By Mythily Ramachandran
There is one scene
in Tamil film, ‘Koozhangal’ (pebbles) that best defines the women of Arittapatti-where the story is set.
An old woman is sitting near a shallow pit where water trickles slowly from the ground below. Using a mug to scoop up the water little by little, she fills a plastic pot kept nearby. Watching her in the process is a group of women who are waiting their turn to fill their pots in the same manner. Undoubtedly it’s going to be a long wait but patience seems to be the second name for these women. There is no resentment nor impatient signs on their faces. They have resigned to their fate in Arittapatti-a drought-affected region in Tamil Nadu-where water is a luxury. Debutant director P S Vinothraj takes viewers on a journey offering us a glimpse into Arittapatti and the lives of people there.
When Shanthi leaves her alcoholic husband for her parents’ village, her husband Ganapathy is enraged and he sets out to bring her back. But he is not going alone. He barges into his son’s school and pulls out their son, Velu (Chella Pandi) and the two take a bus. Reaching Shanthi’s village, Ganapathy tells Velu- “Tell your mother to come now, or else I will marry someone else.”
Velu takes time at his grandmother’s home and an infuriated Ganapathy enters their house, abusing them leading to a scuffle between him and Shanti’s brother. Ganapathy is beaten up, his shirt is torn and he learns that Shanthi has already left for their home. As the father and son wait to take the bus back home, Ganapathy threatens to kill Shanthi when he tells Velu, “From now on you have no mother, only a father.”
Vinothraj’s story captures a day’s event in their lives. His narration is simple and rides on the shoulders of two newcomers-Karuthadaaiyan and Chella Pandi, who play their roles of Ganapathy and Velu with aplomb. Karuthadaaiyan with his boorish demeanor and hurried gait that is marked with a purpose is completely Ganapathy- an angry man with a sense of entitlement. Velu barely speaks. His anxiety and confusion are reflected in his eyes. Chella Pandi is brilliant.
Debutant cinematographers Vignesh Kumulai and Parthib with their unique frames make the trek an engaging one. It’s a beautiful opening scene that sets rolling this journey. An arched branch with a bird’s nest hanging at its end sways in the breeze. And as a bus approaches its stop, we get a peek inside. The camera hovers over a sleeping man and then lingers over a sleeping child cradled in her mother’s lap. Be it the long shots across the brown landscape following a woman who alights from the bus and settles down under a tree to feed her baby, or the camera staring at Ganapathy’s back as he marches, the visuals lend a fly on the wall experience. Attention to tiny details lights up every frame.
It’s a heart breaking moment when Velu is thrashed by his father for getting a ride on his teacher’s two-wheeler. Velu is confounded and hurt, yet this little boy never cries. As we sympathize with Velu, a pup runs up to him.Velu forgets the beating and plays with the pup. There are other moments that bring out the child in Velu. Blowing up a balloon, he sways it through the window of the bus. He even manages to take some kind of revenge on his father with a small piece of mirror that he picks on the path. It’s good humour there. Velu loves his mother and sister. My favourite scene is the one where Velu and his sister play with the puppy. We never get to meet Shanthi though.
the poverty in this drought-affected region where a family smokes rat holes to
hunt them for food. When curtains fall, Velu removes the koozhangal (pebble) he
had been carrying in his mouth to ward off thirst on the journey and adds it to
his collection of pebbles.
Does it mean that this road journey was one of many before? Like the women of Arittapatti Velu has learnt to take life in his stride.
Don’t miss this masterpiece.