Direction: Meera Kathiravan
As much as cinema is an extraordinary form of entertainment, it is also a source of knowledge and a platform for provoking debates. Without these, a film may well remain unfulfilled in a certain sense. Some of India’s master moviemakers were social documentarians: Satyajit Ray, Aravindan, Bimal Roy and even early Raj Kapoor to name just a very few. Director-writer Meera Kathiravan belongs to this disappearing tribe, and in his just released Aval Peyar Tamilarasi (Her Name Is Tamil) he portrays the pitiable plight of leather or shadow puppeteers in Tamil Nadu. An art which is often considered the mother of cinema, it is a fascinating show of light-and-shadow that is now struggling to survive against the onslaught of television and other forms of modern entertainment.
Kathiravan deftly weaves his story around a small impoverished family of leather puppeteers that settles down in a village near Tirunelveli. Landlord Chelladurai’s (Theodore Bhaskaran) school-going grandson, Jothi (Jai), takes a fancy for the art and the puppeteer family’s little daughter, Tamil (debutant Nandhagi). Jothi forces his grandfather to sponsor the puppet show that finds its audiences dwindling when a circus pitches its tent in the neighbouring village. And Tamil joins school.
The narrative moves towards the emotional bonding between Tamil and Jothi as they grow up, grappling with their dissimilarities -- economic, social and educational. While she turns into a school topper, clinching a seat in an engineering college, he flunks and wallows in self-pity and inferiority complex that push him into a rut of rashness. Tamil leaves the village, and Jothi begins his long search to find his love.
Although Kathiravan scripts essentially a love story, he never loses the threads that bind the two romantics. The sorry state of India’s traditional arts and the importance of education though serving as a background are prominent enough to catch our eye. However, performances could have been better had the lead pair added a little zing to their passion, and the movie tends to sag in the second half with the script wandering into terrain that could have been left unexplored.
In the final analyses, Kathiravan’s effort must be lauded because he is still one of the few helmers in cinema bold enough to take his camera to the countryside and capture the dying wails of India’s glorious heritage.