Conviction and courage are needed to make a film of substance. Dhanapal Padmanabhan, the writer-director of Krishnaveni Panjaalai (U), sure has it in plenty. Avoiding the usual thrills and frills, he has gone in for a strong and realistic story and an authentic milieu even in his debut film. Though KP has been in the making for a while, the interest in it has been kept alive. The promos conveyed that it is going to be an offbeat attempt. It is.

Set in a rather new backdrop of an old cotton spinning mill of Udumalpet 40 years ago, this period film that opens much earlier, in the year 1957 to be exact, juxtaposes the anathema of casteism, the obdurate nature of the working class that fails to see the goodwill of their mill owner and the turmoil that follows, with gentle romance. Only that somewhere along the line the messages seem so many that the narration takes a docu-like turn.

Hero Hemachandran and new face Nandana form a refreshing pair. Hemachandran's pleasing demeanour and Nandana's appealing looks are pluses. So are their performances. Incidentally, Nandana bears a striking resemblance to Sneha. KP should help Hemachandran garner attention — something his earlier films, Puzhal and Nanda Nanditha, failed to do for him.

The man who owns Krishnaveni Panjaalai (Rajiv Krishna) is a do-gooder. He doesn't realise that excess generosity to workers could land him and his cotton mill in trouble. And what shocks him is that the employees, who had enjoyed his largesse over the years, refuse to understand his plight when he's unable to grant them bonus and turn against him. The mill is in the red and because of the unrelenting workforce, gets permanently closed. Probably for the first time in Tamil cinema, a director takes up the cudgels for the ruler rather than the ruled, and shows the mill owner in a positive light. A rare train of thought!

The lives of individuals working at the mill and their major trials and minor joys have been told with attention to detail.

In the way he has etched roles, big and small, Dhanapal shows that he's a director who thinks differently. The characters stay with you because each is vested with a defining trait. Topping the list is Renuka. This mother is bound to haunt you for long. Obsessed with the caste factor, she turns heartless and the plot she hatches against her own daughter who elopes and gets married to the man of her choice is chilling! The grim look with which she goes about the ruthless task, makes her a mom you've rarely seen in cinema. Renuka deserves plaudits. If breaking clichés through his characters is Dhanapal's aim, he has done it admirably.

This actor began as hero and played the villain, and here he's the kind mill owner. His portrayals have been commendable, but somehow, save Aaha, due recognition has been eluding Rajiv Krishna. Hope KP turns the tide in his favour.

Compliments to Raghunandan's aural friendly melodies, and the verses of Vairamuthu (‘Aalaikaari') and Thamarai (‘Un Kangal')!

It is in the screenplay that Dhanapal falters. Scenes end abruptly and stand as separate strands without cohesion. Hence, at many a point the momentum is missing -- naturally the narration sags now and then.

Yet Krishanveni Panjaalai is a film that Tamil cinema can be proud of. KP is not for the crowd that thrives on formula. Though sadly, it is they who decide a film's run at the box office.

Krishnaveni Panjaalai

Genre: Period drama

Director: Dhanapal Padmanabhan

Cast: Hemachandran, Nandana, Renuka, Rajiv Krishna

Storyline: The happenings at a cotton mill, before it is closed down and after.

Bottomline: Would have worked even better if the docu-feel had been avoided.