Director: Vetri Duraisamy
Cast: Remya Nambeesan, Vidharth, Master Raghavan, Ilavarasu
Vetri Duraisamy’s Endravathu Oru Naal depicts the plight of landless farmers through the eyes of Rasathi (Remya Nambeesan), her husband Thangamuthu (Vidharth) and their son Murugan (Master Raghavan), a simple, self-sustaining agricultural family. A song at the beginning of the film tells us exactly what to expect: Maattu mani satham, enga koyil mani satham; maattu saani vaasam, enga parambaraiya suthum. The lives of Rasathi and Thangamuthu revolve around their cattle. Thangamuthu talks about how when a farmer had good rains, everything else would be taken care of by his cattle. Rasathi says she’s attached to a couple of calves because they were born the same day as her son. But all of these are just bits of information fed to the viewer through dialogues. Beyond generic visuals of Rasathi and Thangamuthu interacting with their cows over a montage song, we don’t really see how emotional the bond with their cattle is.
So, when a cow goes missing early on in the film, we can see that Rasathi is upset about it without emotionally connecting with her distress. By making these characters a bit more specific and by fleshing out their relationship to their cattle and land, Rasathi’s family could have been a representative of the countless landless agricultural families in the country. Instead, they appear like generic people with serious but generic problems. The film also doesn’t talk about what’s so specific about agricultural debt — the source of Rasathi’s problems — that differentiates it from regular debt. This prevents us from identifying with Rasathi’s problems as much as we should be.
The only time Rasathi and Thangamuthu are not generic is when they’re saying dialogues that hint at their specific beliefs. For example, Thangamuthu wants his son to become a researcher like Nammalvar and he talks about how terrible it is to slaughter a cow for food.
Though Rasathi’s family suffer, they aren’t bitter nor are they portrayed as victims of evil people. But when a film about a serious social issue is non-judgemental about specific persons, it must at least probe for root causes in society or the State. Because it steers clear of the larger issues around agricultural distress in India and puts a microscope on just this family, Endravathu Oru Naal is a rural drama only in setting, but not in its politics. Showing the personal impact of a social problem is an effective technique — it’s easier to identify with a single person’s suffering than it is to identify with a statistic. But because there’s no engaging personal drama between Rasathi, Thangamuthu and Murugan, you don’t identify with their suffering or the social problems that triggered them.
Endravathu Oru Naal feels like a tale of arbitrary suffering of three innocent people from the village. The well-intentioned film takes up an important issue but it isn’t ambitious enough to look for root causes. You feel you’ve been airdropped into a rural paradise that’s slowly and inevitably crumbling (to NR Raghunanthan’s effective background score), but you don’t get a real sense of the tragedy. Endravathu Oru Naal avoids sentimentality, which is a good thing, but it also fails to move.