Bharathiraja showcased a novel narrative of rural stories set in the small villages of South India. The formula would include rustic humour, lovely songs and engaging bgm, powerful dialogues and deft screenplay. He enjoyed to depict the ratcheting of social pressure on young spirited female leads who would seemingly succumb to the situation before redeeming themselves.
Patriarchy and entrenched social systems tend to dominate the scene in the boondocks and there is little allowance to escape its demands.
The pastoral scenes of a village are rather deceptive and often fail to alert us about the violence that ordinary people may have to face for wishing to pursue their own happiness.
So we open the story with the romance waiting to bloom between the coy and demure Amala, whose father (Charuhasan) is a widower and a respected priest, and the young ‘town-educated’ Raja, whose father (Sathyaraj) is a rich and atheist landlord. The situation is idyllic and charmingly narrated – it has minor blips like we wish to have seen the ornate rangoli that Amala makes at the Temple, a local village fight starts based on a social initiative that Raja wants to promote but goes no far than to establish that Sathyaraj’s writ runs in the village. Still things progress and at times it looks as if the love birds might make it to the post.
For once the boy’s parents pose no opposition to the match but the girl’s father is adamant in his beliefs. The director manages to convey in a contrived manner that since Charuhasan chose to appeal to Sathyaraj for adaikalam (protection) rather than confront his might, he too agrees that the marriage cannot happen. And it is not a sign of wiliness on part of Charuhasan – it is well within the realm of his character but Sathyaraj’s reaction is not all that convincing. Well those were different times and different place and possibly we cannot fully appreciate the impact patriarchy and social mores had on rural lives.
Eventually the heroine rebels but the ensuing events turn tragic as both Raja and Charuhasan end up having a confrontation near a waterfall and die in a freakish accident. Sathyaraj then adopts Amala’s younger brother who carries the story forward exposing the hypocrisy and provincialism that blights ordinary lives. He gets to pose intelligent questions that the director seems to wish to demand answers for from the society at large.
Indeed the situations come to a pass where Sathyaraj’s humane atheism seems to hold more appeal than the seeming devoutness of the people who have mean natures and narrow minds. So it is to great effect to remind ourselves of a counterpoise in Charuhasan’s character who is a venerable teacher genuinely torn asunder by his dogma.
The movie has many other positives – great performances by Amala, Sathyaraj and Charuhasan, lovely music by Devendran for lyrics by Vairamuthu (Kannukkul Nooru Nilava … just stays with you), and some great lines (intelligent play of words like ‘vedam’ and ‘vedana’, ‘kadhichatangla’ illa ‘kadhichurcha’).
The climax sees a tense reunion of the siblings but the portents are already visible. The story comes to a violent end and many of the questions that the director has remain unanswered. The director makes a parting shot demanding change to ensure a brighter future for the generations to come.