'Krishnaveni Panchalai' (Tamil)
Director: Dhanapal Padmanaban
Cast: Hemachandran, Nandana, Rajiv Krishna
The film documents the turbulent phase from the late ’50s to the ’90s, when many cotton mills were forced to shut down due to heavy losses, workers strikes and court orders. It chronicles the events related to one such mill, the Krishnaveni Panchalai in Udumalaipettai. The mill’s benign owner (Rajeev Krishna), concerned about the welfare of his workers and determined to carry on his father’s legacy ,tries to keep his mill running over the decades against all odds. But he finally has to succumb to the reality of the situation.
Rajeev Krishna lends maturity to the character, bringing out impressively the gradual transition of the man over the years. On a related track is the happenings in the lives of the workers. Their moments of joy when the mill goes through a boom and the owner in his largesse hands them a huge bonus. And the more frequent periods of debts and hunger when the mill incurs a loss or is shut down. It’s a feel good finale when years later, the owner and his workers meet for the final settlement.
The director has created an authentic ambience of the mill. The caste divide, the emergence of trade unions, the strikes and shut downs, all have a realistic tone. But the feel is more like that of a docu-drama, where the audience are mere observers, feeling no empathy with either the characters or the happenings. Woven in is the love story of Kathir and Poonkothai, workers in the mill. It’s about how the duo cross various hurdles and make a new beginning when the mill closes down. Hemachandran and Nandana are adequate in their characters.
The film has a couple of loose ends like the mystery of the sudden death of Poonkothai’s estranged elder sister and her husband, who were on a reconciliation visit to her place. The mystery is not clarified till the end, though an air of suspense is created around it. Again, the film’s pace is dull at times, the narration flat and bland. On the positive side, appreciable is the director’s effort to break away from the conventional plot and situations. He has avoided many of the commercial elements and limited his story telling to just about two hours duration.