Anuja Chandramouli



Bala's Paradesi: A Liturgy of Suffering, Bala, paradesi


Bala is one of the most exciting filmmakers in Tamil cinema today. He has proved repeatedly that he is a real maestro when it comes to creating characters that the audience comes to care about deeply. Who can forget Sedhu, Sithan, Sakthi, Manju, Nanda, Lodukku Pandian, the Aghori mystic, Hamsavelli or the motley crowd of beggars from Naan Kadavul? These are all people from the lowest strata of society who are victimized or brutalized and the audience who in real life would not deign to spare them a glance find themselves rooting for these strange people with their oftentimes bizarre quirks. And having succeeded in getting us so emotionally invested in their fates, Bala turns sadistic and allows almost all of them to suffer unspeakable tragedy that leaves the hapless viewer shaken to the core and dissolving in tears.

Paradesi, Bala’s latest offering is more of the same, albeit set in 1939. We are introduced to Rasa, played by Adharvaa Murali (a talented youngster no doubt and definitely an actor to watch out for!) who is a somewhat bewildering young man who gives the impression sometimes with his animalistic behavior and shocking eating habits, of having been raised wild in a jungle by a pack of wolves. Behaviorist quirks aside, one tends to feel sorry for Rasa because despite a foul mouth that can give as good as it gets he is a sensitive soul who works hard but is treated with scant respect. Angamma (Vedhika) is a chirpy soul who is strangely drawn to Rasa and the duo become lovers. So far so good but veterans of Bala films will know full well that things are not going to end with the lovers riding off into the sunset on their donkeys or bullock cart.

Bala has terrible things planned not just for Rasa and Angamma but everyone in their village (Salur) as well from the newly married couple to the fat guy who will go anywhere provided there is booze waiting for him at the other end. Things are going to get really bad for all of them before they get worse. In Bala’s films, rock bottoms seem to have rock bottoms and there is boiling lava below that it would seem. For it is always an endless liturgy of suffering that is to be the fate of these simple people.

The villagers are duped into becoming bonded laborers forced to work as slaves in a tea plantation under subhuman conditions, forever it would seem. The Englishkaran who owns the estate is a jerk with a taste for the ‘fresh flesh’ of his employees and the overseers care only about literally working these poor souls to death while robbing them blind.

Bala refuses to kowtow to audience sensibility and spares no punches when it comes to portraying the plight of these forgotten souls who lived and died just so their white masters could enjoy their cuppa. The good folks from Salur are forced to live in hovels, eat crap, pay for it, shut up and do exactly as they are told without complaining or attempting to escape if they don’t want to be beaten bloody or have a body part removed. But since it is a Bala film, there is still more misery in store for them in the form of a plague which is going to see them drop like mosquitoes when confronted with a mosquito – incinerating bat.

Tea drinkers will drown in remorse every time they lift a cup of the beverage to their lips after watching Paradesi. This slice of history is served scalding hot with a side of guilt and is bitter to the taste! On the bright side, those in the coffee industry are celebrating.

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