Synopsis by Jonathan Crow
Murali Nair's debut feature begins as a quietly lyrical portrait of rural poverty that recalls Satyajit Ray's early masterpiece Pather Panchali (1955); and then it suddenly swerves into the realm of bitter social satire. Though Krishnan (Barathan Narakkal) toils all day planting rice, he struggles to feed his family. He is caught stealing coconuts from his landlord and dragged to jail. He soon finds himself framed for a number of unsolved murders and is sentenced to death, in spite of his wife's pleas. She turns to the local Communist party for help, and they take up his cause until they realize that it is not politically expedient to do so. Instead, they lobby the government and, with the help of a World Bank grant, import America's latest high-tech instrument of death: the "electronic chair." Overnight, the Communist Party's rhetoric changes Krishnan from a victim of political corruption to a glorious martyr to progress. Guilt and innocence fall by the wayside as everyone (including Krishnan) is awestruck by this gleaming new technology. The farcical elements in this well-crafted story slowly and unexpectedly build, until they grow so thick that one does not know whether to laugh or wince. Though Nair quietly milks the absurdity of the situation, he doesn't let the audience forget the human tragedy at the film's center. Despite running a scant 57 minutes, Throne of Death won the Camera d'Or as Best First Feature at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. It was also screened in the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival.
High Artistic Quality, Low Budget