A story of development and decay – of land, of a village, of people, of caste – disguised as a bildungsroman. Rajeev Ravi’s Kammatipaadam could be a companion piece to Pa. Ranjith’s Madras (2014). While Madras had the wall as the ghost figure that influences and transforms people around it, Kammatipaadam has the land itself, the earth that changes form throughout the film. Fertile fields morphing into concrete jungles. The local politics of the people in Madras informing its own politics. The land mafia of the privileged informing the politics of Kammatipaadam. One of the first few shots (and what beautiful shots! The phrase ‘every frame a painting’ applies richly to this film.) of Kammatipaadam is the fertile land and Rajeev Ravi takes his time to establish both the characters and the space they inhabit. The film goes from wide shots of spacious villages to the claustrophobic nature of the shots of the city and close-ups later in the film. Comparing objectively, Kammatipaadam may even boast of better craft than Madras and it surely has a more able ensemble, beginning with Dulquer Salmaan. For all the Nivin Pauly wave from last year, it is Dulquer Salmaan who really has the complete range. The man can do just about anything at this point. The Malayalam industry is lucky to have three of its stars – Dulquer, Faahad, Nivin – at the top of their game, all at the same time. Even if we keep debating about the auteurs of Tamil and Malayalam cinema and keep disagreeing on their merits and demerits (even if it is in front of our eyes), there is absolutely no debate about the mainstream performers. There’s the other thing – the often unacknowledged or under-discussed aspect of our films. Kammatipaadam’s (and Madras’s) greatest achievement is probably how they are far removed from what we call the “arty” kind of film and yet make the case for great cinema – cinema that may be rooted in the culture it originates in and yet talks to people the world over. I’ll just quit trying and quote J_A_F_B instead who puts it better – “Movies that last a lifetime are the ones that are rooted in the culture of their country of origin, but deal with themes that are contemporary and universal at the same time. By culture, I not only mean traditions and practices of the country but also its inescapable history, politics, its figures, its events and the social impact of those.”
This is what our (Indian) cinema must aspire to. The mainstream shall inherit the earth.