Eclipsed by the bigger, brasher, and internationally successful Bollywood film industry, Indian regional cinema is often relegated to the small movie houses and home entertainment centers of these films’ only cognoscenti, native speakers. Kanchivaram, a Tamil-language film which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, is a prime example of what Indian cinema can be when stripped of formulaity, commercial compromises, and “slumdog syndrome.” (This is a phrase I coined to denote the stance many filmmakers—particularly western—adopt when filming their Indian subjects: a focus on the loud, chaotic, grim extremes of Indian life, a slick aestheticization of poverty, and maybe even a dance number or two). By contrast, Kanchivaram is a simple yarn about a silk weaver in 1930s-40s Kanchivaram, also known as Kanchipuram, a city in southern India renowned for its hand woven silk saris. The weaver, named Vengadam, makes a vow to his newborn daughter (per tradition) that she will one day get married in a silk sari—the very commodity he tirelessly weaves day in and day out for his employer, a wealthy landowner, but cannot afford himself. Vengadam’s promise shocks his wife and all the members of his community, who insist he’ll never be able to fulfill the promise. Determined to keep his vow, Vengadam finds a clandestine way to make a sari for his daughter over the course of fifteen years. In the meantime, he meets a Marxist writer, becomes involved in political street theatre, and forms a cooperative union among the city’s silk weavers. Disease, colonialism, and World War II weave in and out. There are no frills or golden endings in this understated, moving film—only the promises we all wish we could keep.
The film is not yet out on DVD and is still traveling the film festival circuit, but it can be tracked on “imdb.com”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1286811/.
Bio: Swetha Regunathan is assistant editor of Guernica. Her last article, “Who’ll Stop the Rain”:http://www.guernicamag.com/features/916/wholl_stop_the_rain/ appeared in Guernica’s March 2009 issue. Read her last recommendation “here”:http://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1186/staff_pick_swetha_regunathan_3/.