There’s a thin line that divides being preachy and creative while addressing a burning issue.
When A.R. Murugadoss’s “Kaththi” attempted to win the audience’s heart by portraying mass suicide of farmers just a week ago, it only made me sympathetic, but didn’t quite move me.
Lakshmy Ramakrishnan’s “Nerungi Vaa Muthamidathe”, which is about the recent petrol and diesel crisis, doesn’t tread that same path, and instead addresses the subject at hand with unparalleled creativity, without ever getting priggish.
In an important scene, an undertaker pours liquor on a dead body before setting it on fire because of shortage of petrol or its substitute products. A tea shop owner, who is awakened from his deep slumber, is shown preparing black tea because milk has not been delivered due to the petrol crisis.
Likewise, a group of workers doubtfully talk about the delivery of a consignment of onions. In another important scene, we see the signboard ‘Today’s wastage is tomorrow’s shortage’. That’s how subtly and artistically Lakshmy has handled the subject. There are no scenes about how devastatingly lives are been affected due to the crisis.
And the reason Lakshmy handles the core subject maturely is because she focuses on the three stories that run parallel to each other.
A couple, Maha and Pichai, are on the run because they’re from different communities. Chandru, who hails from an affluent family, opposes his father and drives trucks.
Maaya is the victim of a strained relationship with her mother (whose portion is handled beautifully), who hasn’t told her daughter who her father is. Their stories are narrated through brief flashbacks, conveniently played to us via songs (which are soothing), to ensure that we never get bored. They are linked in the common thread of travel.
While focusing on the three stories, never does Lakshmy deviate from the subject. In almost every scene, you hear or see the impact of the crisis on public life. For instance, in the opening scene, as a group of women talk about a batch of onions that’s getting ready to be transported, we hear about the petrol situation on the radio in the background. In another scene, two important characters sit down to talk, news about the issue is played on the television.
Too many characters leave us guessing about the story till the last minute. But we are not told why some of these characters are introduced and later disappear. Like the guy who emerges out of water in the first scene or the couple who travels with Thambi Ramaiah in a shared auto or the motive behind the involvement of the central petroleum minister. Maybe Lakshmy didn’t want us to get distracted from the main story and her lead characters.
The performances are fresh. The music by Madley Blues is uplifting, while the cinematography is stunning. Just as she promised, Lakshmy has proved that she can make a better commercial film that’s sensible and original. And the way she handles her women characters shows why women filmmakers know how to handle their own kind perfectly. Heroines should feel proud to work with Lakshmy.