When you make a film with a social message, the core theme is usually pointed towards a specific audience. If you want to attract a larger viewership, you then populate your narrative with elements that entertain. Filmmaker M Manikandan's Kadaisi Vivasayi: The Last Farmer does just that to fit the “artsy entertainer” bill.
Tamil cinema is notorious for stories that play on family sentiments especially those related to motherhood. Lately, it's the 'farmer sentiment' that has caught the industry's fancy. Soon after the Jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu and the farmers' protests against the central government’s farm laws picked up momentum, sizzling speeches and powerful punch dialogues about farmers' issues became popular on screen. To cite a few - actor Vijay’s commercial flick Katthi touched upon farmer suicides, actor Karthi’s Sulthan was one among the long list of films that sympathised with the farmers' condition and Jayam Ravi starrer Bhoomi was severely criticised for its half-baked understanding of both farming and the reality on the ground.
There haven't been many films in the recent past that have dealt the farmers issue with real depth or sensitivity, except a few like Lenin Bharathi’s Merku Thodarchi Malai. Even if they partially did, they tried to use distressed farmers as a mere backdrop, force-fitting them into the masala genre thereby sacrificing the very essence of the theme.
This is precisely where Kadaisi Vivasayi stands out, breaking the stereotypical representation of a film dealing with farmers. As the name suggests, Kadaisi Vivasayi is the lone or last standing farmer in the village. Produced by Manikandan himself, the film stars an old farmer Nallandi in the lead with actor Vijay Sethupathi and Yogi Babu in extended cameos.
The plot of Kadaisi Vivasayi revolves around the octogenarian Mayandi (Nallandi) who is sought to grow grains for the village deity’s special offering. Soon after he starts farming, he buries three dead peacocks in his farm which leads to his arrest and what follows is the rest of the story.
For the urban population with a low attention span, Kadaisi Vivasayi might feel slow paced however the very message of the film is steady enough, targeting the very audience by highlighting the importance of nature. With nuanced writing and visually appealing shots, Manikandan establishes that he is the master of his craft.
Take, for instance, the introductory scene where the filmmaker brilliantly captures Mayandi doing his daily chores of feeding the cattle and taking care of his farm with such detail and tranquillity. Owing to this, what otherwise would have been brushed off as a boring scene, stood out as cinematic brilliance. The montage scenes of peacocks, bulls, elephants, and the villagers are a treat to watch.
Blending in realism and some amount of surrealism with Vijay Sethupathi's Ramaiah character in perfect proportion along with a dash of humour, Kadaisi Vivasayi gives you a peaceful “village virtual reality” experience.
Kadaisi Vivasayi has received a mixed response which falls under a spectrum, between “soul cleanser” and “patience tester”. However, most critics have been calling it a “feel good entertainer”. While the film struggled in the first weekend of its theatrical release, audiences have started flocking to theatres after the positive reviews.
Filmmaker Manikandan’s body of work speaks for itself. Right from his debut Kaakaa Muttai to Kuttrame Thandanai, Aandavan Kattalai and now with Kadaisi Vivasayi, he proves time and again that social messages in movies need not necessarily be thrust down the audience’s throat.
For instance, Kaaka Muttai spoke about consumerism, globalisation and class divide using “two poverty-stricken kids yearning to taste pizza” as the metaphor. Aandavan Kattalai touched upon the hindrances faced by a "common man with aspirations" and the plight of Sri Lankan refugees without being melodramatic.
From not studying filmmaking as a major to creating masterpieces that are worth studying, the National Award-winning filmmaker has secured his unique space in the industry with his latest.