I went with high expectations for Arun Chidambaram's Kanavu Variyam, considering the recognition the film has supposedly earned in international film festivals and the fact that this was a small film with a big idea. But I came away not just disappointed but also deeply puzzled.
Kanavu Variyam is about a village and its power problems which directly impacts the already reeling farming community. Ezhil's (Arun Chidambaram) village gets electricity in 1986 but even well into the new millennium, the power shortage which is a pan Indian problem renders electrical goods useless for a good part of the year. Ezhil, a school dropout who loves science, decides to solve the problem.
Now this sounds like the kind of film where you'd see some heart if not soul but sadly, Kanavu Variyam is let down by its amateurish screenplay and sketchy plot. There's no attempt to explore the ethos of the village and all we see are a bunch of characters spouting lines that could be from a school play. An unnecessary romance is thrown in, with a completely urbane heroine (Jiya Shankar) who looks out of place and never blends into the surroundings.
Arun Chidambaram appears to be camera conscious in most scenes, even as Ilavarasu, Senthil Kumari and Black Pandi try to do their bit to hold the film up. Yog Japee appears as a corporate employee who gives up his 2 lakh a month salary to take up organic farming. There are a number of "informative" messages in the film and Japee does the honours for most of them. No wonder he looks uncomfortable in this lecturer mode.
The tribute to scientists, the crazies who dare to dream and change the world, is nice except it is repeated one too many times. Indeed, that is the trouble with Kanavu Variyam - there are very few moments that work in it as a film but these sparks are snuffed out by the repetition and the need to spoon-feed "messages" to the audience. For a film that asks young people to use their intelligence, the script could have afforded to respect the audience's grasping power some more.
Ezhil's struggle to build a wind turbine for his village involves putting together scrap material and waste products and his success story (which thankfully doesn't happen overnight) might have been inspirational if only it had been narrated better. There are many science experiments that feature in the film but once again, the way this is done is so in-your-face that you get the feeling of having attended a school project with earnest budding scientists explaining things with their sincerely made charts rather than experiencing a film.
I couldn't help but think of M.Manikandan's Kaaka Muttai as I was watching Kanavu Variyam. Both of them small films that revolved around small characters with big dreams but where Manikandan meticulously built an immersive universe, Kanavu Variyum merely paints a disinterested sketch that just doesn't get under our skin.
The film also suffers from poor editing and an amateurish soundtrack to make matters worse. Science can explain several phenomena, I'm still wondering what explains the film's success and the reputation it has built for itself.