In a lively Tamil village in the eighties, a ceremonial statue of a horse goes missing, throwing the villagers into comic chaos. Suseendran’s new feature opens like a tragedy, then goes on to surprise and delight with its warm but pointed satire.
Rain hasn’t come to the village of Mallayapuram for three years, and people are desperate for relief. On the advice of their priest, the village council decides to rekindle the annual Azhagarsamy festival to appease their god, Azhagar. As one of the festival’s rituals, Azhagar’s effigy is taken to the river on a wooden horse. After painstakingly collecting funds and making plans, the residents journey to a tiny temple on the village outskirts and open its doors to find — to their shock — that the holy statue of Azhagarsamy’s horse has disappeared.
There is no festival without the horse, and no rain without the festival. As the search spreads, the more people the missing horse affects: a spiritual guide from Kerala, a horse owner from a nearby village, a bridein- waiting and her groom-to-be. Secret dealings and hidden plots rattle the village’s peace as political aspirations, personal interests, good intentions and murderous thoughts collide.
Wonderful, naturalistic performances drive Suseendran’s brisk satire. Though only his third feature, this is a confident, thoughtful piece of work. It’s also a surprisingly successful bridge between the raucous, youth-driven commercial films of today’s Tamil cinema and the more considered themes of Southern India’s art-house filmmaking. Although Azhagarsamy’s Horse is anything but intellectual filmmaking, it does spring from an important idea: village communities may, like any population, suffer from greed and small thinking, but they’re far more complex and resourceful than urbanites tend to acknowledge. It’s a delight to watch Suseendran expose the vanities and hypocrisies of rural Southern India, but it’s never at the expense of a deep respect for the traditional values that underpin that culture. –TIFF