M Manikandan’s heartbreaking hymn to the old-fashioned farmer is reviewed in ‘Kadaisi Vivasayi’

If his body of work — Kaaka Muttai, Kuttrame Thandanai, and Aandavan Kattalai — is to be considered, there is something unique about filmmaker M Manikandan that sets him apart from his peers.

Kaaka Muttai, his debut film, was a masterpiece: a children’s short that used Satyajit Ray-style humanist realism to make a powerful statement about consumerism and class divisions.

Aandavan Kattalai was a lighthearted look at aspirations that also depicted its tale and people as realistically as possible without sacrificing comedy or cinematic sense.

Although this writer has not seen Kuttrame Thandanai, the two other films were enough to pique the interest of viewers who had to wait months for the release of Manikandan’s fourth feature, Kadaisi Vivasayi (The Last Farmer).

As the title suggests, Kadaisi is a commentary on the current state of Indian agriculture.

The cliche is familiar: in today’s rural India, few people consider farming as a viable profession, and the villager who desires to stay involved in the rigors of agriculture is a rarity.

But it is the presentation of the issue that distinguishes Kadaisi…, and this is where Manikandan’s skill comes into play.

The important parts in this film, like in his Kaaka Muttai and Lenin Bharathi’s Merku Thodarchi Malai, are not portrayed by actors, or at least not by those who are familiar to viewers.

This is done ostensibly for the sake of authenticity.

There are no notable faces other than Vijay Sethupathi and Yogi Babu, who both feature in cameos.

Maayandi (Nallandi), the key character, is represented by someone who can’t possibly be anyone other than a dedicated farmer.

Locals from a village near Usilampatti, where the film is situated, also play other supporting roles.

What sets these characters and actors apart from those in normal Tamil films set in rural settings is that they are not simply bystanders or observers on the screen.

Locals from a village near Usilampatti, where the film is situated, also play other supporting roles.

The fact that these characters and actors are not simply bystanders or viewers who occupy screen space, but look and behave like actual people, sets them apart from normal Tamil films with a rural environment.

The director’s message is presented through the dosage of reality instilled in the characters and settings: that farming as an occupation demands the protagonist to put in the hard yards to keep it running against all obstacles.

Every other landowner farmer in the village has sold their property for quick cash; one of them even buys an elephant and sells it.

It’s no surprise that every other landowner-farmer in the community has sold his or her property for a quick profit;

one of them even buys an elephant and exploits it as a source of income.

Maayandi isn’t simply the village’s “last farmer”

he’s a simpleton unaffected by contemporary conveniences, as seen by the lack of electricity in his home and mechanized farming equipment.

He is a loner who pursues his work not just as a source of income, but also as a method of being one with nature.

It’s no surprise that when village elders decide to please the village deity by performing rites in the presence of all communities, Maayandi is expected to deliver the fresh offering of grains harvested from his modest farm.

Maayandi goes about his business with his usual zeal, even as land speculators try to buy his vast land holdings, only to be flatly rejected.

They attempt to repair Maayandi as a result of this.

The cops have a case against him for killing peacocks.

Maayandi’s urgency to go to the field and tend to his life-giving crops convinces the magistrate who hears his case that he is innocent.

The long arm of the law, however, does not spare him.

He is held in custody for days until the police finally correct their bureaucratic errors.

It is up to his fellow villagers and a police policeman (due to a magistrate’s rebuke) to look after his crop, which is not an easy chore for them without Maayandi’s know-how and nurturing.

When Maayandi is finally released from custody, the entire village comes together to overcome their bitter casteist split, and even the magistrate is inspired by his commitment.

They assist in the harvesting of the fruit, which has a joyful conclusion.

The second half of the film is focused on how this transition occurs within the community, and the director tugs at the heartstrings of the audience as well as the villagers and government agencies to realize the significance of the kadaisi vivasayi.

Manikandan does not rely solely on realism or emotional interest to deliver his message. In Vijay Sethupathi’s role as Ramaiah, he uses surrealism.

Ramaiah has mental health concerns and has lost his footing as a result of a personal tragedy. Unlike the other villagers, who find Ramaiah amusing or amusing, Maayandi sees nothing wrong with eating bread with him or expressing his emotions with him. This is clear.

Maayandi, Ramaiah, and the other characters in the film, in this writer’s opinion, are not dissimilar to the Tamil Nadu farmers who traveled to New Delhi a few years ago to express their dissatisfaction with the government in unusual ways.

A oneness with nature, shown in monsoon cycles, soil, reliance on domestic animals, and even the existence of wild birds such as peacocks, is a given for the Indian peasant, and belief in divinity is linked to their reliance on nature.

Manikandan portrays this through a combination of realism and surrealism, rather than the traditional film style of dialogues and messaging.

This may appear strange to metropolitan audiences, but I believe it will resonate with the villager in rural Tamil Nadu, who appears to be the intended audience for Manikandan’s ode to the old-fashioned farmer.

On February 11th, Kadaisi Vivasayi will be released in theatres.