Bharathi: His only crime, he thought ahead of his time

We all know Bharathiar as a poet and freedom fighter, but not about his life. How was he as a person? A father. A husband.

All he received when he was alive was criticism from people around him. And now when he is dead, a hundred years later, we cannot appreciate him enough. Poor man was born at the wrong place at the wrong time, perhaps, but then, if it had not happened that way, we would have lost a great poet. Welcome to the world of “paradox”.

So to put it briefly, the film Bharathi is a fantastic insight into the life of a freedom fighter and poet we all knew but an interesting man we seldom knew.

About the movie: (year 2000)
Directed by: Gnana Rajasekaran
Music: Ilayaraja


-Sayaji Shinde – as Barathiyar
-Devayani – as Wife Chellamma

The movie opens with Bharathiyar’s funeral attended by just a handful of people. “Nalladhor Veenai Seithe” plays in the background. It’s the year 1921. The poem is all pain and truth. It almost sums up his life.

From there we go back to the 1880s, his childhood, when Bharathiyar was just “Subbayya”. He was 11 when he proved his mastery over the Tamil language and was named Bharathi.

Then on, the movie swiftly but clearly, with a touch of “good cinema”, takes us through the major parts of his life. Father’s death. Marriage to Chellamma as a kid. We get our first glimpses of Sayaji Shinde as Bharathi when they show him at Varanasi.

Shinde becomes Bharathiar in his first two minutes into the movie. The anger when he sees how people misinterpreted the Sastras and misused it as a base for caste discrimination – oh you get goose bumps. He then sports a mush, a turban and discards his poonal (that’s the new Bharathiar for you – the one we see in books, photos, everywhere, till his death)

Devayani totally fits the bill as Chellamma. She hasn’t overdone it, nor has she underplayed the character. Even Shinde, in some parts could have slightly overdone it, just for effect. But Devayani has done justice to the role. No regrets there.

The major objective of the movie is to throw an insight into the man that was Bharathi. We all know he wrote about women rights. Do we know what led him to it? The movie tells us that. “Adhalinal Kadhal seiveer” is also popular line. But wouldn’t it be interesting to know what made him write it? The movie gives us a sort of clue. The same goes for his poems on caste discrimination, freedom struggle and so on. Some incidents may have been imaginary, I am not really sure exactly which. But then the point is, the movie shows us how it must have been for Bharathiyar to be Bharathiyar in that period. The frustration, anger, helplessness, and so on.

Right from the first scene, you’ll never get bored. And by the time you are done, you are left with a weird feeling, a mixture of sadness, admiration, and respect. That way, the movie has won in my eyes.


Threatening the Goddess
There are many scenes that portray Bharathiyar’s character well. An example:  his daughter falls sick. He has no money to pay for the treatment. So what does the poet do? He threatens the Goddess that he would turn into an atheist if she does not help him in this fix!

Thoughtless as it may sound, this is certainly a revelation, a great way to portray the kind of man he was – someone who was dying to serve the country but had his own family in his way. Kudos to Sayaji Shinde for portraying the character so well. Might be a little too intense for some, but it worked great for me!

What’s wealth really?
Here is a scene that portrays the character of Chellemma.  Bharathiyar brings home huge sacks. Chellamma is on cloud nine – her husband has bought her jewels and vessels! She happily opens each sack only to discover, with growing disappointment that every one of them contains stacks of books – old and new. After all, she is someone with the expectations and desires typical of women back then, which revolved around jewellery, wealth, children and a loving husband. Dhevayani’s acting to this end is worth mentioning.

“THE” shot from the movie
Agni kunjondru kanden – the crazy dance: One of the best shots I remember from the movie is at the start of the song, Agini kunjondru Kanden. Bharathiyar decides to perform an act of social reformation by making men from a so called “lower” caste wear the Poonal so that they would also be treated as Brahmins. The correctness of this particular gesture is debatable – the very act of making them Brahmins might look like he still believed Brahmins were a higher caste – but I think we ought to give the man a break. People around him refused to be sensible – so this act is perfectly alright. He just wanted equality and back then, this was the only way.

Coming back to the song, as it begins, Devayani slowly emerges from a dimly lit room and peeps out from behind the door, watches her husband who is singing and dancing wildly in front of the fire, along with other these other men. The light from the fire is reflected on her face, one that displays a mixture of emotions – anger, fear and helplessness. It speaks volumes.

Bottomline: Watch this movie if you have always wanted to know about Bharathiyar but the thought of reading dampened your spirits. The movie speaks volumes.


2 thoughts on “Bharathi: His only crime, he thought ahead of his time

  1. Viju says:

    Super article… I shared it 😀


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