate Kidathirukkan.
And so the story plays out over two generations, with a son wanting to kill a father, and another son wanting just desserts for his father’s death.
Things come to a head, the police go to overdrive, and the judge and the commission discover the real truth.
There are no big stars in the film. The only known name is Kishore. Which perhaps has helped the writer and director of the film. It’s allowed them to write a script and make a film that doesn’t depend on the hero’s antics to form a major part of the plot.
There was a bit of issue with the sound sync, which could entirely be a problem with the projection. The music and the background score was apparently by Ilaiyaraaja but we have no way of knowing this without being told. AR Rahman at least had an excuse for Mersal. There was Vijay on screen. What’s Ilaiyaraaja’s excuse for turning out another completely uninspired score?
The Kalathur Gramam review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.