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For all its espousal of identity and celebration of ancient Tamil history, the Dravidian movement was a profoundly modernizing force. Periyar was an iconoclast through and through. He may have allied with Tamil nationalists and opposed Hindi imposition and brahmin dominance, but he did not valorize tradition. Periyar embraced modernity, rationalism and progress, which rubbed off on his political successors. It is in this context that one watches the film Kadaisi Vivasayi.

The DMK may invoke Tamil language and culture, to an extent, for political purposes but is entirely practical in its governance. Its intervention in culture is minimal, for instance. Though coming from a caste group grounded in traditional arts, Karunanidhi was avant garde when it came to embracing new technologies and media for communication. Even as the Dravidianists warmly welcomed the business of globalization and assisted all of India to usher it in during their participation in central governments, discontent was brewing in their own backyard.

It was bound to happen. For a community so rooted and boasting of a continuous civilizational underpinning, it was natural that hyper modernity would lead to insecurity among Tamils. Twentieth century had helped to roll back Sanskritization and brahminization of culture and religion to some extent. But, just as Tamils got used to being masters of their own destiny, they were hit with the full force of future shock.

Over thousands of years, Tamils had survived all the changes and thrived. Their past was always there amidst them. Not far from the grand Agama temples of a thousand years were the mud horses and Ayyanars from before. But, now it seemed an entire people would disappear. A whole people now fear they will be cut adrift in the rootless cityscapes.

Suddenly cell phones were everywhere. Bananas and pulses were coming from foreign countries. Farming was become unimportant though most people considered themselves as having a farming background. In the blink of an eye, villages transformed into cities. The contrast between rural and urban became softer and the geographical boundaries between the two started blurring.

Over thousands of years, Tamils had survived all the changes and thrived. Their past was always there amidst them. Not far from the grand Agama temples of a thousand years were the mud horses and Ayyanars from before. But, now it seemed an entire people would disappear. A whole people now fear they will be cut adrift in the rootless cityscapes.

At a cinema hall in Thoothukudi, a woman whispered to her mother: “Is there really a village untouched by civilization like this one?” It was interval; time to take stock of the film.

Kadaisi Vivasayi is indeed an improbable film, a fantasy. It’s the wishful thinking of the first-generation IT worker in OMR who has come from a Theni village.

An ancient man lives in a mud house without electricity, tends to his cows and chicken. He is the only link to the past, the only Tamil of the sort the world knew Tamils to be. He has traditional knowledge. He knows farming. He is the Kadaisi Vivasayi or the last farmer.

In a village where the biggest farmer has sold off all his land to buy an elephant, this Kadaisi Vivasayi agrees to grow paddy on a small patch of his land. The clan deity of the village had not been worshipped for a long time and that had brought bad luck to the village in the form of no rain. The old man has access to some groundwater. His paddy is to be an offering for the deity.

But the old man finds himself getting arrested by the police for killing peacocks. He is framed for refusing to sell his land. But that’s only hinted at. No Jai Bhim activism follows, however.

The film not only embraces but celebrates spirituality. Kadaisi Vivasayi imagines Tamils as a museum piece. Their local lore and beliefs are true and potent. They are not magic but a living presence. Their gods are ancestors who have transcended time. Murugan is their predecessor.

There are good folks who try to help him. The policeman learns farming, the judge with her heart in the right place becomes his advocate. Everyone learns their life lesson and farming is rediscovered.

The film not only embraces but celebrates spirituality. Kadaisi Vivasayi imagines Tamils as a museum piece. Their local lore and beliefs are true and potent. They are not magic but a living presence. Their gods are ancestors who have transcended time. Murugan is their predecessor.

The rootedness is fleshed out in Kadaisi Vivasayi by having only a few professional actors. The rest are natural non-actors, which only adds to the authenticity. It’s like palm jaggery.

Kadaisi Vivasayi is also an ode to Murugan – the Tamil God. And Vijay Sethupathy plays the eccentric, shaman-like Muruga devotee who reunites with his beloved in the spirit world. Before moving on, though, he gives his blessings and all is well that ends well.

The film seems to echo almost all the things that Tamil nationalist Seeman has spoken about. It makes his pet themes come alive on the screen. Where else can they come alive?


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