Imagine the irony. Sekar (Sathyaraj) sees his college-going daughter Varsha (Dixitha Kothari) behind a boy on a bike. He grounds her, breaks her phone and decides to marry her off at once. But he’s less severe on himself. He gathers friends and drinks into the night. Worse, he picks up a sex worker (Anumol). The scene is disarmingly frank. Soori (Varun), the driver of the auto in which Sekar sits, goes up to her and asks, “Variya?” She pauses just enough to make you wonder if she isn’t that kind of woman after all – maybe she’s going to slap him. Then she turns and asks, “Yethana peru?” In other words, Oru Naal Iravil, the directorial debut of editor Anthony, is the rare Tamil film for grown-ups. At least, given this premise, you’d think so.
Alas, the film is made with the assumption that the viewers are infants. It’s easy to overlook the fact that everyone’s conveniently connected, or that the film is a tad too reliant on withholding information from the audience, or that Sekar possesses superhuman hearing (he can listen to words being uttered on the other side of an iron shutter) – that is, after all, part of the conceit, the kind of movie this is. But what to make of scenes like the one where crucial information is spilt over the phone as soon as it is picked up, without waiting to ascertain who has picked it up? Everything’s communicated through exasperatingly explicit dialogue that belongs on the stage – from Sekar’s impulsiveness to little messagey asides about the importance of educating young women and the tendency of today’s generation to forget older luminaries. (Yuhi Sethu plays an old-time director who’s down on his luck.)
And for a film made by an editor, the scenes just don’t come together. They look disconnected. The greasing of the parts that makes a film one giant well-oiled machine – that doesn’t happen at all. The characters don’t draw us in either. We should be sweating bullets along with Sekar, whose encounter with the sex worker is increasingly fraught with tension – nothing goes per plan. It’s almost like divine retribution from the goddesses of feminism for the way he treated his daughter. But we feel nothing for this man, whose reputation is at stake. (Sathyaraj’s overwrought performance doesn’t help; it belongs on the stage too.) The background score, loud enough to rouse the dead, does what it can to infuse life into the proceedings. And there’s an amusing bit on a film set – about a particularly tasteless item number being directed by, of all people, Gautham Menon, who typically places his heroines on altars and lights joss sticks around them. But one in-joke does not a film make. From all accounts, the Malayalam original, Shutter, seems a terrific thriller. A lot seems to have gotten lost in translation.
- Oru Naal Iravil = One night…
- “Variya?” = Coming?
- “Yethana peru?” = How many of you are there?
- Shutter = see here
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