Shot on location and set in Athipattu, a drought-stricken hamlet in Southern TN, Balachander’s political film tells of the villagers’ desperate attempts to obtain water in the face of corrupt politicians and their servants, including the police. The villagers protect a communist fugitive from justice and later give him money to buy a bullock with which to bring water from a spring 20 miles away. The man persuades them to dig a canal, an initiative obstructed by government officials. The villagers then decide to boycott elections (a tactic tried in Thanjavur a year after the film’s release), but in the end the police act against them for defying orders and corruption triumphs. The film’s effort at a stark realism, esp. in the use of Southern Tamil dialect, goes alongside an agit-prop stage style borrowed from Swaminathan’s original play e.g. when villagers hand a petition to a minister, he gives it to his assistant, who hands it to a district collector, who passes it to his orderly, who puts it in his pocket. The Tamil Nadu Information Minister, R.M. Veerappan, calling for a ban on the film, said that ‘the law enforcement ministry had never used arms against people who made efforts to get their water supply’.
Did you know?
The film is based on the 1980 play of the same name by Komal Swaminathan. Read More