Director: M Manikandan
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Yogi Babu
Tamil cinema likes farmers. Filmmakers go out of their way to teach audiences how to care about farmers. Kaappaan and Bhoomi come to mind instantly, but everyone from Samuthirakani to Selvaraghavan have done their fair share of posturing for agriculture. Except, the angle almost always is a computer-educated urban male saving poor innocent farmers from corporate/political greed.
This makes M Manikandan's Kadaisi Vivasayi distinctly special. Not just because it is an empathetic, poignant and intricate tale of an aging farmer, but more because it adamantly rejects the over-simplification and jingoism that we've come to expect from films around agriculture. Before you accuse me of comparing an autuer's effort like Kadaisi Vivasayi with mainstream pretentiousness; please allow me to clarify that I am merely highlighting the energy it takes to do something different in today's Tamil cinema milieu (given all the struggles it had to even be released).
Kadaisi Vivasayi is the story of Maayandi, an aging farmer, and the people of his community. M Manikandan, who has written, directed and cinematographed the film, writes it more like a poem of multiple verses than as a screenplay in three acts. He creates tangents about a police case, a broken heart, a village festival, a kind magistrate, an elephant mahout — each appearing unrelated, but coming together seamlessly to make the film richer. He takes his time to establish the period, landscape and the people, making sure that the three are intertwined, packing every minute with meaning and emotion.
Take, for instance, the scene where Ramaiah (Vijay Sethupathy) is introduced. We see him walk across the barren landscape, wearing every shirt, jewellery and watch he owns. He might look like a fool, but there is a moving melancholy about him that stops us from judging (in fact, the film makes sure we never judge anyone). We hear his story from one of the other characters, but we see what the tragedy did to him through his actions. We also see his community indulge his idiosyncrasies. We understand him through them even though he's on screen for barely a few minutes.
M Manikandan shines in his writing. He puts this level of detail into every character, every incident and every interaction in the film. He fills this world with so much empathy, it is impossible to hold a grudge against even the most unreasonable police officers and government officials. From the way Maayandi tugs at the cow to navigate their journey to how caste conflicts are escalated and resolved, Kadaisi Vivasayi observes without interruption, captures without exaggeration.
This is especially telling when the police and the justice system get involved. The film does a terrific job of balancing the horrors of the situation without dramatising the proceedings. Without violence and physical abuse, he shows us how distant the law enforcement is from the realities of Maayandi. To be able to do so with humour is a gift every one of us must cherish.
Speaking of humour, Kadaisi Vivasayi effortlessly celebrates the joys of everyday life. There are no 'jokes,' but at regular intervals, I found myself laughing uncontrollably — laughter of immense admiration for the endearing people I was seeing on screen. The bald man who is desperate to grow hair, the woman who mocks a cop, Maayandi mistaking a policeman for an electrician, a man who sold his land to buy an elephant — there is an undercurrent of humour that's natural and organic to the film.
Santhosh Narayanan and Richard Harvey deftly support this endeavour. He uses a wide range of sounds — in a mixtape, they might even sound disparate — stitching them together to create a coherent whole. As does editor B. Ajithkumar who skillfully eliminates the restlessness we audience have come to experience watching films today. He forces us to be patient, promising that it'll be worth it.
While terrific, Kadaisi Vivasayi isn't an easy film to watch. It demands unwavering attention from its audience. It expects us to make an emotional investment in it. It needs us to stay involved, lest we miss an inside joke or a passing comment. It is impossible to not think about long after you've walked out of the theatre, cherishing the remarkable piece of cinema we've seen.
If you're willing to put in that effort, Kadaisi Vivasayi is worth every minute you give it and then some.