The conceit is gold. A meteor is headed towards earth. It’s the end of the world. At least, it’s the end of Tamil Nadu. The localization isn’t a surprise. Had the same scenario played out in a Hollywood movie, the events would be set in Anycity, America, with the occasional TV shot convincing us that the rest of humanity is in peril too. In Appuchi Gramam, directed by Vi Anand, we take stock of what’s happening through the residents of the titular village. There’s something awesomely subversive about a sci-fi story unfolding in the back of beyond, where men walk around in loincloths and where people carry around lanterns at night. Meanwhile, in cities, scientists gather around hi-tech equipment and fret about impending doom. A conventional disaster movie would use this as the dramatic lynchpin – how these men plan to avert this disaster. We’d be ushered through roomfuls of people making highfalutin plans, their every line punctuated with techno-geekery. The atmosphere would be thick with portent. Appuchi Gramam wants none of that.
Instead, this is what’s in store – feuding families; sickle-wielding hotheads from a neighboring village; a widowed mother yearning to hear from her son in the US; skirmishes around the local deity; lots and lots of boozing; a driver who’s in love with his master’s daughter; a second love story, occasioning a couple of duets; men with the hots for the local item girl; a scene with a thaali; a scene where someone proclaims his love for this land. It’s Tamil-cinema business as usual, less Bradbury than Bharathiraja. But the director never lingers too long on a single narrative strand, and the sci-fi backdrop makes the clichés seem not so clichéd. I mean, it isn’t just another rich-girl-meets-poor-boy track when a tender moment is interrupted by a ball of fire hurtling over their heads.
I wish more had been done with the premise, though. While it’s a relief not to have to pretend everything’s going to go up in smoke until disaster is averted at the last minute – and no, this isn’t a spoiler; whether here or in Hollywood, disaster is always averted, always at the last minute – there are a few too many detours into maudlin and messagey territory, enough to make you wish that the meteor wipes out, if not this village, then at least the “village sentiment” that plagues these films. (Wouldn’t you know it, the meteor is but a deus ex machina to cure the various ills, social and otherwise, infecting these people.) The funny bits, like the portion where a meteorite is worshipped as aatha, could have been funnier. The final stretch – lots of fireworks – could have been tenser. But I’m not complaining… too much. The low-keyness is part of the charm. It’s nice to have a movie where the prospect of annihilation induces in a local youth little more than the concern that he’s going to die a virgin. It’s a kick to see this “world crisis” being handled not by the POTUS but by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (Nasser, one of the few recognizable faces). And the reason people aren’t too concerned about what’s going to happen made me laugh out loud. Our weathermen never get anything right.
* aatha = goddess
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