Kanchivaram – A Review

Kanchivaram (A Communist Confession) is a beautiful and sad film, but not an oppressive film of endless sorrow. And despite the foreshadowing of doom that the frame story creates there is humor and a resolution, that dark, is in the end hopeful.

The SIFF guide describes the film quite well:

Every Indian bride dreams of wearing a delicate Kanchivaram sari on her wedding day, no matter her caste. On the day of his daughter’s “first feeding,” Vengadam (Prakash Raj) promises her one of the same expensive saris that he weaves daily for the highest caste in India. Despite resistance from the village community and fears that an unfulfilled promise will lead to a curse, Vengadam risks his livelihood to steal individual vivid silk threads from his workplace. Every night, he secretly and patiently weaves his daughter’s sari. As his daughter’s wedding day approaches, a communist activist initiates strikes against the mill owners, preventing Vengadam from completing the sari and from keeping his promise.

Ultimately, Vengadam, who is the leader of the strikers, ends the strike so he can finish the sari before his daughter’s wedding day. In doing so he breaks the bond between the two families and when the father of the groom attacks him for his cowardice in ending the strike, the mill owners discover he is stealing thread. He is sent to prison and only release for two days to see his daughter who has fallen down a well and is paralyzed. Seeing she has no future in a land that neither respects the poor, nor women, he poisons her. Although, he could not provide her the sari on her wedding day, he can provide it for her funeral. The last we see Vengadam he has sunk into madness and is pulling the silk sari that is to short to cover her whole body from her head to her feet over and over, unable to realize he came close to giving her a silk silk.

What makes the film intriguing besides its will written story is the politics of the film. Although they live in misery and poverty, Vengadam has a bicycle and they make enough to eat. They do not live in the starkest of poverty, yet they do earn much from their highly skilled labor. While the organizer is a communist and has pictures of Lenin the workers only are interested in forming a union or a cooperative. The workers suffer for months during the strike, some even die. Yet they are all committed to the strike. Vengadam suffers the least because he had a little money saved up. In a film with such political leanings, the locus of the film is in the personal and for Vengadam the personal is where one suffers. At the end of the film after Vengadam has gone mad, the film makers note that just a few years latter after independence, the state voted communists in and the workers formed cooperatives that exist today and pay the workers well.

Kanchivaram is part history and part political work. It borders on the misery of the poor, yet it is a film that is also of those who should not be poor, those have skills. So in this sense the film is tragic and hopeful at the same time. Sad for one family, but hopeful for the weavers as a whole. This mix distances the viewer some what from the brutality that comes from poverty and makes the film seem lighter than it should. Adding to this is the framing narrative of the bus ride which adds comedy. So after watching it you don’t have so much a sense of injustice exists, but it is too bad for that one family. That shift in focus makes the politics more subtle and ultimately the film more interesting.

Kanchivaram (A Communist Confession) is a beautiful and sad film, but not an oppressive film of endless sorrow. And despite the foreshadowing of doom that the frame story creates there is humor and a resolution, that dark, is in the end hopeful.

The SIFF guide describes the film quite well:

Every Indian bride dreams of wearing a delicate Kanchivaram sari on her wedding day, no matter her caste. On the day of his daughter’s “first feeding,” Vengadam (Prakash Raj) promises her one of the same expensive saris that he weaves daily for the highest caste in India. Despite resistance from the village community and fears that an unfulfilled promise will lead to a curse, Vengadam risks his livelihood to steal individual vivid silk threads from his workplace. Every night, he secretly and patiently weaves his daughter’s sari. As his daughter’s wedding day approaches, a communist activist initiates strikes against the mill owners, preventing Vengadam from completing the sari and from keeping his promise.

Ultimately, Vengadam, who is the leader of the strikers, ends the strike so he can finish the sari before his daughter’s wedding day. In doing so he breaks the bond between the two families and when the father of the groom attacks him for his cowerdice in ending the strike, the mill owners descover he is stealing thread. He is sent to prison and only release for two days to see his daughter who has fallen down a well and is paralized. Seeing she has no future in a land that neither respects the poor, nor women, he poisons her. Th

Stunning colors punctuate this strong Tamil-language narrative, where the setting acts as another character in the well-woven script. Though history contextualizes Kanchivaram it’s Vengadam’s strong desire that drives the film’s mystical tone and sensitive approach to the social realities of India’s caste structure.