'Koozhangal' (Pebbles) Film review: Road of wrath

Pebbles gives us a bird’s eye-view of a parched world that’s sublime in its unashamed starkness even as Vinothraj jolts you with the many riches that lurk in his cinematic simplicity and bareness

Still from the film
Still from the film
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Namrata Joshi

Koozhangal (Pebbles) is 75 minutes of compelling cinematic choreography in which scorched human bodies waltz with an arid landscape to give us a peep into the treacherous life of the indigent. A chronicle of a day in the lives that are devoid of any springs of hope yet teeming with humanity, Vinothraj PS’s debut Tamil feature plays out a human-nature interface of the kind that rarely gets seen in Indian cinema.

Arittapatti, near Madurai, where the film is set, has been withered, battered and felled by drought. Nothing grows here, no one flourishes. There is the abject poverty of resources on the one hand and, on the other, human emotions also lack abundance of any kind. In fact, a persistent violence underlines the relationships, as though everything is just waiting to explode.

Life is at its bleakest. Men have little to do other than play cards, laze around or sleep. Or get into fits of rage and be drawn into ugly fights. Women wait for hours to fill one pot of water from a dirty puddle. Or hunt for vermin for a quick meal. Pups play, ironically, with the soft drink bottle. And children put little pebbles in their mouth, sucking on them to have the dribble substitute the scarce and precious water, a desperate simulation of moisture in the desert.

Pebbles gives us a bird’s eye-view of a parched world that’s sublime in its unashamed starkness even as Vinothraj jolts you with the many riches that lurk in his cinematic simplicity and bareness.

The landscape looms large as a character in its own right. The image that lingers in the mind is that of the walk of the film’s two protagonists Ganapathy (Karuththadaiyaan) and his son Velu (Chellapandi) as the camera follows them closely behind. The aggressive long strides of an entitled and perennially angry father and the small, meek steps of the son, trying hard to keep pace with him. The duo hits the road to get back the wife/mother Shanthi who has left home after an acrimonious quarrel which we only hear of, don’t see.

The film’s core is about the father-son relationship. Do you like me or your mother? asks the father while, in another scene, we find Velu inscribing the names of his mother Shanthi, sister Lakshmi and himself on the rocks, deliberately leaving out his dad. It’s his way of protesting against Ganapathy’s deviance.


But then he is also responsible for his father’s inner journey when he tears apart the money for the bus ride leaving Ganapathy with no option but to walk in the heat, a walk that brings him a modicum of perspective, peace, understanding and healing.

Despite the overall desolateness, there’s some reconciliation to hang on to as things comes a full circle in the film. Life has to be seized and acknowledged, however tenuously, and one has to keep one’s mouth hydrated with the pebbles even in the middle of the desperate and eternal search for water.

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