After his National Award-winning Thenmerku Paruvakatru, director Seenu Ramasamy gives us a sensitive portrayal of the difficult lives of fisher-folk in Red Giant Movies' Tamil film Neerparavai (Water Bird).
The film begins with some wonderful cinematography by N Balasubramaniyam. His camera captures sparkling shots of the sea in all its glory, day and night. He and art director V Selvakumar take pride of place in this film.
The story begins with a young couple's visit to their ancestral village to meet Estheramma (Nandita Das), who lives alone in her home overlooking the restless sea.
Her son needs money but she refuses to sell her home on the excuse that her husband, who went out to sea 25 years ago, has still not returned, and she won't leave until he does.
Soon there is an explosive discovery that points you to Estheramma's past. As a young girl, Esther (Sunaina) had stumbled, literally, into Arulappa Saamy (Vishnu), the son of a fisher-folk couple.
Arulappa Saami, or Arul, spends his time drinking at all hours of the day and wandering around aimlessly. He is the despair of his parents Lourdusaamy and Mary (Aruldas and Saranya Ponvannan), the charismatic boat-builder Udhuman Gani (Samuthrakani) and the priest (Azhagam Perumal).
He earns the dislike of Sister Benita (Anupama Kumar) who happens to be Esther's guardian, and the enmity of several others.
Almost the whole of the first half revolves around Arulappa's various shenanigans while drunk, and his attempts to get back on his feet. It's in the second half, as Arulappa tries to make something of his life and discovers how difficult it is to earn a good reputation that the story really kicks off.
It is in the scenes where Arulappa makes an effort to earn the respect of his people that director Seenu Ramasamy and writer Jayamohan (who has also penned the dialogues) shine. The characters describe the sea and their relationship with it with great emotion and depth that comes only with genuine understanding.
Their lives revolve around the church, and all the characters are deeply religious in their own way, which adds another dimension to the story. The political angle is also touched upon but lightly.
Secondary characters such as liquor-vendor Mother Ebenezer (Vadivukkarasi) and Joseph Bharathi (Thambi Ramaiah) add some much needed humour and colour to the backdrop.
National Award winner Saranya Ponvannan performs effortlessly as Arul's mother. Samuthrakani is a revelation; he is perfectly cast as the boat-builder and acts with the required dignity and grace. Azhagam Perumal impresses as well, as does Anupama Kumar.
If anything, it's Vishnu and Sunaina who don't produce any sparks -- they have done exactly as they were told to and nothing more.
The film is not without flaws. The pace is remarkably slow and the first half meanders at a snail's pace. Realism gives way to melodrama in places. Several characters are left hanging lose, with no resolution.
Except for Para Para, N R Raghunandhan's music does not really linger in one's memory. The entire romance track on which the whole story is supposed to depend, doesn't really make an impact.
Neer Paravai is a beautiful record of the lives of a community, their hopes and dreams, and the harsh reality of their lives. Go and see it.