‘Kanchivaram’: Art vs Art-y!!
Review by Rajeev Nair
‘Kanchivaram’ is supposedly Priyan’s passion project, meaning, one that has no corny comedy or zany slapstick.
This movie, for all practical purposes, is for the awards, and meant to establish the director for his true artistic capabilities and vision.
If only the movie too lived up to the hype.
‘Kanchivaram’ is a one-dimensional melodrama that is so utterly predictable and often downright silly that it hardly tickles the grey cells. It reinforces the argument that Priyan is better off in his turf, churning out mindless comedies, and of course, he has mastered that art.
There is no doubting the cinematic quality of ‘Kanchivaram’ from a technical perspective. The film has the trademarks of a classic – but sadly, it is thoroughly cosmetic. Dig deeper into the movie, and it is as hollow as any Priyan venture. And therein lies the problem.
The focus of the filmmakers is all too obvious: Their viewer is not the Indian, who will easily wade the shallowness of the films, but the ‘Western’ critic, who will sit enamoured with all those magical images of India and forget that the content hardly qualifies for great cinema.
‘Kanchivaram’ fails where it should have won: The script. Priyan tries to salvage the situation with the flash-back technique, giving it a sort of quixotic appeal but setting the story in a run-down bus from the past, and stealing a few moments for comic relief.
But move into the heart of the story – the sad tale of Vengadam (Prakash Raj), a thoroughly talented weaver in Kanchipuram – and the movie falters. Every moment of the film seems to be centred on a quirky one-liner: “The weaver never gets to wear a piece of silk.” So from birth to death and all that struggle in between, Vengadam’s life is centred on one mission: “Weave a silk sari for his daughter’s marriage.”
He steals remorselessly, and in between, his wife dies, he becomes fascinated by the Communist ideology, and he turns turncoat on his comrades. All because he wanted that silk sari woven from stolen thread completed in time.
Priyan says his objective was to make a film (of class) that does not have the weariness of the ‘art movies.’ While our arthouse moviemakers have indeed spoiled us with their high-brow approach, there is no doubting the sheer weight of thought that has gone into movies like ‘Swayamvaram.’
The ending of Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s debut feature is still a lesson for aspiring movie-makers, and Priyan could still learn a lesson or two from the master, given that there is so much in common with the two movies. After all, ‘Swayamvaram’ and ‘Kanchivaram’ are both about the utter helplessness of individuals, when facing situations that are beyond their control, and being exposed to the shifting tides of ideology.
Priyan could also have picked a point from directors like KP Kumaran who roped in none other than John Altman for composing the music for his film ‘Aakashagopuram.’ Priyan turns to his friend MG Sreekumar, and the result is disastrous. If ever there is a movie that suffers from the loudness of its re-recording excesses, it is ‘Kanchivaram.’
If ‘Kanchivaram’ deserves a harsh critique, it is simply because Priyan positions it on a higher intellectual plane, when the film has nothing but the visual richness of S Thiru’s camera and a fine performance by Prakash Raj to boast of.
Priyan is justified in his choice of Prakash Raj, and he said the Dubai audience that his first choice was Mohanlal, but the difficult Tamil that the lead role had to speak forced him to make his current preference.
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