Director: Saran K Advaithan
Cast: Kishore, Yagna Shetty, Tarun Shatriya
You can’t ask for a more dramatic beginning than the stretch that opens Kalathur Gramam (Kalathur Village), written and directed by Saran K Advaithan. It’s a dusty, barren back-of-beyond, all hills and heat — the cinematographer, Pushparaj Santhosh, composes his frames around an unforgiving sun. The cop who steps out of a Jeep is even more unforgiving. He walks up to a row of kneeling men, pulls out his gun, and aims it at their foreheads. The blood spurts out in slow motion, as though we’re meant to savour the kills as much as this cop does. Finally, it rains. Drops of water fall on the gun and dissolve in a soft sizzle — the weapon is that hot. I sat up, wondering if Kalathur Gramam could be that all-too-rare rural drama — like Thilagar — that’s actually not just an excuse for a star to satisfy the B- and C-centres.
The fault is in the writing, which takes a perfectly fine (if clichéd) story of friendship and revenge and needlessly ties it up in knots, with a narrative that goes back and forth in time
We get Kishore, who was also the leading man of Thilagar — that’s about it. (The actor wears dignity and integrity like a second skin. It made me wonder how he’d be as a really bad man.) The fault is in the writing, which takes a perfectly fine (if clichéd) story of friendship and revenge and needlessly ties it up in knots, with a narrative that goes back and forth in time. The technique itself isn’t wrong. It’s just not done well. Plus, there are too many entry points into the past: an aide of the hero makes a confession to an officer heading an enquiry commission, plus a dying man recollects his story (namely, his version of the hero), plus the film itself keeps cutting back. There are points you feel someone switched the reels.
Kalathur Gramam revolves around Kedathiruka (Kishore) — interesting names in this film; another character answers to Ulagampiratti — who’s some sort of Robin Hood and also some sort of chieftain. He says he steals because he’s hungry, not because he wants to get rich. But it sounds like a line, not a life. We never enter the head of this character or the others. We know why Kedathiruka and Veeranna (Tarun Shatriya) fall out over Selvamba (Yagna Shetty), but that’s just plot. The psychological dimensions are never explored. And that’s because the film is so busy trying to be clever, with its sub-Rashomon tricks, that it short-changes its characters. The villain (named Bhima Rao) and his son, especially, are terribly realised. They appear for about a scene each. Why not write them out, when you already have a “villain” in Veeranna, and spend more time detailing his bizarre relationship with Kedathiruka and Selvamba?
Nothing is allowed to build. The climax offers a superb echo of an earlier scene with a child, but it’s too little and too late
The stagy dialogue (the weird pauses in the line readings make it seem that someone filmed the rehearsals instead of the takes) adds to the disorientation. Kalathur Gramam is about absent fathers, poisonous grandparents, and three sons raring to avenge their fathers’ deaths. You see why Ilaiyaraaja layers a chilling wail (a keening, really) over the opening credits — the screenplay doesn’t make us feel half as much. Nothing is allowed to build. The climax offers a superb echo of an earlier scene with a child, but it’s too little and too late. I kept trying to piece the story together in a linear fashion, and the film played better in my head.
I enjoyed the setting. The last time we got a film with this place in its title (you know, the film that gave us a great actor!), it was a studio-bound melodrama. This Kalathur is more rooted. I was puzzled, early on, when a performance at a wedding included Sutha chamba pacha nellu (Annakkili) and the Telugu version of Vaangonna (Bhadrakali). And then we see this is a village in the Tamil Nadu-Andhra Pradesh border. The best parts of the film are the ones that paint, with documentary-like flair, the colours of this region — Kedathiruka dancing with a garland of skulls around his neck, or the similar “dance” a child does, both revolving around death. The emotional beats are strong, no doubt. If only the screenplay didn’t dance around the story so much!
Watch the trailer of Kalathur Gramam here: