Apr 3, 2003

Suhasini is one of those assertive, capable-of-significant-acting-performances (Sindhu Bhairavi being one of the most noted ones) actresses that you get from time to time: a quality that does restrict their opportunities in the commercial stories universe. And like Shobhana, Suhasini has got films in her family: the daughter of Charuhassan and niece of Kamalhassan and of course, wife to Mani Ratnam. Almost a decade ago, she made her directorial debut with her film Indira, a thoroughly well made film that keeps your faith in film-making alive.

Indira is placed in the rural village setting, more accurately the inter-caste, inter-family ridden-with-strife atmosphere that is unfamiliar to urban-types like me. A more famous and dramatic example of a Tamil film in such a milieu would be Bharathan's Thevar Magan of course. In short, veshtis and aruvals and people rushing through green rice fields dominate the screenplay's more intense moments. Indira features similar components to the frame, but its novelty is about how a woman is thrown into such a traditionally male dominated and usually intimidating setting. The story is optimistic and the denouement is comforting, good and bad are clearly identified, and the movie-experience is very satisfying. If I remember correctly, Santosh Sivan is the cinematographer (In the usual Mani Ratnam crew of that time, only the word "Suhasini" seems prefixed additionally to the Director's name, and rarely has any director, leave alone a lady director, had such ample resources to support her in her debut) and his sweeps over the fields are of an assured quality. The score is one of the best of Rahman's career; a folksy, offbeat set of songs with the standout Nila that gave Harini her first big hit. The cast is very impressive, the ensemble providing excellent company to the lead actress; Nasser, Arvind Swamy, Radha Ravi et al deliver. The eponymous actress was quite a talented find: Anuradha Hassan (a niece of Suhasini's though I still don't know the exact familial connection) performs in a standout performance in what seems to be her debut. Where she disappeared after that, I don't know, but she recently re-appeared in a TV serial made by surprise, surprise, Suhasini. In fact, having watched this, I wondered why many of these naturally talented people don't give us more to cheer these days: where are Arvind Swamy, Anu Hassan and the director Suhasini these days?

Unfortunately, films like Indira will not go down in cinematic history: neither fame nor notoriety will highlight its name in a cinematic encyclopaedia. One more example of the many better-than-average films that won't get seen by too many outside its small region of exhibition. Though it was dubbed into Priyanka for Hindi audiences (a trend of the mid-90s started by Mani Ratnam), there was no way it could do well in a mass release elsewhere: the localized settings would not make into the heads of the populace. But atleast the viewer that can overcome the language barrier and is willing to stretch a little to watch a good film would not be disappointed with Indira.

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