Thulasi becomes a child-widow the very next day after her marriage. Will there be liberation for her from her outcast status and her domineering uncle?
Set in the late 1930s and mid 1940s in a quaint village in Palakkad, Namma Gramam is an attempt to showcase the social transgressions of the period, especially among the Brahmin communities. Women in this world are mere objects of gratification, and if they are widowed, they are almost pariahs, child marriage is a reality and untouchability is a way of life.
Actor-turned-director Mohan Sharma uses India itself as a metaphor for the plight of his lead character Thulasi, a child bride who becomes a widow the very next day after her marriage. Like the country, which is under British rule, Thulasi's life too is determined by her immoral uncle, Subramani, the patriarch of the household and the bigwig in the village. He is a haughty individual who likes everyone to dance to his whims and fancies, and an abusive father to his righteous son Kannan. He is a hypocrite as well who will advocate the tonsuring of his little niece under the pretense of societal backlash but will unashamedly maintain a concubine.
The only character who stands up to Subramani is his widowed mother who tries to protect Thulasi even if it means sacrificing her own life. She is the film's moral centre and the late Sukumari (who won the National Award for Best Supporting Actress for this role) effectively captures the spirit of this character — she knows she cannot change everything that is wrong about the society but does her best. She detests her son for his ways and knows that the women in her family (including her daughter and her bedridden husband) will always have to depend on him, and yet she stands up to him whenever she can to protect Thulasi.
The film moves at a languid pace and the scripts course is predictable to an extent but Mohan Sharma manages to keep things from turning dull. He populates this world with a few interesting characters — a mentally unstable woman who passes comments (which are sometimes lewd) on the characters and their problems, a nationalistic school master who is impotent, and even a flatulent neighbour, who is used for the lighter scenes. One of these characters in fact kindles Kannan's interest in Thulasi. Mohan, who seems to have a fascination for metaphors, underscores this with a man lighting a street lamp in the foreground. In a nice little touch, Thulasi's liberation too happens exactly on the day of India's freedom. But then, at times, the director does go overboard with his allegories. When Thulasi moves out of the house in the end, he has her free a caged parrot!
The chief problem with the film is that the lead character is underwritten. We have to be angered seeing Thulasi's plight but we only empathise with her. Yes it is a male dominated world, but Thulasi is shown as too passive. We accept her crying over her fate as a girl but even after she grows into woman, we never get a scene where she questions society's treatment of her. The arc involving the concubine too is vague. Her husband has apparently disappeared after going to Burma some years ago but we do not get her dilemma when there is an effort to trace her missing husband. She is always shown as a woman who is eager to please Subramani in bed.