- Platform: Amazon Prime Videos
- Release Date: 06/05/2022
- Cast: Keerthy Suresh, Selvaraghavan, Kanna Ravi
- Director: Arun Matheswaran
Ponni (Keerthy Suresh), a lower caste police constable and wife of a waged laborer (who dreams of making it big in village politics) is viciously wronged by a group of upper-caste landowners. A simple altercation between the landowners and Ponni’s husband quickly spirals into a bizarre and inhuman retaliation by the landowners. They not only brutally rape Ponni but also burn her husband and child alive in their humble dwelling. Ponni’s stepbrother, Sangayya (Selvaraghavan) is reduced to a silent spectator of the heinous crimes as he is violently disarmed and by the time he regains consciousness, the house and its residents are already aflame. Sangayya’s wife and child were brutally murdered by similar men for stealing a mango from their orchard. He had caged his vengeful spirit when he laid eyes on Ponni’s little daughter and she proved to be his own walking talking reason for rehabilitation. When Ponni’s daughter is killed in such a gruesome manner, Sangayya calls on her sister to accompany him on a journey to hell where he plans to drop off each of the perpetrators of the ghastly crime committed against Ponni at their designated locations in hell. Saani Kaayidham is the story of that journey.
It is not about the story but about the execution
I have always believed that the Tamil film industry churns out some of the best revenge thrillers in the Indian film landscape. Their specialty is revenge films that center on caste and racial discrimination. Asuran is still fresh in my memories and now we have a film like this that is as unbridled in its execution of grotesque violence as it is in its expression of the caste divide and how its impacts the lives of the different sections of the society. The story of Saani Kaayidham is one that we have heard and experienced a million times before but what makes this film so special is how it is told. The weight of the immense trauma and uncontrollable urge for extracting gratifying revenge by not only desecrating the flesh of the perpetrators but inflicting enough pain to scar their souls even in their afterlife is what drives the narrative and every frame of the film. The fact that the director uses this aspect of the film as its fuel and uses it to fill every frame of the film with raw emotions and expressions of it makes this film poignant and powerful.
The ensemble cast turns into the characters more than they try to play the characters
It has been a while since I have seen commercial actors turn themselves into such unrecognizable versions of themselves. Keerthy Suresh was the biggest surprise for me. I could never imagine someone like her turning into a bruised and battered Ponni with such realism, conviction, and power. There wasn’t a single scene in the film where I looked at her and saw even a semblance of Keerthy Suresh. She was Ponni from start to finish. The scene where she wonders how her daughter and husband might have felt when they were set on fire sent shivers down my spine. The way she touches her face and skin as she mouths her dialogues was a masterstroke from the director and was equally well realized by Suresh who outdid her best constantly throughout the film. If this doesn’t prove to be a career-altering role for her, I don’t know what will.
Watching Selvaraghavan play Sangayya after his unbearably annoying rendition of a secret service agent in Beast was no less of a surprise. I felt during the screening of Beast that there must be more to this man but his persona and acting guiles got overshadowed by the pathetic Hindi dubbing and after a while, he just became another inconvenience in a pile of inconveniences in that film. In Saani Kaayidham, Selvaraghavan turns in an extremely rooted, dramatic, and quirky performance that aids the film immensely in maintaining its grip on the audiences and pushing the narrative forward.
His character is the thinking man in comparison to the raging volcano of violence and retribution that Ponni turns into as the story progresses. He is the one who is shown tracking down the men and he is the one who is in a state of mind to make conscious and calculated decisions. It is this aspect of his character that makes him integral to the story. He is a man who loves with all his heart and he proves his worth to atleast two individuals before the film ends. These bits are the most heartwarming and the most heartbreaking in the entire film.
The many antagonists of the film are terrific. Every one of them extracted immense aversion and hatred and this made the violence committed against them that much more desirable and enjoyable if at all I may say so. Their renditions of the respective characters were so lifelike and affecting that I couldn’t help but want each one of them tortured beyond recognition before the film ended. The fact that they were able to extract such hatred from someone like me is proof enough of the success of their respective performances.
Violence! Violence! Violence!
I have never seen such unbridled and grotesque violence in an Indian film in years. The fact that some of these acts are committed on the characters that we care about only makes it worse. Once the protagonists start making a move against the perpetrators, the violence turns uncontrollably gruesome with every takedown. A lot of it is shown on screen and even the ones that are suggestive leave a substantial impact. The fact that you are left to imagine what might have happened to the characters only makes it worse. The lead-up to the sequences that culminate in violence is carefully envisioned. Every bit of the violence is a result of an emotional outburst and the audiences are thoughtfully led into it using the various technicalities as well as the tried and tested techniques of cinematic storytelling. This results in sequences of raw power that not only have the desired bloodshed but also have enough reasons to justify that bloodshed.
Technicalities that not only “wow” but add to the impact of the storytelling
Saani Kaayidham begins with an almost 3-minutes long one-take that is shot in black and white. The impact of this sequence on my psyche was profound. I was instantaneously hooked by the narrative and couldn’t think of anything else except how the characters got to that point in the story. The impact of this sequence has as much to do with the uncanny manner of storytelling as it has to do with the audio-visual representation of it.
The usage of close-ups and extreme close-ups in Saani Kaayidham was extensive. The close-ups are primarily used to communicate the mental state of specific characters. I haven’t seen close-ups used this efficiently and that too when the camera lingers on the faces of the actors for as long as we see here. One has to give due credit to the actors for their simmering display of emotions but to use this technique to convey the sheer pain and angst of the characters to the audiences and then use the same knowledge of the audiences to thrill them with the ensuing action was a masterstroke from the director.
The background score of the film was unnerving and filled the atmosphere with a sense of discomfort and the feeling of something evil unfolding. Certain portions where we see the characters do something unthinkable are often complemented with a score that is as different from the prevailing situation as it can be. This creates interesting contrasts in the visuals and the audio successfully creating an eerie atmosphere. One of the best examples of this is the scene where an antagonist is butchered by Ponni and Sangayya with the Mahabharata playing in the background. The sound design of the film is just as good. Every scene is dripping with atmospheric sounds that add so much to the overall feel of it and also add a sense of realism to all that is unfolding.
It would be a blasphemy to not give brownie points to Arun Matheswaran for his astute direction. Every aspect of the film points to his thoughtful control over the narrative. Be it the performances, the technicalities, or even the manner in which the grotesque violence is put out, Arun Matheswaran stamps his authority over the film with elan and yet is able to give us an experience that is personal and will impact different people in different ways.
Saani Kaayidham is available on Amazon Prime Videos. If you enjoy revenge dramas and have no problem with violence, then this film should be at the top of your watch list this week. I was in two minds about whether to review this film or the new releases of the week, namely Jayeshbhai Jordaar and Local Utpat. I decided to go with this film for the simple reason that I feel that it is a much better and more rewarding cinematic experience than the two new releases of the week and you wouldn’t even have to step out of your home to enjoy this film.
Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)
Also read: Anik Dutta’s film on Satyajit Ray finds no show in two WB govt-run theatres
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