Freeze Frame #20: 16 Vayathinilae

In an earlier post, I had spoken of my admiration of Bharathiraja, and how he wrote the rule book for village films with 16 Vayathinilae. That movie, more than any others I have seen that came before it, brought that milieu to life. Somehow, earlier movies never really got their hands dirty while making a movie about the heat and dust of rural Tamil Nadu – there seemed to be some distance between the makers and their subject. That went away with this movie. In its own way, I think 16 Vayathinilae did to the village film in Tamil cinema, what Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire did to acting in Hollywood.

For me, the defining moment in that movie was right at the beginning, during the title sequence. The movie did something that I had never seen before: it showed each of the main characters and did a freeze frame while the name appeared on screen, but the name shown was not that of the actor, but that of the character. This doesn’t seem like much now, considering how often this has been done in the movies. But to me, this was essentially what made me sit up and watch the film with a lot more interest than I would otherwise have had.

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