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Copyright 2004




Chidambaram: Tryst with illusion?

One of the gems of cinema, Aravindan, died in 1991. He was just about 56, and what a void he left in the world of celluloid. In the 17 years that he had been looking through the view-finder - his first film was in 1974 - he had created 11 features and 13 shorts, each literally a piece of poetry, each virtually marked by a divinely easy pace and melodious sense of rhythm.

And, to tell you a fact, Aravindan had no formal training in this art. He never went to a movie school. He never assisted anybody else on a set.

"Cinema was a passion with me", he had once explained, a passion that drew him to this great medium, that pushed him to learn in a relentless pursuit of it. "I saw good films. I read about them and their makers. I remember watching Kurosawa's 'Roshomon' in 1954. I have vibrant memories of it. I then saw 'Bicycle Thieves', confronting in the process a brand new idiom, a refreshingly different language".

I once saw Aravindan watch an entire Paul Cox picture standing in the aisle of a Calcutta theatre during a festival. Such was his interest.

Aravindan's early artistic expressions through painting and cartooning helped him later to frame his stories in a language that was alluring. His simplicity was captivating, and his minimal use of technology stands in endearing contrast to much of what we see today, where directors nauseate us with an overdose of digital drama. But the discerning viewer will realise that this is done only to cover other areas of gross weakness, like story, theme, acting and even direction.

Aravindan did not have to lean on machines beyond a point. His plots had depth, and he knew how to use his knowledge of classical and folk theatre in making images move. They were never loud and vulgar; rather, they were beautifully subdued.

One of his most profound works was "Chidambaram", made in 1985. Inspired by a short story by C. V. Sreeraman, this film explores the delicate and fragile man-woman relationship, which degenerates into death and guilt.

Muniyandi works on a cattle farm, and his new bride, Sivakami, catches the eye of his boss, Sankaran. Aravindan lets his movie meander along the lush Munnar (in Kerala) landscape, posing many more questions than he would care to answer. Does Sivakami betray her husband willingly or under coercion ? Do Sankaran and Sivakami meet in the end at Chidambaram or is it the illusion of a man who feels he has wronged Muniyandi ? We would never know for sure, but to dream of possible answers is a joy in itself.

The late Smita Patil is marvellous as the coy Sivakami. Gopi as Sankaran is excellent, and they, one dare say, contributed in no small measure to the enrichment of "Chidambaram".

(This story/review appeared in The Hindu dated September 7 2001)

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