Madura Microfinance’s chairperson Dr. Tara Thiagarajan approached Usha Rajeshwari, a documentary filmmaker and founder of Prakiriti Jiva Media, to make a training film that addressed the lack of business education and exposure to markets for rural women. That was way back in 2007. “The goal was to create a film that could use different scenarios to teach them basic business principles and give them an impetus to seek markets and ideas beyond their village,” says Tara, about the film’s objective. The next year, Usha discussed the script with several groups of women. The intention of this exercise was to provide authentic script and to identify the protagonist of the film with the village folk.
In January 2009, the film shoot began and Shakti Pirakkudhu was completed six months later. The film’s title derives from Shakti pirakkudhu moochiniley (a new strength is born with every breath), a famous line by the freedom fighter Tamil poet Subramanya Bharathiyar, who campaigned for liberation of women through his written word way back in the 1930s and 1940s. It is very apt that the film carries the name from a verse of Bharathiyar. The film, after completion, was screened to Madura Finance field staff, comprising largely of rural women. They were able to identify the film’s script as happening in their own midst.
The Film’s Theme
Shakti Pirakkudhu was premiered in Chennai on 29 October to an invited audience of film personalities, businesspeople, media, family and friends, and others. The film revolves around Sundari, a typical village woman with two kids, and of course a haunting (even taunting) husband. Sundari is offered microfinance loan but she is not able to use the finance to run a business. Because she does not know how to run a business. She slowly gathers information from different circles of businesspeople in the village, idli seller, and also learns from the failings of others. Incidents lead to her seeking exposure beyond her village and this influences her business model.
Weaving Together the Story with Real-time Experiences
The film also showcases the tribulations of rural women in the hands of a village bully Rajamanickam, a scheming shop owner, bent upon procuring goods from villagers at throwaway prices and selling them to nearby towns at very high margins. If the villagers themselves had access to the markets that Rajamanickam has, would they not have reaped benefits that this crooked shop owner enjoys for himself? The shop owner also ropes in Sundari’s husband, Murugesan, who fails several times in a series of business ventures he seeks to undertake. Marikozhunthu is an intelligent girl and daughter of Sundari. Baskar, the respected school teacher, grooms her and helps others see her talented side. Archana, a former student of Baskar, comes into the village aspiring to start a garment factory. She promises to provide free training to all villagers who would eventually work in the factory provided they qualify in the training. She goes through some tough weather with the village politicians, and this becomes a separate plot that intersects with Sundari’s aspirations and her family dynamics. Sundari rises in popularity in the village and becomes a central player in the politics surrounding the company.
The film starts on a riveting note and is breezy through the length of 110 minutes. The other major plus points are the film’s cast. Devadharshini, a popular small screen actor who also essays small roles in films, is the protagonist (Sundari) in the movie. Her acting is natural and sets in with the ambience of the village. Most of the others who acted in the film are also from either small screen or big screen. Sashi (Murugesan in the film), Sampatth (Rajamanickam), Lakshmi (Archana), Vishalini (Pankajam), and Soori (Velu) are very well known to the Tamil small screen audience. T.K. Kala, a playback singer of yesteryears, dons the role of the idli seller and Malar (acting as Rajamma) fits the role of Murugesan’s mother. The cast will ensure that the film reaches the audience effectively. The dialect is authentic and shows the efforts of the director Usha in refining the accent to suit the village folk. That will connect the rural audience with the film. The portrayal of characters and the events in the household are likely to strike a chord with village folk as the scenes are not loaded with histrionics but rather set in natural ambience of the village.
The theme is well researched and the script has been effectively brought alive. This film could be thought of an experiment on how effective this medium is to take the message across. The likely impact is not comprehensible as the film has to attain a critical amount of popularity to get visibility. But it is likely to provoke those rural women with fire in the belly into action. As an indirect consequence, it may also reform those husbands who treat their wives shabbily.
The film’s reception in urban areas is not really predictable. Are urban folk bothered with mindset problems? How many of us would really buy a product from villages? What does the film convey to the urban folk? To look at this point is futile because the film is all about village women who lack access to urban markets.
As regards negatives, I think its only problem is its reach. It is restricted to only the Tamil audience. But you cannot make movies like this in 25 languages and speak everyone’s language. In my view, it is an experiment and having known Dr. Tara’s grand vision of alleviating poverty by connecting rural people to markets, I think she has taken a bold step in that she has spent some amount of money (filmmaking in whatever scale is not all that cheap) in conceiving a novel project. The only wish we could make is wish her all the success in the experiment.
—Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist, YourStory, was invited for the premiere and has filed this review