The documentary ‘Oyaa maari' sketches the life of freedom fighter G.S. Lakshmana Iyer of Gobichettipalayam

They called him ‘Oyaa Maari' — the rain that never stops. For, when he sang Bharathiyar songs, he just wouldn't stop. “I could sing for hours,” says freedom fighter G.S. Lakshmana Iyer in the documentary film “Oyaa Maari”. Written and directed by advocate S. Balamurugan, the film traces the life of Lakshmana Iyer, a freedom fighter from Gobichettipalayam who dedicated his life for the welfare of the lesser-privileged.

Says Balamurugan: “Lakshmana Iyer saw his life as an experiment. He did things that few people would attempt. He distributed his land to build houses for the oppressed. He involved his wife in Satyagraha. She was also imprisoned. To him, service was everything.”

Balamurugan had taken part in a campaign against death-penalty with a group of human-rights activists in Nallur, Karnataka, in 2004, when he met Lakshmana Iyer. Despite his age, he had travelled all by himself in a bus to lend support for the cause. Balamurugan was instantly inspired. “I wanted to tell his story,” he says.

With the help of friends, he set out to make a film on him. “Oyaa Maari” was filmed from 2007 to 2009. It was edited by S. Ashok of Montage Studios, Coimbatore, and released in the DVD form this month. Sibi Saravanan from Erode has handled the camera.

“It's our greatest regret that Lakshmana Iyer didn't live to see the film. He passed away in January 2011,” says Balamurugan. For the film, Balamurugan and his team spent several days interviewing Lakshmana Iyer, his friends and relatives. They listened to some extraordinary tales of heroism, some of which remained unknown to the world till then.

Meet the hero

With voice-over by poet R. Lakshmanan, the 52-minute documentary captures the essence of Lakshmana Iyer's life of struggle. He freed Dalits from the debts that swamped them, he ensured that they lived in comfortable houses on clean, wide streets, he built modern toilets and put an end to the practice of hand-scavenging — the movie makes one aware of the hero that Lakshmana Iyer was.

In the film, Lakshmana Iyer also speaks about his days in Coimbatore central prison. “I was assigned cooking duty — my job was to make rasam for 750 of us. They called me rasogi!” he says. There are accounts of his days in Bellary prison, where he volunteered to clean toilets. There are also references to his life as a politician and how he considered politics as a means of reaching out to the oppressed.

The film shows Lakshmana Iyer's struggle for establishing a hostel for underprivileged students with free meals and boarding. Called Raman Vidudhi (for boys) and T.S. Rama Sarojinidevi Vidudhi (for girls), the hostels were started in a rented building in 1935. Rain or shine, Lakshmana Iyer ensured that students had their meals, even if it meant pawning his ring. Several students who studied out of the hostel are now successful in life. Balamurugan says that after seeing the documentary, some kind-hearted people have come forward to donate money for the hostels.

In a scene shot in the hostel grounds, Lakshmana Iyer says that though they struggle to make ends meet, they somehow get enough to feed the students. “I don't know how, but we've been managing all these years,” he smiles. He then calls out to a little boy walking by. “Saaptiya?” he asks. The boys nods and says, “Yes, rice and pulikolambu.” Lakshmana Iyer pats the boy's tummy gently and says, “There seems to be space for more.”

A DVD is priced at Rs. 100. For details, call 94432-13501.