Kadaisi Vivasayi Movie Review: A paean to simple living and self-sufficiency
Kadaisi Vivasayi is a reminder that it’s not enough for filmmakers to just be passionate; they must also be compassionate
I like Manikandan films. Even in dealing with profound, perhaps even dark, themes, there’s a stillness to them, a tranquil quality. He isn’t hurrying; he isn’t forcing conflicts or outcomes. There’s tragedy here, sure, but it is not in what happens to the protagonist, an old farmer called Nallaandi; it is in how his system of life that seems so beneficial to the mind and the body seems to have been carefully, systematically obliterated. It’s depressing, and yet, this film is so full of life. Peacocks, cows, elephants, bulls… it’s about harmonious living. You know how sometimes we look at films like Avatar and wish that our planet were as beautiful as Pandora? Well, you know what—it is. And it’s not even half as hostile. Kadaisi Vivasayi fills you up with appreciation for what’s around us and concern over what’s going into us.
Cast: Nallaandi, Vijay Sethupathi, Raichal Rabecca Philip, Yogi Babu
The film is a paean to idyllic life, to self-sufficiency. Even through the simple idea of showing how easily a plant can be grown in a prison, Manikandan drums in the idea that farming isn’t as hard as it is thought to be. In fact, the film doesn’t treat it as some ‘high concept’ that everyone should reach towards. It’s not interested in making you bow in devotion to farmers. It’s saying that like the air you breathe and the water you drink—which are instincts that aid your survival—farming is an essential survival exercise too. In recent times, we have been bombarded with films that claim to stand up on behalf of farmers, stories that have macho heroes thumping their chests and proclaiming their identity as farmers. These films so often end up disassociating them from us. I really liked that this film, this love letter to agriculture, tries to take you under its wings. I liked that it’s inclusive. It is a reminder that it’s not enough for filmmakers to just be passionate; they must also be compassionate.
You can see a lot of kindness in Kadaisi Vivasayi. It is for that reason that this film has no villains, even though it would have been quite easy to tag the ‘evil’ label on a few characters. Take, for instance, the police officials who take in Nallaandi for questioning and end up remanding him for days on end. In another film, these men would be evil; Nallaandi would be a pathetic victim. Manikandan refuses the temptation. He aims to humanise everyone. That’s why you get the memorable shot of a police officer taking off his uniform and enjoying a relaxing bath under the pump set. As for Nallaandi, it helps that the man himself doesn’t have any self-pity. You see, in order to have self-pity, you must have selfishness, you must have an ego. The old Nallaandi isn’t interested in looking inwards too much; I suppose it’s not really by choice. His way of life is an instinct for him, and his deafness has insulated him from the corruption around him. He’s a rural simpleton—and I do not mean the word as an insult at all.
The film is full of such simple people. Even a man who claims to have murdered a peacock isn’t ‘evil’; he just didn’t think any better. Films have typically romanticised this naivete—and perhaps there’s even utility in doing so—but Kadaisi Vivasayi just aims to show. It isn’t taking sides; it isn’t saying that everyone should be as naïve. For this reason, even when the film seems to be making jokes at the expense of a bald man, it is hard to get offended. The villagers don’t discriminate against him; they don’t aim to hurt him. The man himself isn’t hurt or offended for this reason. For these villagers, it’s just a manner of description; it’s amusement and perhaps even love. There’s some great everyday humour in the film, as you’d expect in this filmmaker’s work. Each time Nallaandi stands in the court, oblivious to the proceedings around him, and says, “Polaama?”, the simplicity is hilarious, and at once, affecting too. This filmmaker is terrific at operating in these real spaces.
On first glance, Kadaisi Vivasayi may come across as a bit of an advertisement for theism. Vijay Sethupathi’s Ramaiah is applying vibhoodhi on everyone he sees. ‘Murugar’ references are littered across this film. Places like Pazhani and Thiruchendhur are referred… The story of how Vinayagar beat Murugar by circling around Sivan and Parvathi gets mentioned. Peacocks are everywhere. But all this isn’t because the film wants us to begin worshipping deities. It’s simply paying homage to Murugar, who’s thought of as the lord of agriculture in many places. The film’s interest is more in documenting traditional rituals that kept alive a healthy, sustainable form of living. You also see the occurrence of strange phenomena in this story, like the sudden disappearance of Ramaiah, for instance—but that’s more mysticism than mythology. It’s about how the phenomenon of life cannot be easily contained into a box of comprehension, and how the refusal to do so could fill us up with potentially more wonder and gratitude for what we have.
The film, as you can imagine, takes a stand against GM crops, on the dangers of pesticides… Arguments exist on either side, but Kadaisi Vivasayi simply suggests that we look into our ecosystem and see whether we already have solutions before blindly implementing ideas that might have been beneficial elsewhere. It talks of the preservation of local ideas and asks us not to mend what’s not broken. It seems fair.
I really liked the casting, with many of the debutant actors communicating ideas beyond the limitation of dialogues. Watch that scene as Nallaandi stands frozen at the sight of destroyed crop… There are no tears, there’s no bawling, and yet, it is extraordinarily affecting, and reinforces the film’s point that even a grain of rice is a living being. I also particularly enjoyed Raichal Rabecca Philip as the good-hearted magistrate who tries her best to do her job with a good conscience, while exuding an inherent regality befitting the role.
I enjoyed that at a time when farmer films are dime a dozen, Kadaisi Vivasaayi manages to stand out effortlessly. That’s because it seems less interested in making a profit out of their misery, and more interested in communicating genuine affection for their occupation. It doesn’t depend on dialogues to do this job. In fact, it doesn’t even need a conventional hero or a menacing villain. And yet, this film communicates tragedy and affects us and implores, without ever obviously doing that, that we take a long, hard look at how we live. In a profound scene, you see Nallaandi, who has no problem with his body being soaked in dirt, attempting furiously to remove a hint of an ink stain from his fingers. That single shot… that’s worth pages of dialogue. That’s the stamp of this filmmaker.