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KARNAN – the Thamizh movie


Finally Education in Tamil Nadu has paid off!

The purpose of education is not merely to accumulate facts and become a server of information, but to process that in some human context for the betterment of humanity as a whole.

That’s what is called a definition of Education in clichés!

An art form has to translate these jargons and clichés into a thriving reality and present it to the observer in a human context triggering in the observer an interpretation of a reality, in which the observer exists but has never interpreted it that way. That’s what the Tamil Movie KARNAN has done.

What’s so great about KARNAN, the Tamil movie in which Dhanush plays the protagonist?

The movie has no foreign sounds, no glottalised expressions which are not native to the Thamizh sounds. The movie is an allegory – it shows something but means a deeper Truth, which unless one has been a part of such archetypal lot, cannot understand.

If John Bunyan’s PILGRIM’s PROGRESS is read as a traveler’s travelogue, Good for the reader – but that classic has not had its intended truthful impact. It is a distilled experience of the Soul shorn of all its accreted embellishments.

KARNAN is a classic.

The story, i don’t want to call it plot, as if it were a play where the plot plays an important role with a denouement! No denouement is required for one who lives Life everyday- each day and each moment has its own meaning. Multiple lives lived like that in a community by many individuals leads to a indelible history of the community, which neither requires revision nor embellishments.

What a movie!

The movie opens with a predatory eagle/kite, which swoops on a brood of chicks and right in front of the mother hen takes out a chick and settles on a perch. This imagery sets the tone of the movie- a predator who has to survive only by depriving the life of another bird. That’s the law of Life, but neither that hen nor the chicks are a product of the wild, they are domesticated poultry in a small decrepit village owned by households which have no regular incomes and life is lived on a day to day basis. It is a loss to that family, but it is that response of the owner of those chicks, the mother of Dhanush (Karnan), which reflects the response of a soul burdened perennially with helpless possibilities.

Mother of KARNAN begs the eagle/kite to spare that chick. It is the crux. A certain helplessness caused by a situation leading the victim to make prayers to the perpetrator of the situation.

It is in this back drop that there arises a consciousness – a reality that there is no point in pleading to a perpetrator of undesirable situation, but to take head on, unmindful of the consequences. The underlying ethical principle being that an individual has the God given Liberty to either raise chickens or have unhindered access to the public utilities, provided for the common Good; and none has the right to prevent any individual or a community from exercising that Liberty either in the name of tradition or man made constructs rooted in ideologies or practices.

The setting is a small village called Podiyangulam, situated not far away from a larger village or town called Melur . The names chosen are redolent of the caste considerations exercised by caste based communities in Tamil Nadu for many centuries, and without naming any one community, the movie has distilled the truth, preventing such cussed groups from rebelling against release of this movie. The boys and girls who have been the beneficiaries of the Education policy of the Tamil Nadu politics would understand this. Each episode of the movie resurrects the plight once felt or avoided narrowly by their parents’ generation, having left a scar seldom recognised by that parents’ generation but observed clearly by the succeeding generation.

The gnarled knuckles and the calloused necks may be a reality to the old, but the new generation looks at those and figures out as to who caused it or which ideology caused it. The empathy and reaction of the succeeding generations come into play – not for revenge, but to set right those processes and systems so that the oppressive nature in man and certain predatory groups don’t infest those systems and processes with self aggrandising agendas any more in the future, in the name of development and growth and other attractive words!

For those who do not understand Thamizh, Podiyangulam means a ‘tiny water pond’ and Melur means “Higher Town” or even a ‘Western Town’.

One of the abiding images in the movie is a donkey whose front legs are tied together so that the donkey doesn’t take off! The front legs are knotted with a cloth and the knot is so complicated that only the person who knotted it could unloose it. Karnan, like Alexander, cuts the knot and liberates the animal. The prancing of that animal is shown for a long time showing the New found Liberty of the donkey.

The villagers are strapped to the town with no transport bus stopping near the village. Karnan reads the situation differently from that of the village elders – the purpose of education! Karnan states that it is the agenda of the ‘Upper town’ fellows to keep them confined to their small village so that no development could take place through exchange of ideas which happen through interaction with outside individuals and communities.

Anecdotal sentiments such as a girl being denied free movement to the college by the rowdyism of the upper town youths, exemplify the wilful constrictions exercised by dominant communities, in the name of tradition and practices.

Finally, how even a police force is filled with constables and officers with prejudices, all because there is none to represent that small village community before those officers is sensitively brought out.

The whole village’s aspiration gets diminished and minimised to an individual getting an appointment as a sepoy in a para military force! It is a great achievement – what a pity. A community had been made to subsist on the produce of that pond and live out of the provisions vended by the Melur-ians!

It is from this milieu that Karnan resolved to fight back, not just to hurt the perpetrators as revenge, but as a rescuing operation and survival of the villagers.

A powerful allegory with NO CARNATIC music and no glottalised sounds whatsoever.

A microcosm of how oppressive systems are perpetuated in the name of some obsolete ideologies by some agenda driven communities and the explosion of that oppression through individual realisation and action.

Dhanush’s portrayal is amazing and realistic. Those small town rituals of fish slicing, sword handing over ceremonies may not be attractive initially, but when the movie is felt as a whole, the Director Mari Selvaraj has done a great job, with those utterly parochial images representing a larger point.

I watched it twice, which I’ve never done before except for Mckenna’s Gold, more because my inability to follow the movie’s English pronunciation, without subtitles in those 80’s, but this movie was watched twice to imbibe the representation of the larger point through an allegory.

A great allegory. But i don’t expect non Thamizhans to even understand this, may be a few could relate it to their own way, but the Thamizhan way would be the right way.

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