“Saithan”… An unfocused, preposterous thriller

Posted on December 1, 2016

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Spoilers ahead…

In the provocatively titled Saithan, Dinesh (Vijay Antony) is a software engineer who begins hearing voices. Is he hallucinating? Is he on drugs? Is he remembering a past life? His friends and family are spooked, and they search for a cure. Should they take him to a quack? Should they trust a doctor who diagnoses a growth in the brain and suggests surgery? Should they consult a hypnotherapist? The symptoms suggest several possibilities. Could it be schizophrenia? Reincarnation? Is Dinesh possessed? Does he think he’s in a Shankar movie?

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Slowly, we get a flashback. Are these events real? Imagined? Further down the line, we come to the villain. Is he meant to be a menacing presence? Is he a buffoon? And let’s look at what he does. Is he human-testing illegal drugs? Is he harvesting organs? Consider, also, how the director, Pradeep Krishnamoorthy, chooses to advance the plot. Is this the kind of movie where an eerie moon is eclipsed by a black cloud, where candles are suddenly snuffed out by a draft, where eyeballs turn a lurid red? (After all, the title does point that way.) Or are we in a story backed by science, where there is a logical answer to the mystery? Finally, Dinesh himself. Is he an everyman? Or an action hero who can single-handedly take on a den of hardened criminals?

Saithan is less an exercise in screenwriting than a multiple-choice test in which the answer to every question is “all of the above.” The film just cannot decide where it wants to go, what it wants to be. The director’s only priority is to keep the audience guessing, and you get the feeling he’s making things up as he goes along. A hooded figure in black. An episode with a sex worker. A hand that reaches out from a computer monitor. Close-ups of unnamed people who seem to be suggesting that evil is lurking at every corner. A banshee voice in the background that keeps wailing “Jayalakshmeeee…” Nothing is built up to. Things just happen. The result isn’t so much a movie as mixed-vegetable curry.

The film’s most interesting subtext is the one that’s least explored: What if you discover your marriage isn’t what you thought it was? What if your spouse turned out to be someone you can’t live with, but can’t live without? It should have been the film’s foundation. It ends up an afterthought. There are some nice lines between Dinesh and his wife (Arundathi Nair, who’s not bad), and you want to see more of the couple. There’s a fantastic moment where a husband gets to know his wife has a sordid past, but instead of recoiling in puritanical disgust, he simply chooses to accept the present. What happened before marriage is of no concern. She is now his wife. That’s all that matters. This is the second time during the movie you feel like standing up and saluting. (The first, of course, is when you stood up for the national anthem.)

Vijay Antony has a knack for selecting subjects that are different, but a good hook does not make a good movie. And while you appreciate his humility in accepting he isn’t a good actor, that cannot tide you over a film that needed a strong central performance. Though it’s hard to see how anyone could have rooted the increasingly preposterous happenings. Red herrings are one thing. A mindless fishing expedition quite another. You want to be surprised. You end up cheated.

KEY:

  • saithan = evil spirit; Satan
  • national anthem = see here

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil