“Merku Thodarchi Malai”… A strong, stirring, beautifully shot portrayal of life in the Western Ghats

Posted on August 24, 2018

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Spoilers ahead…

Read the full review on Film Companion, here: https://www.filmcompanion.in/merku-thodarch-malai-tamil-movie-review-baradwaj-rangan/

Most films, in the early portions, build up to a hero-introduction shot. Merku Thodarchi Malai (Western Ghats) builds up to a landscape-introduction shot. At first, we get long stretches of people doing the most mundane things. Waking up. Bathing. Idle chatter while drinking tea. We haven’t really been introduced to any of them, so they remain as anonymous as the mostly new, mostly local cast. The darkness doesn’t help. Faces keep merging into each other, with no singling-out dimension. But after a while, it begins to dawn. Ilayaraja — so far silent — slips in an understated flute theme, and Theni Easwar’s camera begins the first of its many zoom-outs. The stage is set for a big reveal, and… we see the mountains of the Western Ghats, along the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border,  sharply delineated in a way no human, so far, has been. This is as much a story of the place as the people.

Merku Thodarchi Malai, written and directed by Lenin Bharathi (he wrote the story on which Susendhiran’s Aadhalal Kadhal Seiveer was based), is filled with painterly shots — say, a blacked-out screen that’s lit up when a door opens and light floods in. But the film’s meaning rests in the repeated wide shots. In the first half, we watch daily-wage labourers at a plantation hoist sacks filled with cardamom on their backs and begin to walk downhill. They keep walking. The camera keeps pulling back. At some point, we hear voices, but the men are like ants in a maze, identifiable only by the sacks they carry. (This shot finds a heart-rending echo at the end.) Nearby, the Ghats stand silently, as they always have, as they always will. The song that emerges from tea stall in the area is Ondru sernthal anbu maaruma, from Makkalai Petra Maharaasi (1957). It doesn’t sound old. There’s a timelessness about this place. It could be 1957.

Continued at the link above.

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil