Merku Thodarchi Malai (மேற்கு தொடர்ச்சி மலை) is a refreshing and honest depiction of villagers from a by-gone era. A few years ago Visaranai (2016) made film critics across the globe take notice of Tamil cinema with its true portrayal of the sufferings of the urban casual labourers in the hands of the Indian “System”, is Merku Thodarchi Malai (2018) now that has taken it to the next level with its brilliant depiction of the lives of peasants of Tamil Kuringi lands (Hilly regions).
The film starts in the early hours of 4 AM in a small village near Kombai (Tamil Nadu) which is in the foothills of western ghats. From that point, we get transported to the place and literally join in trekking up the hills with Rengusami, a porter who brings down the heavy sacks of premium cardamom that grow in an estate high-up. In the next 1 hour, we sweat it out with him – for our safe climb we carry a small stone in our shirt pocket and offer it with a prayer to the local deity at the quarter distance mark, then we see him delivering cash, collecting the account books, wishing many of the passers-by, inquire the health of the seniors, have a laugh with a communist party worker and drink plenty of coffee in the tiny sheds serving piping out tea and snacks for the trekkers. In the second hour, we feast on Rengusami’s marriage, share his dream of owning a parcel of agricultural land and then witness the changes in his life due to the commercialisation assured by a newly paved road uphill. There are no villains and no heroes in this story – everyone, both the good and the bad, the rich and the poor all playing their respective parts.
Most of the casts are localities living in the villages, who have brought in nativity effortlessly – for a long time, I am going to be remembering Rengusami, Kangani, Logu, Baghyam Ammal and others. The background score and the song by Maestro Ilaiyaraja add a tranquil feeling, brilliant.
Movie in this genre turns fastly into a documentary or becomes overly preachy, but this one didn’t other than in the climax where it had to, in order to provide closure in the story. Director Lenin Bharathi has been as an observer of the lives of the people in the land, not cinematising the happenings in any (large) way and has managed to narrate in a neutral voice, kudos to him and the entire team. Don’t miss seeing this film on the big screen.