Shakti  Pirakkudhu synopsis

Sundari is young mother of two in a small village outside Madurai.  She has joined a women’s self help group and wants to use the microfinance loan she will get through it to start a business.  Most people fail at their businesses and her husband is scornful of her ambitions – she has never been more than a housewife.  As she struggles to find her feet in a trade, the village erupts into a flurry of politics with the coming of a woman from the city looking to start a garment factory in the area.  This is a story of a village woman trying to define what success means to her in the context of an expanding world view, and of a family struggling to find their equation at the crossroads of what is and what could be.

Shakti Pirakkudhu was evolved out of numerous conversations with self help group women in the villages around Madurai and is intended to create a role model that inspires the rural poor to look to the larger world to raise their aspirations and take charge of their own progress.

Behind the Film

Shakti Pirakkudhu evolved out of conversations between Tara Thiagarajan, the Chairperson of Madura Microfinance and Usha Rajeswari, a documentary filmmaker and founder of Prakriti Jiva Media.  Madura had been giving loans to self help group women for a few years but carried the legacy of a 15 year old microfinance program started at the former Bank of Madura.  Madura provided training on a host of social issues and the women repaid their loans on time and were loyal customers. However the majority did not know what to do with the loan money. Those who did start businesses frequently failed and rarely made the transition out of subsistence level microenterprise.   Over three quarters of the women microentrepreneurs ran individual home based businesses with markets that rarely extended outside the village, and by city standards had low levels of efficiency and innovation.  It was not that these women lacked intelligence, but rather their aspirations and success were circumscribed by a lack of education and exposure to the world beyond their villages. They were also constrained by a fatalistic mindset.

Madura approached Rajeswari to make a training film that addressed the lack of business education and exposure to markets.  The goal was to create a film that could use different scenarios to teach them basic business principles and give them an impetus to seek markets and ideas beyond their village.  Rajeswari, who had long been associated with Madura, documenting its journey, began having conversations with the self help group women in this context. As she talked to them about their lives – their aspirations, their families and the way they viewed the world, a story began to take shape in her mind.  She came back with the suggestion of making a two hour feature film instead.  “We have a very extensive training agenda”, Tara told her, ”How can it possibly be a feature?” Besides, Madura did not have the kind of budget it would take to make a full length movie.

Madura pushed on with the concept of a business training film, teaming up with a non profit called Marketplace Literacy, founded by Dr. Madhu Viswanathan at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champagne. Marketplace Literacy provided business training through an innovative approach to this audience and Madhu had spent several years researching subsistence marketplace entrepreneurs and had developed extensive curriculum.   Rajeswari pushed on with the dream of making a feature.  Working on one hand with the women whose lives inspired the film, and on the other hand with Madhu and his team, she wove a story and script that captured the essence of the messages of entrepreneurship and mindset Madura envisioned in the context of a suspense filled family drama.  The first draft of the script arrived in Tara’s email box at 2AM on November 20, 2007. By 4AM it was clear to her that this had to be a feature film with a broader audience. It was too good not to be.  But there was a lot of work to be done. The script needed to be refined, the messages honed and a budget found.  Tara shot back an email by 4AM with two pages of comments.

What we were taking on was ambitious. This was not going to be just another film to entertain, but one that had to inspire real change.  The film had to be real. It had to create a deep emotional connect with these women.  The protagonist and her circumstances had to be enough like them that they could relate to her and yet challenge them to think differently and inspire them to reach higher.

Over the next year Rajeswari discussed the script with several groups of village women.  “Could this have really happened in your village?”, she wanted to know,  “Would you say something like this?”.  With the help of Madhu and his team, the scenes and dialogues were massaged in subtle ways to create more memorable and clear messages of business and entrepreneurship.  And finally, the language had to be authentic. With the help of two of Madura’s staff, women from the region of rural Tamil Nadu where the film was set, former self help group members themselves, the dialogue was reworked to reflect colloquial language and idiom.

In January of 2009 production began in earnest.  The film was produced on a shoe string budget at the same quality of films with a budget ten times as much. This was only possible thanks to numerous people who believed in the film and the cause and gave their time or talent or equipment either pro bono or at heavily subsidized rates.

The first cut of the film was completed at the end of the year. The name Shakti Pirakkudhu means in Tamil ‘a new strength is born’ and was inspired by the famous Tamil poet Bharatiar whose line ‘Shakti Pirakkudhu Moochiniley’ (a new strength is born with every breath) is part of the theme song.  In English this has been translated as Shakti Rising. It was shown to a few audiences of village women to test how the messages had come across. Several weeks after the screening they were asked what they learned from the film, how they felt and what they had discussed about it with friends and family. The recall was high, the messages had largely worked and they spoke of Sundari , the protagonist, as someone they knew.  Still, the film needed a little tightening and a little bit of reworking.  Actors came back to dub some dialogues over again and the film was edited down by half an hour.

