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Kanchivaram: A Communist Confession

There are two times in a Hindu's life when one is supposed to wear silk: at one’s wedding and at one’s own funeral. In the village of Kanchivaram (Kanchipuram), the silk weavers are only ever able to have enough silk to tie the toes of the dead together, and no daughter of a weaver has ever worn a silk sari on her wedding day. Kanchivaram tells the story of a man of change. Weaving silk for a pittance, as his father did before him, Vengadam wants nothing more than to weave his daughter a silk sari for her wedding day. Though obstacles are thrown in his way, for Vengadam, this promise, once made, must be kept at all costs.

The tension of the promise to his daughter Thamarai hangs in the air throughout the film as only the viewers and Vengadam know how it is to be fulfilled. Before she is able to walk, the money for the sari is gone, and the father has become the lowest of low: a thief. He steals silk so that he may weave the sari himself in his cow shed. Time goes on and little change comes to the village, even with the resident writer teaching classes. The writer is a communist and he teaches the weavers about the power of unity. As Thamarai comes of marriage age and falls in love, so has the proletariat ripened to strike. The father strays from his promise.

Thamarai and her mother were loved by Vengadam above all; however, they are not equals but supplicants to him. The spheres of belonging are clear. The men leave for work daily and the women tend to the home. Even with the arrival of communism in the village, the women’s traditional condition of reliance on men does not change. After her mother’s death, Thamarai comes to take care of Vengadam, and he still expects no change.

In watching Kanchivaram, one cannot help but sense that much of the everyday monotony of subjugation is lost without adequate translation. In a film which has to do with the decimation of the past, little of it is conveyed. Yes, the main points are to be found—promises made should not be broken and custom often outweighs idealism—but the beauty of the monotony which the filmmakers work so hard to convey is nowhere to be found.

Written by: Elisheva Zakheim, August 8th 2009

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