Set in India during the British rule, the movie narrates the tale of Rasa (Atharvaa) and his fellow villagers, who are tricked into taking up jobs in a tea plantation and pushed into slavery.
Paradesi has been adapted from Eriyum Panikadu, the Tamil translation of the English novel Red Tea (1969) by Dr Paul Harris Daniel. The novel was based on the people he met during his work as a doctor in tea plantations in the Western Ghats. Though almost half a century has passed since the publication of the book, it is still very relevant as there has been little improvement in the lives of these workers. This is reflected in the news reports of violence and agitations, the latest being the killing of an estate owner and his wife in Assam in December last. Bala works to his own sensibilities, treading a path never before taken in the Tamil film industry. All his earlier films have been about people living at the margins of society, and it is no surprise therefore that this story attracted him. The film starts off by showing us the tough but happy lives of the people in Salur village in the then Madras presidency trying to eke out a living in a barren land. In a momentary lapse of weakness, the gullible villagers fall prey to false promises of easy work and good wages, and end up becoming bonded labourers in a tea plantation, where their women get raped and they face a bleak future. He extracts credible performances from the actors who play plantation workers and from the lead actors Atharvaa, Vedika and Dhansikaa. After doing roles that only required her to look pretty, Vedika gets a chance to show off her acting skills. Dhansikaa is as good as ever. Dance master Shiv Shankar does a quirky cameo as the proselytizing doctor who tries to convert the tortured and dying workers into Christianity. Atharvaa finally gets a role that challenges his potential, and he comes up trumps. It is amazing how he has transformed himself after playing city-centric roles in his earlier two films. His performance is sure to put him in contention for the national award for best actor, as the movie will for Bala as best director. G V Prakash Kumar's background score is haunting as are his songs in the movie. It was a master stroke to have got Gangei Amaren to sing Senner Thaana.... But it is Madhu Balakrishnan who seems to be enjoying a dream run with Sengaade..., which is as good if not better than his rendition of Pitchai Paathiram... in Naan Kadavul. Chezhiyan does a terrific work behind the camera. If the opening shots aptly portray the carefree lives led by villagers, the wide angle shots of their migration show the barren land and hopefully stark lives that they are leaving behind. But what stays with you is the climax - the camera positioned high above the actors, almost as if their suffering is something that is being meted out by the heavens. Art director C S Balachander and costume designer Poornima faithfully recreate the pre-independence era, while editor Kishore T E ensures a crisp and satisfying watch. But what shines through all this is the vision of Bala.
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