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We are often encouraged to dream. Well, not just to dream but realize our dreams so we can celebrate our life. But those kinds of dreams are conscious wishing. Dreams that come unconsciously or spontaneously are complex. They stay in memory in bits and pieces and raise questions. They link past and future. Kudiraival by Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Productions attempts to answer these questions.

If dreams are expressions of the subconscious how do we know what exactly are dreams telling us? Many take dreams seriously and look for answers and meanings to their dreams.

But the meanings are often folk stories or historical parallels. The meaning of our dreams is as incomplete as the dream itself, often. The quest of Saravanan, aka Freud, the hero of Kudiraival, to find the meaning of his dream is structured similarly.

Here goes the dream: There is a hill. On top of the hill is a tree. Next to the tree is a horse. The horse has no tail. Before the dream probes why the horse has no tail, the dream is gone and Saravanan wakes up. But Saravanan starts feeling he has a tail.

He tries to find out if others can see his tail but then starts believing he has a tail even if others don’t see one on him. When he begins to understand the significance of the horse and the tail, he is reminded of a long forgotten fact of his life. Does Saravanan get to dot the i, or rather attach the tail to the horse, eventually?

The plot then starts sprouting branches. Saravanan loses his bank job since he is lost in his dreams. A client executive from another bank gets in touch with him. A cigarette smoking shopkeeper seems to be always looking for something in his armpit. A girl scolds her mother for recalling the memories of her dead father.

What lifts the movie is the technicians who have synced with what the two directors of the movie are trying to achieve. The camera rolls down like a robot to look upside down in one scene. The background score uses ambient sounds to make music. These are new experiences for a filmgoer. They help to keep the ambiguity between dream and reality going.

What lifts the movie is the technicians who have synced with what the two directors of the movie are trying to achieve. The camera rolls down like a robot to look upside down in one scene. The background score uses ambient sounds to make music.

On his quest, Saravanan meets many characters such as the old woman who is a dream explainer; the neighbour who died sometime ago; an astrologer who loves the raunchy number Kattipudida Kattipudida; Irusai, aka Vanavil, aka Van Gogh, who is always dressed in blue; the Maths teacher who taught for only six months; and Saravanan’s father, mother, sister, grandfather, grandmother, and a childhood friend at a village on a mountain.

Why does Saravanan call himself Freud? Because he is trying to decode dreams? Why does Irusai have so many names? Is the old woman of his dream same as his grandmother? Is Saravanan’s stupor a result of drugs or childhood trauma? None of these questions are answered. But if we move on then certain things start revealing themselves.

The dog walking neighbour who is dead interacts with Saravanan in the dream though in life they rarely spoke. As per TV news, the neighbour’s death was mysterious with blood drawn from him in 200 syringes. The allusion is likely to drug injestion.

The shopkeeper who smells his hand after it digging it into his armpit is a reference to probing the recesses of the mind, to a thought that becomes a dream. The sleepy bank manager’s yelling likely drives Saravanan towards smoking and drinking. His Maths teacher tells him his sex drive and the girl he tried to push away from memory are driving his dreams. The astrologer too talks about sex, putting Saravanan’s virility in question.

In his trip down memory lane, Saravanan sees his father and mother scolding his sister. Saravanan was a boy and didn’t quite understand that the reason for his sister’s troubles was that she had become pregnant. His friend leaves him saying those who commit suicide by jumping into the water become spirits that fly in the sky. The girl’s leaving likely leads to Saravanan’s psychosis.

But, beyond all this, the context of the movie is Saravanan’s caste background. He comes from an oppressed community, likely tribal. While the memories of his early village life intrude through dreams, urban life too has cast him out. Saravanan’s pain is not just the pain of an atomized individual but of a man who comes from an oppressed community.

Just like caste, politics too pervades the film. News of demonetization, for instance, dominates a sequence and is an allusion to Saravanan being cast out, made worthless. Tribals being driven away from their soil and made rootless, degradation of the environment, the anonymity of being identified by a number by the Aadhaar system, the credit-driven lifestyle of corporate India and so on drive Saravanan to drugs.

Kudiraival may well be an indication that the intellectual leadership in dalit politics is decisively turning against the AIADMK. Not too long back, dalit parties would ally with the AIADMK since that was the party dalits, fishermen and other oppressed and marginalized sections voted for. Not anymore.

Politics is the context for the psychology in Kudiraival. But instead of a straight narration that would make everything explicit, the makers only hint at things. They use magic realism to tell the story through symbols. The tribals who keep voting for MGR because they saw him once on film seems to be more a passing reference although that’s the running theme: the neurosis of today’s Tamil life.

Such a powerful, political movie needs screaming headlines, not subtle allusions and cagey magic realism. Only then it can reach the masses who may well give Kudiraival a miss.

Though Kudiraval is only produced by Pa Ranjith, it does carry on from Sarpatta Parambarai in its portrayal of MGR and the AIADMK. Kudiraival may be an indication that the intellectual leadership in dalit politics is decisively turning against the AIADMK. Not too long back, dalit parties would ally with the AIADMK since that was the party dalits, fishermen and other oppressed and marginalized sections voted for instinctively. Not anymore.


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