Patriarchy and male chauvinism that built their edifice on the atrocities they heaped on women in the pre-Independence era find graphic representation in Namma Gramam (U). Widowhood is a curse and even seeing a widow is a sin for the people of the village. But extra-marital affairs of a man happen unabashedly, while the wife has to mutely stomach the wrongs meted out to her! The utter callousness of the domineering male and the abject misery of his counterpart have been depicted commendably, with actor-producer turned writer-director Mohan Sharma playing the role of the arrogant landlord. “I’m planning it as a trilogy. Namma Gramam, a bi-lingual in Tamil and Malayalam, is the first movie of the trilogy and is set in the Madras Presidency of the 1930s and 40s,” he says, in a chat just before the screening of the film at RKV Studios, Chennai.
The village, where the story unfolds, showcases the confluence of Tamil and Malayalam cultures. The dialect is typically Palakkad. “The dogmas and insular beliefs highlighted in the film are very true. I researched a lot for it. Namma Gramam has a lot of historical relevance,” avers Sharma. “It is a period film.”
Subramani (Mohan Sharma), a rich Brahmin, looks down on others, is apathetic to the misery he inflicts on the women around him and is an absolute tyrant to his son. So much so, even when his niece, Thulasi, is married off at the age of ten and loses her husband the very next day, his visits to a concubine’s house continues. Thulasi is not allowed to come out of the backyard of the house and arrangements are made for a tonsure.
It’s appalling to know that the women of the era were equally parochial. Thulasi gets little support from them. The film reminds you of the suffering of the widows of Vrindavan in Dharan Mandrayar’s White Rainbow. Finally, it is her uncle’s son, Kannan, who rises up in defence of the small girl. Namma Gramam has a riveting climax!
Your heart goes out to Shamja as the child widow Thulasi, who blossoms into the beautiful teenager Samvrutha. Nishan plays the righteous young man, Kannan, and makes a tremendous impact in the final sequences, while Renuka as the mother of the girl, who’s neither able to accept her daughter’s plight nor protest against her brother’s short-sightedness, is unforgettable. Yet the one who shines most is the grandmother of the girl, so touchingly acted out by the late Sukumari. Her National Award for Best Supporting Actress, for Namma Gramam, is a well-deserved honour. (Indrans Jayan won the National Award for Best Costume Design.)
Nalini and Y. Gee. Mahendra are caricatures you could do without. The latter’s attempts at toilet humour are aberrations in the name of entertainment. Wonder why this seasoned actor should have allowed himself to be associated with such crassness. Added to these you have double entendres and crude innuendos that are unacceptably gross.
The film was earlier released in Malayalam as Gramam. It fetched two State Awards — for the maker and for the singer, Balamuralikrishna. “And it was also very well-received,” adds Sharma. “To me the film has been intellectually inspiring. Small in budget and rich in content, it is value for money. Films like Namma Gramam are low-risk projects and are the cinema of the future.”
Generally, films that win awards are considered too serious. Sharma rubbishes the contention. “I don’t believe so. Namma Gramam does have humour (!). If the product is good, it will sell.”
Will he be proved right?
Genre: Period film
Director: Mohan Sharma
Cast: Mohan Sharma, Sukumari, Nishan, Samvrutha, Renuka, Nedumudi Venu
Storyline: Of a child widow, to whom succour comes in the most unexpected manner
Bottomline: The climactic sequences and Sukumari are the highlights