Cast: Jayam Ravi, Nidhhi Agerwal, Ronit Roy, Radha Ravi, Thambi Ramaiah, Saranya Ponvannan
Lakshman's Bhoomi, now on Disney-Hotstar, could not have picked a more appropriate time to arrive. The film is a powerful indictment of the corporatisation of agriculture and the evil of middlemen (which while giving marginal profits to the farmer, sells the produce to the consumer at far higher prices). The work literally takes the space route to hammer home these points – not that we are in the dark about these. But, as Lakshman underlines, we need a Bhoominathan to unify the farming community, kept in the dark for many years by selfish politicians and bribe-gulping bureaucrats – who have been profiting enormously by a system that has been enslaved by corporate giants.
Bhoominathan (Jayam Ravi) is a scientist working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and he is all set to travel to the Mars to try and explore whether it is fit for life, as we know it. But in the intervening month-long break, he flies down from the US to his beloved Tamil Nadu, where he finds farmers starving because their fields are barren. There is no rainfall, there is virtually no underground water, which has been, as we are told, drawn by giant industries making motorcars, aerated drinks and even jeans.
All this can be reversed, but for a foreign industrial magnate, Richard Child (Ronit Roy), who claims that only 13 families in the world control natural resources and wealth. And he has under his thumb the Minister for Agriculture (played by Radha Ravi) as well as his cronies, police chief included. Child also brags to Bhoominathan or Bhoomi that he would soon turn India into another Somalia, plagued by hunger and diseases. Seems like the very personification of evil, pure and unadulterated. He pumps hybrid seeds onto farmers, who do not realise that these require much more water than natural ones. With land and foodgrain distribution in his pocket, Child believes that he cannot be vanquished. But there is Bhoomi to throw a ring of fire around Child.
As much as the subject is of immense value in today's India – whose farmers are fighting against big business getting into their lives – the movie resorts to heroics (tempered with nationalist fervour, particularly Tamil sentiment) and exaggerated methods in the fight between Bhoomi and Child. The NASA scientist proves in the end that Child is after all, well, a child. But his defeat appears unreal, and Bhoomi's means to stamp him out may be seen as highly unethical.
Unfortunately, Tamil cinema resorts to this kind of dramatics if only to prove a point, and they are often sugarcoated with dances (unnecessary) and love stories (we have one in Bhoomi as well with Nidhi Agerwal essaying Swathi, his sweetheart).
The script is unwieldy. There is not much to rave about Jayam Ravi, although Radha Ravi and Thambi Ramaiah as farmer Ramaswamy appear more rooted.
( Gautaman Bhaskaran is a movie critic and author of a biography of Adoor Gopalakrishnan)