Six months later the final version of the film was screened to an audience of Madura field staff at a community hall on the far outskirts of Chennai. The group was, once again, largely comprised of rural women.  As the credits rolled and the lights came on, one of the Madura staff noticed tears rolling down the face of the sound engineer. Are you OK? He asked. “This film has made me realize how badly I’ve treated my wife” he said, “I want to go home and ask for her forgiveness and start anew”.  The film had succeeded in ways that had not been anticipated.

It’s been a long journey and for those of you reading this, we hope that this will give you an authentic glimpse into the circumstances of the rural poor and the journey they have ahead.

Madura Microfinance is a non banking finance company in Chennai, India that provides small loans to 400,000 rural women along with products that expand market access and mind.

Cast & Filmmakers

Devadarshini  (as Sundari)

Devadarshini has appeared in over 35 films including the Rajinikanth and Aishwarya Rai starrer Endhiran. She has also played lead roles in a number of TV shows in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam and anchored talk shows such as Ini oru vidhi seivom. She currently appears in the TV shows Athipookal and Idhayam.

Sasi (as Murugesa)

Sasi began his acting career in the Tamil TV serial Balumahendra Kadhai Neram and has since appeared in over 20 films including Manirathnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal and as the lead in Sringaram which won 3 National Awards in 2007. He has played second lead, villain and character roles and is currently working on roles in the films Kulasekaranum Cooliepadayum and Vijayanagaram.

Sampatth (as Rajamanickam)

Sampatth has appeared in over 100 Tamil films as well as several films in Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu including Madarasa patnam, Singam, Yavarum nalam, Thamizh padam, Rajinikanth starrer Kuselan and Kamal Hassan starrer VasoolRaja MBBS.

Vishalini (as Pankajam)

Vishalini has played significant roles in various Tamil TV serials and film including the lead role in Thekathi Ponnu.    She currently appears in the serial Vandhaley Maharasi, Anu Alavum Bhayam Illai and Kadhal

Soori (as Velu)

Soori was first known for his comedy role in Vennila Kabadi Kuloo. He has since appeared in several Tamil films including Kadaal, Jee and Deepavali.

Manasvini (Marikozhundhu)

Manasvini has acted in ad films and in local theatre productions. She is a student at Abacus Montessori in Chennai in the 9th grade. This is her first film.

T.K. Kala (as Mangalam)

TK Kala has been a playback singer for almost forty years for over 500 films, working with leading music directors including M.S.Viswanathan, K.V.Mahadevan and A.R.Rahman and has also performed around the world.  She made her acting debut in the movie Gilli three years ago and has since appeared in 15 films, including Veyil, Pirivom Sandhippom, Nee Unnai Arindhaal, Kasturi Maan and Kuruvi.

Usha Rajeswari

Screenplay Writer and Director

Rajeswari is a Gold medalist in Film Technology from the Film & Television Institute of Tamil Nadu, specialized in Screenplay Writing & Direction. She has written, directed and edited films of different genres including documentaries, television shows, corporate films, short films and ad films on subjects such as environment, education, development, art and culture.  Her documentary Sculpting Lives on women’s empowerment through microfinance was shown at the film festival Planet in Focus in Toronto. She also wrote and directed the popular multi-episode TV show Galatta Kudumbam that was based on the generation gap in middle class families and the changing perspectives of youth. This is her first full length feature.

Gopal Rao

Music Director

Gopal is both a singer and music composer and has a composed music scores for films in several Indian languages including ZOR, Sakthi and Harischandra and has been the voice of over 140 film songs. He also produced the music album Paisa in Hindi in 2002 and which continues to play on MTV, Channel V, Zee Music and other channels. This is his debut as a music director for a full length film.

Anandh Thiagarajan

Cinematographer

Anandh is a cinematographer and editor, and also specializes in sound design and studio installations. He studied at the Film & Television Institute of Tamil Nadu. He has also acted in the popular TV serial Hum Log as well as in other South Indian productions. He has also served as the Technical Director of several Action Films in Oman and Qatar.

Shakti Pirakkudhu Movie Gallery

Shakti  Pirakkudhu Movie Stills

Shakti  Pirakkudhu Movie Stills

Shakti Pirakkudhu Movie Photo Gallery

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