Tamil cinema’s tryst with experimentation continues unabated to the delight of the serious student of cinema. In recent times, a host of new directors have chosen to stray from the trodden path and chart out new courses in filmmaking.
The latest recruit to the ranks of trail-blazing directors is Gnana Rajasekharan. He attracted attention, first, with his cinematic expose of Tamil poet Subramania Bharati. The foray into a new genre of cinema was acclaimed by one and all.
His latest movie on the life and times of the founding father of Dravidian movement, E. V. Ramaswami Naicker, known popularly as Periyar, is a commendable attempt at creating enduring cinematic moments. It is not easy to make a film on a towering and iconoclastic personality like Periyar. But Rajasekharan succeeds.
Of course, he has had to work under certain constraints imposed by the fact that the film has been financed by the DMK Government and others sympathetic to Periyar. That effectively ruled out a scrupulously honest exercise aimed at dissecting the life and ideas of the great social reformer and friend of the poor. Still, it must be said to the credit of Gnana that his has been a sincere bid to do justice to the subject of the movie.
A variety of factors helped him greatly to do a good job – selection of artistes to do the roles, excellent camera work, delectable dialogue and last but not the least crisp editing. No wonder, Periyar – a period film – is packing the people in.
In a way, ‘Periyar’ was a much misunderstood man. For instance, he was never against Brahmins as such. His fight was against Brahminism – the mindset that discriminated against the have-nots and the downtrodden. Just one fact would prove this. Despite serious political differences, one of his best friends was a famous Brahmin: C. Rajagopalachari, popularly known as Rajaji.
Ramaswamy (brilliantly essayed by Sathiaraj) is born into a religious family of Naickers. Ramaswamy grows up witnessing the horrendous acts of discrimination and excesses against the lower castes. His decision to battle the social evils incurs the wrath of his father. Young Ramaswamy is turned out of his house. But he stages a comeback and takes up the family business. In the meantime, he gets married to Nagammai (Jyothirmayi).
Then comes the call of politics. His friend, Rajaji talks him into joining Congress. But Ramaswamy is disillusioned when his attempts to do good to the backward castes run into opposition. He quits Congress and thus begins the fight against the hegemony of Brahmins. The result is the formation of Dravida Kazhagam.
A host of Ramaswamy disciples emerge from the Dravidian movement, prominent among them being CN Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi. But the duo break with Periyar when he marries Maniammai (Khushboo) young enough to be his daughter, after the death of his first wife, Nagammai.
They form a political party named Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam – of course based on the ideals of Periyar. The DMK goes on to capturing power in the 1960s.
Gnanasekharan has been able to frame many a tender moment in his film. The intimacy between Rajaji and Periyar despite political antagonism and Mahatma Gandhi’s affection for Periyar have all been portrayed with loving care.
The film marks actor Sathiaraj’s finest hour. An otherwise average actor, Sathiaraj is a man transformed on the screen – assisted ably by the make-up. A periyar disciple himself, Sathiaraj has well and truly got into the skin of the role. The portrayal is marked by a refreshing empathy for the downtrodden, a Periyar hallmark and characteristic.
Others in the cast have also risen to the occasion, redeeming themselves in the process.
Jyothirmayi as Nagammai and Khushboo as Maniammai have acquitted themselves creditably. Special mention must be made of S S Stanley’s Annadurai and Arthikumar’s Rajaji.
Thagar Bachan’s thoughtful camera work, B. Lenin’s excellent editing and composer Vidyasagar’s music transport the audience to the times of Periyar. Vairamuthu’s inspirational lyrics also heighten the period atmosphere of the movie.
A pretty well made period film.