Welcome back to real solid film-making. Bala`s Paradesi is one of the best films to have emerged in Indian cinema in recent times.
At a time when Tamil commercial cinema is trapped in crass comedy and fraudulent mass movies, here comes pure cinema. It has honesty and depth, which is mostly missing in Tamil movies today.
The film has been adapted from Eriyum Panikadu a Tamil translation of the 1969 novel Red Tea by Paul Harris Daniel which deals with Harris` encounters with enslaved tea plantation workers in the Madras Presidency in colonial India.
Paradesi is set in the pre-independent late 1930s in a tea plantation run by British somewhere in Munnar. The people in a poor Tamil village are conned by a ruthless middleman or ‘Kankani’ to work in the plantation promising them decent wages.
Little do these innocent people realise that they are going to be enslaved in a tea plantation as ‘coolies’ for the rest of their life. It is a double edged sword: Those who try to escape end up with their calf muscles cut off and those who reluctantly stay behind fall prey to deadly diseases and torture.
In short there is no escape from the hell and they are destined to be slaves for life!
The big plus that makes Paradesi work is Bala`s characterisation. The characters are raw and the kind of emotional turmoil they undergo is something that today’s film-makers would not dare to do.
Bala also takes a dig at the way Christianity was thrust down the throat of natives by missionaries masquerading as doctors, providing health care and food.
The acting is first rate. Atharvaa is outstanding as Rasa or Ottu Perukki, you can feel his anguish especially in the last scene when he realises the futility of it all. Bala is also able to extract a spellbinding performance from Vedika as Angamma and Dhansika as Maradhagam. Each and every actor has come up with perfect portrayals including 200 junior artists which enrich the story telling.
The film is a visual stunner. Chezhiyan`s camera speaks for itself, with a washed out hue that highlights the agony in the story. The first look of the village and the top-angle camera in the climax are good.
Editor Kishore has made it racy at 2 hrs and 3 minutes without too much melodrama. GV Prakash Kumar`s songs and BGM serve as the spine of this enterprise, emerging expectedly as one the film's biggest strengths.
Paradesi may be too dark for some viewers. But here is a definitive movie that touches a deep emotional chord and will leave a lump in your throat. Paradesi is definitively a classic with grace and power. Hats off to Bala for taking the road less traveled, and that makes all the difference.
Verdict - Brilliant