A movie becomes great only when it conveys the intended message to audience. I don’t believe in the differentiation between art house and commercial cinema. For me, I either enjoy it or I don’t.
I didn’t enjoy Paradesi (don’t make the argument, Paradesi is a serious movie, how can you “enjoy” it? – I meant the movie experience). Paradesi is an aimless wail of a child. A child who is trying to grab your attention and say “see what I have done“. Paradesi is a story of innocent villagers who were made bonded slaves at the tea estates during the British period. Bala (director) tries to tell us the sufferings through a protagonist Raasa (Atharva) and his people from Saalur village. They are taken in to bonded labour by Kangani (means Supervisor in Tamil) to a British owned Tea Estate at Meghamalai. The movie tries to portray the endless atrocities done to those people.
The movie deviates diametrically from the book that it is based on – Red Tea (Paul Harris Daniel). Bala has taken only the background of the story and has tried to infuse his own characters in to the narration. The movie doesn’t dwell on the issues why a village went to work at a tea estate 100s of miles away. The first half of the movie is all hunky dory. We see a wedding, people lavishly drinking liquor, getting their daily food and even have time to romance. And when they actually take up the job, you tend to ask “Why the heck?” (The book deals in detail with those issues). Except for the protagonist, who is constantly discriminated because of the work he does, there is no real justification why almost half the village needs to move.
Although the sequences where the sufferings are portrayed are hard hitting, the characters are totally alienated from the audience. The movie tries to force you in to the narration rather than taking you in to the journey with those people. The characters lack depth but to be fair to the actors Dhansika and Atharva have done a wonderful job with whatever they have been entrusted with. Jerry as Kangani is impressive of them all. Another big deviation from the story is the Doctor’s character played by Shivashankar. Originally, the Doctor in the book becomes a savior for them. He encourages them to unite and even start a Union. But the movie caricatures the doctor as a Christian evangelist, who converts people to Christianity (but what is the need? they are already slaves)
The movie abruptly ends without reconciliation for the people who are enslaved. Not even a post script or a mention of how it ended in the later years and also the movie doesn’t say anything about the bonded labour that still happens in various parts of India. It just doesn’t end on the right note. I didn’t expect the protagonist to become a hero but the director could have showed what happened in reality. The artificiality in the movie didn’t end in story telling but also in the art department, make up and music. For instance, Atharva’s character has a clean crew like cut all through the movie and doesn’t show any streak of aging even after 4 years of toiling at a Tea estate. If you want to know how not to do a background score, you should watch this movie. GV Prakashkumar will tear your ear drums in some scenes with his jarring music(!) score.
If showing an endless agony of people is considered to be a classic, then there should be lot of movies in that list. I don’t want to compare this movie with many classics that showed the life of downtrodden people and dangers of slavery in a better way. If you think Paradesi should be listed in the same list, I like to question your thought. I will also recommend you to read the book – Red Tea in English or Eriyum Panikkadu in Tamil.
I go with 1/5 and watch it if you want to for Bala’s Paradesi. He is no more the director he was.
P.S. 1 : I saw many comments in Twitter saying you will not like to have tea after this movie. That happened to me after reading the book and not after seeing the movie
P.S. 2: I still think the disgusting trailer that was shown a day before the release of the movie was a cheap marketing stunt from Bala and his team. It should have been an act that came out of desperation.