Film Review: Kanchivaram

Bottom line: A compelling story of silk weavers knitted through the tragic life of a family that dared to look beyond their bondage

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival

CHENNAI, India -- Made at a time when India's large labor force is under a frightening debt trap and suicidal mode, "Kanchivaram" takes us back to the 1920s when the handloom silk weavers of Tamil Nadu's temple town of Kanchivaram, despite their brilliant craftsmanship, lived as bonded laborers. While the exploiting middlemen amassed huge wealth out of the weavers' art, these toiling men barely survived. The film appears headed for a successful journey on the festival circuit and in specialty venues.

The story is that of the master's son, Vengadam (Prakash Raj), whose desire to drape his new bride, Annam (Shreya Reddy), in silken finery remains unfulfilled. Narrated stylistically in a series of flashbacks that take us from a bus transporting Vengadam, now a convict on a two-day parole, to his joyous times in Kanchivaram that see him sire a daughter, Thamarai (Shammu), and build castles of silk yarn in the air. He manages to steal tiny balls of silk thread from the factory to weave a sari for Thamarai, hoping to dress her up for her wedding.

Vengadam and a few friends come under the spell of a Communist leader, whose ideology for the harassed and humiliated weavers spells magic. They strike, asking for better wages and humane treatment. The middlemen and the handloom owners remain unmoved, thus pushing Vengadam to seek a reckless way to complete his daughter's sari.

The tragedy of Vengadam's life emphatically underlines the poverty and wretchedness of a clan whose talent produced some of the finest saris, intricately designed in silk and embellished with gold thread. This has been captured through the excellent performance of Prakash Raj, probably his best to date, and a visually arresting treatment of the subject.

Director Priyadarshan, often termed a master of remakes (of American and Indian movies, including "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"), has surprised us with "Kanchivaram": Here is an original story with authentic period details. Meanwhile, doleful musical notes heighten not just the misfortune of the weavers but the sense of distress.

Production company: Percept Picture Company in association with Four Frames. Cast: Prakash Raj, Shreya Reddy, Shammu. Director/screenwriter: Priyadarshan. Executive producer: Abhilash Nair. Producers: Shailendra Singh, Bhushan Kumar. Director of photography: Thiru. Music: M.G. Sreekumar. Costume designer: V. Sai Babu. Production designer: Sabu Cyril. Editor: Arun Kumar. No rating, 112 minutes.
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