Merku Thodarchi Malai Review
'Merkku Thodarchi Malai' by Lenin Bharathi has easily one of the greatest opening sequences in Tamil Cinema. Much like Lijo's EeMaYau, the film begins with a detailed, in-depth glimpses of characters. We see mundane day-to-day acts of a village getting up for the dawn. We see a man starting up for his routine chorus. We see half lit teashops being opened. But what sort of proceeds as stretched out scenes that waits for some central conflict of the film to kick in.. ends up in a terrific establishment of the locale. And with it, we get the first wide shot in the film.. The gigantic, beastly Western Ghats that surrounds the village.
The film, though is about the locale and its native people altogether.. travels with Rangasamy as its protagonist. His thrive to own a piece of land near his village sets the core line. The people he knew, his relatives, landlords, union leaders all are the characters in his life as much as they are in the film. And each one has an impactful back story that works more because of the 'less said'ness in it. Like the history of Vanakali that is narrated through an astounding drone shot and gets faded into an echo of cough. Lenin's power is in bringing this century old pain to the screen. And the film's greatest impact is with the burdening walks of survival by the people.. happening every single day.
Merku Thodarchi Malai comes with no pressure to be an art film / festival film in its shots and scenes. It is the rarest of phenomenons where we see a Tamil film truly talking about its roots, culture in its own way but with the spirit and power of the medium. The characters are real. The blood, sweat, pride, shame, tears and every single thing you see on screen comes out of what's happening to the people in the locale even as you are watching the film in an urban multiplex. This very point is why the film is much more than its structure or flaws.
But.. As much as the film documents the faces, issues and concerns of people who are never before unexplored in Cinema.. the film unfortunately fails when it wants to hop into the conventional film structure. It sort of looses it grip once the bundle of seeds slips down into the valley. The series of tragedy that extends after that, doesn't keep you invested in the film but only works like an mapped projection of real issues. The black and white characterisations with no shades of grey.. like the extremely too good villagers or the communist leader and the 'on your face' dark painted capitalist villain only dejects you after a point.
The murder.. The communism rage being involved in it.. The prison episode it leads to.. The lone struggles and many worries of Eshwari (probably the first time, I saw the natural lips of a Tamil heroine on screen) that's compiled in a sad song.. All this just keep happening and you feel like you've took too much already and now got lost out of nowhere.
And my biggest issue with the film is the score. Illayaraja, though he hardly plays in the film.. still sounds odd to the story. What would've better worked with its naked ambience flashes as highlighted cinema scenes when a sad bgm comes to underline. It kills the rare nativity that Lenin achieves with a great effort. It suddenly cuts you from the universe the film is pulling you into and reminds you that you are watching a cinema. And same goes with the songs. It works as mood pieces.. but in the film, a big NO. When EeMaYau or Kammattipaadam is scored with its soul nativity in the mind.. for the soundtrack to be blended well with the mood and tone of the film.. why not here?
However, the end sort of hooks to you. Theni Eshwar's usage of drone has really shown the true power of the medium! It not only awes / shocks you down with the breathtaking vastness.. but haunts you for how barely noticeable the native people go in the mightiness of the monstrous nature.
In the times of 8-Lane Roads in everyday discussions that's looked up as an evil in disguise.. Lenin Bharathi voices out a strong take with his film. Between documenting and being a film, 'Merku Thodarchi Malai', undoubtedly presents you a hard hitting, unheard experience which is beyond everything else.