2009, 106 minutes
A compelling set of five stories illustrating the fragile nature of day-to-day existence in Tamil Nadu, Southern India.
|Directed By:||Brian McKenzie|
|Country:||India / Australia|
|Language:||Tamil with English Subtitles|
Meet me at the Mango Tree is a series of five short documentaries set in Tamil Nadu, India. The stories are found by chance along the coastal road between Chennai and the fishing villages to the south. They are heart felt tales of work routines and family life.
Arumugam comes early each day to a back lane in Chennai where he lifts his bench from the wall, rolls out his blanket and lights the coals for his iron. Here he works ironing clothes until well after dark.
An episode from Arumugam’s youth - when he was refused contact with the cousin he loved and cast out from his village - now has echoes in his son’s troubled romance with a girl of a different caste.
Rajan and Priya marry in secret and run away from her disapproving parents. Arumugam finds them and brings them back. He negotiates a settlement and welcomes his new daughter into his humble home.
Following monsoonal rains Kunnan forages for crabs in the backwater and walks across the paddy, singing. His family live in a small hut attached to a chicken farm. His mother cooks the crabs and his father who is suffering a hang over, abuses him for staying out.
One year passes. Kunnan has grown a moustache and digging for crabs is a memory as are the dreams of running his own teashop. Now Kunnan works for his Uncle who provides local farmers with labour – husking coconuts and climbing the giant mango trees. In the evenings he goes to the water hole and plays cricket with friends. Arguments erupt with his mother over money and his father is disappointed with his achievements however Kunnan will not say a word against them. He is maturing, has a secret girl friend and unlike many of his friends who are leaving to seek their fortune, Kunnan will stay in the village.
Along a road that leads to the fishing village is a small shop cluttered with electrical parts where Mani runs a TV repair business. He is famous for being the first in his village to erect an aerial and receive a television signal. His bench faces onto the world and Mani looks out, ever smiling. Sound bites of cartoons and musicals merge with the noise of buses and goatherds.
These first impressions of the small shop charmed us and we rested there for a tea and a break from traveling in the old Ambassador. On a later trip we return to this district, however the shop is closed and none can tell of Mani’s whereabouts, not even the local tea vendor will indicate when the repairer of TV’s will return.
So begins the bittersweet portrait of a rural family. Udaya Chandra leads her children in devotion to Lord Murugam, however loses her job in the village library. Mani suffers a set back due to illness and the television repairs fall behind. Yet the human spirit is resilient. Mani and Udaya Chandra beat a retreat to their village home and redouble their efforts to support their young family.
After Cuddalore the road south cuts inland and passes a stretch of chemical plants. Herders of ducks, hay cutters and paddy fields dot the roadside leading to a crest at a railway crossing. Travelers catch buses here and buy watermelon from a wooden stand. In the alternate season there are coconuts for sale. The stall belongs to Kaliaperumal and Vesantha. They have three girls and one young son, Venkatesh who looks after the garden at their home.
Perumal learnt to climb coconut trees with his father who owned a plantation of palm trees and made a living tapping the juice for alcohol, widely consumed in rural India but now outlawed.
Perumal’s discipline is to be the vendor of the best and freshest. Each morning he climbs for coconuts and attaches them to his Hercules bicycle. He sharpens his blade, eats breakfast and rides to the stall. However things come to a halt and the business is threatened when the trusty bicycle begins to disintegrate from the strains it must bare.
Thayer Sahib Street:
In an Islamic quarter of Chennai there is a busy lane, Thayer Sahib Street where many small shops ply their trade and where Prakash lives on the street with his mother and the rest of his family. The young boy keeps pigeons in a coop at the front of the news agency, which is run by the ancient Gopal who is not always friendly but is an ally to Prakash.
In the morning as the vendors lift their shutters Prakash is made busy hanging broom handles at the hardware. Next-door is a scooter repairer then three shops belonging to the Hussein brothers. Gopal arranges newspapers on two old bicycles and lights incense at the small altar inside his cramped shop. He leaves the shop to the trust of his customers while he makes deliveries. Five times a day the haunting call to prayer from the Islamic mosques rises above the traffic noise.
One year passes. Prakash is older and has upgraded to a delivery cart with three wheels and a tray. With this he services all the shopkeepers in the street and also his mother’s business. She cooks mutton and rice and sells it to the workers in the laneway at midday. The rats have eaten Prakash’s pigeons. At the Sunday market he buys two new pair of birds and rebuilds their platform. He ties their feet to stop them flying off. Once they mate and their eggs hatch he will untie them for they will know that this is their home to return to.
Director / Cinematographer
Aravind and Shankar
Ben Carew, Grace McKenzie
Assistant Director / location interpreter