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It’s a given that historical fiction or a film always harks back to a dynasty and a king in the lead, glorifying his exploits, sacrifices and valour, depicting magnificence and mesmeric charm of palaces, jewels, battles, traditions, temples, arts and so on. The genre is a kind of panegyric on the past royal tycoons and their fabulous power. The latest venture, Ponniyin Selvan, takes the cake. But here is a film released a week ahead of the Chola thriller’s second part. The title of the film Yaathisai sounds weird and obscure.
Without star value, without mega budget trappings and without huge promotional glitz and glamour, the film is said to be doing well at the box-office to rave reviews. But it is a moot question whether the initial euphoria over Yaathisai will survive the Ponniyin Selvan juggernaut that is coming.
Hearing that the storyline revolves around a Pandya king of the 7th century CE, one tends to think, “Oh here is the Pandyas’ answer to the Cholas’ Ponniyin Selvan!” The expectation of the Pandya king strutting about on the stage, delivering punch lines, showing off power, fully decked with ornaments, dressed in his royal best starts soaring. But what unfolds is a narrative that flies in the face of the age-old story-telling tradition of the historical genre.
Yaathisai (meaning southern direction) is an attempt to break new ground in historical fiction. It is a critique of power that corrupts rulers, valorous and bona fide though they are, whatever age and whatever form of governance they are in.
The director must be lauded for his offbeat historical film on a low budget with new faces. The plaudits are deserved all the more for conveying the message that power and domination are always the fundamental factors that lead to the emergence of great kingdoms and rulers. This is a message that holds good for all ages
History always sings the glories of kings such as Caesar, Napoleon, Chola, Pandya, Chera, Mughal, Maurya and so on; but it never bothers to show the underbelly of power and to put on record the tears, sweat and blood of the millions and millions of the downtrodden, the oppressed and the marginalised.
Historical fiction has not ventured to lend voice to those multitudes of the voiceless. Yaathisai here comes off very differently, bringing to the fore the Eyinar tribe’s role while describing the victories of Pandya king Ranatheeran (played by Shakthi Mithran) over the Cheras and Cholas. No frame drips with hyperbolic glorification of the king.
Spoiler alert! The film presents a face-off, not between two major empires, but between a tribe and a kingdom. Kodhi (Seyon) leads his Eyinar clan in his fight against the mighty Pandya kingdom. Pandya king Ranatheeran, who has used Eyinars’ help to defeat the Cheras and the Cholas, drives away the tribe to the ‘Paalai’ landscape.
Kodhi, leading the Eyinar tribe, seeks the help of the Cholas, who have gone into hiding in the forests, to overpower Pandya king Ranatheeran. Though Kodhi is projected as the hero of the marginalised tribe, he too is shown as enjoying and pursuing royal power. After all, power corrupts. Now, the defeated Ranatheeran seeks the help of another tribe, Perumpalli, and goes on an invasion to retrieve his fort from the Eyinars.
The woman leader of Perumpalli strikes a deal with the king who, in exchange for the help, must marry her daughter. The king agrees to the condition, with the rider that the tribal girl’s progeny will not have any succession right to the throne. Who will win the fight – Kodhi, the tribal leader, or Ranatheeran, the Pandya king, is the crux of the story.
The film has a few messages to convey: 1. The rulers always earn glory and throne out of the blood, tears and sweat of millions of the marginalised. 2. Power corrupts all, whether in the top or bottom echelons of the society. 3. Women are always exploited as instruments and commodities by men. 4. Gods and governments may come and go, but the religiously superior communities are always there.
Historical fiction has not ventured to lend a voice to the multitudes of the voiceless. In this respect, Yaathisai comes off very differently, bringing to the fore the Eyinar tribe’s role while describing the victories of Pandya king Ranatheeran over the Cheras and Cholas. No frame drips with hyperbolic glorification of the king
Shakthi Mithran as the Pandya king, Seyon as the Eyinar chief, Rajalakshmi as Devaradiyar and Guru Somasundaram as a priest of the Eyinar tribe shine in this project.
Director Dharani Rasendran, assisted by cinematographer Akhilesh Kathamuthu, art director Ranjithkumar, editor Mahendran Ganesan, costume designer Sureshkumar, stunt choreographer Om Sivaprakash and musician Chakravarthy, have hit the bull’s-eye.
The use of Sangam-era Tamil in the dialogue among the Eyinar people is quite daring. Only that even the native Tamil viewers have to depend on the subtitles in modern Tamil and English.
The Kottravai ritual, food habits, culture, costume, and the practice of ‘navagandam’ (warriors sacrificing themselves on the battlefield) offer vignettes of the ancient Tamil culture.
The director must be lauded for making an offbeat historical film on a low budget with new faces. The plaudits are deserved all the more for conveying the message that power and domination are always the fundamentals that produce great kingdoms and rulers. This is a message that holds good for every era.
Read in : தமிழ்