Close Up

23 February 2017: Chidambaram


G. Aravindan
1985 | 102 min | Colour | Digital

Unfolding in exquisitely photographed poetic rhythms and coloured landscapes, this is the simple but cynical tale of Muniyandi (Srinivas), a labourer on the Indo-Swiss Mooraru farm in Kerala. He brings a wife, Shivagami (Patil), from the temple town of Chidambaram. She befriends Shankaran (Gopi), the estate manager and amateur photographer with a shady past. Their friendship transgresses the hypocritical but deeply felt behavioural codes the local men inherited from previous social formations: i.e. that women are to be denied what men are allowed to enjoy. The tragedy that ensues (Muniyandi’s suicide, Shankaran’s descent into alcoholism and Shivagami’s withering into a worn-out old woman) condenses the tensions between socioeconomic change (as tractors and machinery invade the landscape) and people’s refusal to confront the corresponding need to change their mentality. The tension is, however, most graphically felt in the way Shivagami’s life-force is extended into the naturescape, which is shot around her with garish colour (e.g. purple flower-beds) suggesting that the very nature of Kerala’s beauty and fertility, as she represents it, has been irredeemably corrupted from within. The film then shifts to the equally oppressive cloisters of the Chidambaram temple, as Shankaran and Shivagami meet once more: he is there to purify himself through religious ritual while she is now employed to look after the footwear of devotees and tourists. The nihilist film ends with a rising crane shot as the camera can only avert its gaze and escape, tilting up along a temple wall towards an open sky.

Part of our season on Govindan Arivindan