Sunday, October 16, 2016

Iraivi, the evil in good hearts

Around 8 or 9 years ago, in a cozy home in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, Vaidehi and I had a conversation about her applying for a teacher’s job in Kodaikanal, in the Sholai internation school. We spoke of her working there and me, either working as a teacher with her or just sitting and writing. I don’t recall how the conversation ended, but I think it ended with a laugh about how absurd an idea it was. At least perhaps in my head.
Because, like the director Arul says in Iraivi’s climax, “Aambalai. Nedil. AAN... pen”.
This is not a movie. It is a magic mirror that when held to the face of society, shows all the tiny disgusting warts and pustules that we’ve nurtured in the name of tradition. It doesn’t bother itself with the gross manifestations of sexism and thereby ending up male bashing, which is what happens in most movies, be they “women-centric” or otherwise. We have heroes and heroines who take up cudgels (and in the case of heroes, the cudgels are literal) against rape, trafficking, dowry harassment, female infanticide and so on.
But what about the unwarranted pain that is created in the lives of people who lead seemingly happy normal lives by this demon? What about the harm that good people with good intentions inflict upon each other just because they are expected to act out their gender, their role.
That is the first point that Iraivi scores. Every single man in the movie is a good man, who loves the woman in life and as the ironic and poignant closing remark of Arul goes, “want to be happy”. For the first time since K.Balachander (whose influence is clearly acknowledged even before the title shows up) made movies, someone has made a movie concerning sexism and female oppression showing how it affects men as well. Had Arul been a woman, he wouldn’t have lost his life in the attempt to get his movie released. Had Michael, portrayed subtly by Vijay Sethupathi, been a woman, he would have never tried getting back to his earlier lover or put his loyalty to his employer over his family. Had Jegan been a woman, he would have never tried to ruin another man in an attempt to “rescue” the woman he loved. Men’s lives revolve around themselves and women’s around their bonds. We raise them to think and act like this and Iraivi in a tragedy that mirrors the work of both K.B. and Balu Mahendra shows the disastrous results of such conditioning.
The highlight of the movie as everybody is aware of now is the revelation of S.J.Surya as an actor. Playing a role that K.B.’s Rajnikanth or Kamal would have killed for, he shines in a manner that almost obliterates all the trashy movies he himself has directed. There is a sense of deliberation in all his actions, which aptly contrasts his irrational outbursts.
But there is equal credit due to Bobby Simha as well, who portrays his brother, the apparent voice of women’s rights, who correctly recognizes and empathizes with the travails of the ladies but comes up with the wrong panacea. It is good to see both him and Vijay Sethupathi not get carried away with the “mass” image that is being created for them and turn out solid performances.
Speaking of the ladies themselves, it is interesting that in a “female-centric” movie, they are in the backdrop. Yazhini and Ponni both merely go about their lives, trying to make sense of the chaos that is wreaked upon them by their men. It is possibly the character of Meenakshi, Arul and Jegan’s mother, that actually highlights this aspect of women being tossed about in the maelstrom of male actions - she is bed ridden by and is attended to by her repentant husband, but it is all too late, as it is for the other women too.
That is the other thing that makes Iraivi stand out, very much like the K.B. movies of yore. The movie has a strong plot, wonderfully etched out characters and engaging visuals while still delivering the message it set out to deliver. The sub-plot of idols of female deities being smuggled reinforces the message in a subtle manner - the men give a noble mission to their actions, that of rescuing the deities from languishing in oblivion and raising them to the pedestal where they belong. Karthik Subbaraj, take a bow sir.
The movie excels in editing and dialogues.
We are not spared the violence of Michael’s brutal murders, but when it comes to Michael himself being murdered, we don’t see it.
Malar’s lines when she talks to Michael’s uncle are reminiscent of Kaivtha, played by Sujatha meeting her lover’s mother in Aval Oru Thodarkathai. Did I tell you the movie is heavily inspired by K.B.? :-) The closing lines of the movie will forever be etched in the hearts of every educated man and woman who sees it. The irony of the “Aambalai” dialogue which has so often be used in movies in the past for men to inflict violence upon men...Wow! The camera is at ease whether capturing the idyllic beauty of Ponni’s home town (Thirunelveli?) or the claustrophobic alleys of Madras. The background score aptly compliments the movie, but the songs are not much to write home about.
Go watch Iraivi if you haven’t yet. It is a movie that every man and woman must watch to learn from, to realize how male privilege, patriarchy and sexism destroys lives of men and women alike. It is a movie that every man and woman must watch, as early ass they can so that they can go beyond their roles and gender and try to do what they all actually want - to perhaps eke out a simple life as teachers and poets in kodaikanal...
to be happy...