Not all people who come down to Chennai from the smaller towns & villages of Tamil Nadu end up making the journey to become the next superstar or C.M. For a lot of people the metro city represents the land of opportunities to them. One such place in the city which plays host to the endless stream of migrants from the ‘districts’ is the bustling Ranganathan Street in T.Nagar where everything is organized yet completely incomprehensible for the regular people, who just view it as a major shopping destination.
The street plays host to a number of multistoried buildings which act as “one stop shop” malls by selling a host of products across categories. The street also plays host to a lot many smaller retail outlets and some independent “roadside” businessmen. The “one stop shop” malls/superstore follow the typical South T.N business model where the entrepreneur/owner (called annachi ) runs the store with the help of staff picked up mainly from the smaller towns & villages. The owner takes care of the boarding and lodging of the employees and they work together as a cohesive unit. In my FMCG and retail days I have seen so many such stores in Chennai and elsewhere, following the same model.
On my visits to these stores at times I have wondered if there’s anything more than what meets the eyes or is there a story behind the story. But then the game stopped there as I never went beyond thinking slightly on these lines and never even organized my thoughts on the same. Now wait a minute why am I going on & on about all this, isn’t this supposed to be a movie review? Of course it is and you will find out shortly why I have been saying all this. Vasantha Balan the director of the acclaimed Tamil film ‘Veyyil’ is back again with ‘Angadi Theru’ (market street, AT from hereon), which is again refreshingly fresh and a realistic film at heart.
AT is all about life in a “one stop shop” in Ranganathan Street, T.Nagar. On regular intervals they keep recruiting youngsters ( male & female ) from the ‘districts’ and during one such recruitment drive , the hero Jothilingam ( debutant Mahesh ) and his friend Marimuthu ( ‘Black’ Pandi ) join the store. Jothilingam had to take up the job after his father’s untimely death which cuts short his plans to study further.The boys are made to soon realize that life there is not going to be easy. Right from the long working hours to the cramped living arrangement and the unhygienic staff ‘mess’ ( dining area ), everything is a testimony to the fact that they are almost like bonded labour over there.
After some feelings of distrust between them, Jothilingam and Kani (Anjali of Katradhu Tamizh) slowly start liking each other, even as they work alongside each other. But life is not going to be easy at all as they also have to contend with the floor supervisor ‘Karungali’ ( director A.Venkatesh ) who is a terror to all the junior employees. The journey further for Mari and Kani puts them through so many situations that gives us so much more insight into life in the market street i.e AT.
What one needs to understand and prepare one self for is the fact that AT is not about a fairy tale romance of a young couple but a harsh realistic portrayal of a certain section of society, a society we are exposed to but yet remain ignorant of. AT tells you that there is a story behind every single person around us. Not only is the movie a fairly well made take on how the “system” of a “one stop shop” in Ranganathan Street works, it also tells you about the lives of so many other people living/working in the street. So there are a number of other characters all of interesting dimensions who come our way through this film.
Now when I look back at the movie it is very clear that Vasantha Balan has tried something very interesting in this movie. In fact in the first 15 minutes or so of the film itself one can get to know in brief how the movie will turn out to be- but for that one has to look out sharply, very sharply. In terms of the casting one can easily say that the actors fit into their characters completely, thus elevating the film. Mahesh makes a reasonably good debut but the actual honours go to Anjali and ‘Black’ Pandi. Anjali had put in a good performance earlier in Katradhu Tamizh and now with AT she signals that she certainly has the potential to pull of roles of substance.
In a rather serious tale like this if there is any mild relief in between , then the sole reason for this is ‘Black’ Pandi as he provides some genuine light moments without resorting to buffoonery of any sorts. Director A.Venkatesh also leaves a strong impression with his role. The music of the movie (Vijay Antony & G.V.Prakash Kumar) works in sync with the pace with the film. ‘Aval appadi onrum’ is one of my favorite soulful songs in recent times.The sound design provided by Tapas Nayak ( Bheja Fry, Paa, Puthiya Mugam etc) lends a nice spark to the sharp BGM ( Vijay Antony ).
One of the pillars behind the movie’s output is the cinematography by Richard Maria Nathan (a former assistant to K.V.Anand) whose innovative use of hidden cameras actually brings to life the elements of Ranganathan Street fairly well.Also praiseworthy is the art work by G.K & Muthuraj and the editing by Sreekar Prasad is effective. Jeyamohan’s dialogues also help in lifting the narration considerably.
Long after you finish seeing the movie, you still carry so many images behind with you. For those in Chennai, visiting Ranganathan Street will be a different experience after you watch this film. All said and done the next time you see someone selling cotton ear buds or hand kerchiefs in the local trains or streets in a Mumbai or Chennai or anywhere else, please remember there could be a story behind that person too.
Note- This post was originally written in 2010 after the release of the film but now re-edited and published again. Vasantha Balan has gone on to make another movie, Aravaan which released earlier this year.