30 November 2011 | johnnyboyz
Tries hard to spin us a decent story, on top of an issue that clearly means a lot to the maker; the results are not silky smooth, but it weaves a decent enough experience.
Kanchivaram didn't strike me as anything particularly groundbreaking, but I admire it for being a project attempting to create awareness about something. Around its statement lies a relatively unfruitful 'life' narrative unfolded from the present day through flashbacks, a series of scenes making up someone's existence consisting of jobs; friendships; marriages; child-birth and politics beginning in the 1930s before ending up in the late 40s - it aims for grandiose and expansive, but falls somewhat short. In the 'issue' department, the problem that needs addressing and tackling in this filmmaker's eyes is the treatment of India's silk-workers; a resilient group of people stuck out there in the rural pastures of the vast nation that is India slogging away from early on in the day to late on at night sewing and stitching away with the rich refined item of silk. Silk is quite the delicacy; a fabric costing a fair amount but seeing those whom sit there and physically produce garments made out of the stuff paid tuppence – somebody somewhere is making an awful lot of money.
Life is tough for the silk-makers and they're treated with a similar level of disdain. At the end of every day, each of them are searched all over for any trace of silk they may have stolen - like prisoners coming out of a session in a workshop, the authorities can hardly have them taking something away with them, with which they have worked with all day, in an attempt to try and get ahead of the game. Around such an idea, or social statement, which is a good one, unfolds a relatively unspectacular tale about one man's existence in 30's India; the likes of which we haven't necessarily not seen before and the likes of which was executed with a lot more panache in Nigel Cole's Made in Dagenham.
The lead is Prakash Raj's Venkadam, one of these silk-weavers occupying one large room all day with fellow weavers creating silk-produce so that rich, and still ruling at this time, colonial British-folk may periodically come and negotiate prices of Saris so ridiculous that they are probably what Venkadam and co. make in a year. His tale is spilt across two equilibriums, a present strand unfolding mere days after Gandhi's assassination, so with a distinct air of sombreness and change in the air, that sees a bedraggled and unshaven Venkadam sport a cracked eye-wear lens as he is transported to a court on a prison bus, as well as a past strand more broadly representative of his memories from years ago that lead up to this point. It is inferred with a title-card at the beginning that silk means a great deal to Indians, something that is imbued into the traditions of the people and something whose presence at funerals and marriages always mean a great deal to those involved.
When we begin with one of a number of the flashbacks that make up a good ninety percent of the film, we watch guards react aggressively to one man caught stealing silk, but additionally observe Venkadam go against these stern odds and come to the aid of this individual symptomatically reiterating not only what it is that happens to those whom try to defy the silk patriarchy, but that our lead isn't shy of helping others if it means placing himself in danger. No surprise then that Venkadam's goal ends up being his unrealistic promise to present to his still-infant daughter, Thamarai (Shammu), a sari on the day of her marriage. The good news is he has the best part of a quarter of a century; the bad news is, well – you know: bad wages and a few broken bones if you're caught stealing from the till, so to speak. These things to not deter him, and he goes on through life stashing rolled up pieces of silk in his mouth so that he may leave his work premises and work on the pieces at home in secret so as to provide his daughter with the perfect matrimonial send off.
The film is pleasing, but this is all it is and in spite of it coming to resemble a sturdy more than a breathtaking piece of work, director Priyadarshan clearly feels strongly about the subject enough to keep it passionate and engaging enough throughout, and away from being turgid or a similarly toned adjective. The lead marries; has a child of his own; she grows up and does indeed fall for one of Venkadam's friends' sons resulting in a proposal – there is very little conflict away from the central tract of these silk "landlords" imposing their rule and for the most part, it is a neat and unspectacular family drama about people very much in tune with one another just 'existing' amidst the wages problem.
The coming of politics into the man's life rears up another episode in the lean's past incarnation, a tract more geared towards that of a pro-socialist existence over that of the painted-as-evil alternative, thus shifting the film somewhat uncomfortably into a realm of 'left over right' as we're asked to become attuned with the repressed over the tyrannical 'others' - the wrongful Capitalist ways that either arrive with them or are already abound in a locale. This study is not, however, executed nor explored with the slights of subtlety apparent in a vast array of films ranging from recent Turkish film The Market: A Tale of Trade to something like Stone's Wall Street. One watches it with a gnawing sense that the film's issues outweigh stone-wall substance, with the lead's life narrative wedged in around the attempt to get the point across that these people are still being unfairly starved of wages. Some of it works; it's a lot funnier than both it sounds and I expected, but it is ultimately what it is: an issue movie with a bunch of political commentary crammed into bookended chapters of a man's life.