With all the hoopla around the very title, Iraivi, and the manidhi song (Iraivi is an attempt at feminizing a word traditional used to refer to God; manidhi is again feminizing the ‘man’ word), I went into the theater expecting an honest rendering of at least one woman’s story, if not all 3, as claimed in the trailer and the teasers. But, I guess that was too much and I was literally begging for trouble! Come on, you can't fault me for nursing such expectations, especially after the amazing films like Jigarthanda and Pizza that Karthik Subburaj (the director) had dished out earlier.
For someone who could delve right into his characters and make them look convincing like he did in his earlier attempts, Karthik’s characters in Iraivi fall rather, short. The film worked only in parts for me, and before I go into any more details on why the film as a whole didn’t work for me, I’ll first dwell a little on the parts that did.
There were some extremely well shot, thoroughly researched, and crafted scenes and dialogues. In one of the scenes, the men sit around a half-dead woman, the mother of the protagonist, and talk. And talk. And talk. The scene for me was a brilliant piece of feminist reading of the everyday. The woman, after years of struggling under an oppressive family structure, with the foil of a neglectful and an arrogant husband, has almost called it a day and is in a half dead state, where she neither cares or can even be bothered, for she has been milked dry of all her humanity by the patriarchal structure. The son, whose only way to meet failure is to down gallons of alcohol, with absolutely zero responsibility towards his role of a father or a husband, becomes this little scared baby who runs to its mama, asking, no demanding its share of attention, completely blind to the pain of the almost dead mother! While the dialogue begins with adequate foreword on the mother’s great sacrifices, the heart of it continues to revolve around what matters to men; their aspirations, their failed dreams, the arrogance of other men, what to be done next, the plotting, and other macho things. As these conversations happen, the camera keeps panning around the room, prising open a male world, where women are these emaciated (figuratively), half dead, muted spectators. Just to nail the point, comes the rude dismissal of the woman nurse, who keeps reminding them that this place is something the mother has finally won for herself and they are usurping even that!
Another high-impact scene for me is the one where Michael (played by Vijay Sethupathi) confronts his wife about a probable straying. The shock Ponni (Anjali) registers on her face is simply par excellence. It doesn’t tell you anything, it could be outrage or even fear of being discovered, but she never gives him an answer. As Michael looks at her expectantly, it begins to rain, which Ponni notices fleetingly and runs out the next moment to pick the drying clothes. This one scene adequately illustrates the two different worlds that men and women straddle every day. Besides exposing the double standards of men who hold on to the sexual ‘purity,’ of their wives like a holy grail, it deftly shows how little a woman cares about sexual purity or the husband’s obsession over it! She’d rather do something more productive and useful like pick the clothes before they get wet!
Except such glimpses of brilliance, the film has left, at least me, longing for more! Someone called it an unusual feminist film
. I literally blanched at that! (He even titles it with "few good women." *Yawn* where were they, actually?) Now that was taking it too far; it was an
out and out boy’s day out film, complete with gore and swearing, amidst which
the men have an epiphanic moment of a sexist realization about their monstrosity
or the absolute helpless, vulnerability of 'their' women! The problem is right there,
in that binary, Karthik Subburaj! Neither are men such monsters within the
family, nor are women all that broken or under the mercy of a single man. The
structure oppresses women, and they, unlike the women in the film, regardless
of class, negotiate, and many of the women today are empowered enough and do
negotiate a far better deal. That of course doesn’t mean that today women are
all equal to men and they are all partying hard in a feminist paradise! I am just saying that you couldn't read into the complexity of the oppressor-oppressed relationship under the aegis of patriarchy.
A hint for you when you attempt mansplaining women oppression next time is to remember that the prototype of an oppressive figure in real life would be the “guilt-ridden” Radha Ravi and not any of your 3 little boys, who have clear anger issues, alcoholism, and other such problems that need psychological intervention! By presenting these little caricatures of men, who are actually struggling and buckling under patriarchy, you aren’t really helping the cause of the women or these poor men! Women’s struggle within the patriarchal confines of a home, and I don’t just mean the struggle of just the wife, is against not only the men, but against a structure that's founded in not just women oppression, but the oppression of the powerful against the powerless. It would have been refreshing and truly feminist or even unusually feminist, as one of your uncritical fans mentioned, if the only women spoke or even if the film had been about them at all in the first place!
The film revolves around three men, all spoilt, selfish brats running around TASMAC, chasing their independent dreams, with no particle of responsibility neither about themselves or the people around them. Now this was a betrayal of sorts after showing the three women in the first few shots as if we are going to be told of their stories. The women in this film continued to be the fixtures that they have been all these years in the history of mainstream Tamil movies. Even if one side steps the male-centeredness of the film, the absolute vacuum one encountered in terms of even the experience of the female character, or their presence, was too to much bear. The film runs for almost 160 minutes, and I am sure the scope for women wasn’t anywhere more than 40-50 minutes, at a generous estimate. If this is not mansplaining woman liberation, what is? Next time around you want to make a movie on women liberation, tell the men to lower their decibel; they seem to scream louder than the women about women liberation!
As already mentioned, keeping aside all political hang ups, the film works to some extent. But it misses the mark by a huge margin, especially the mark that Karthik Subburaj made with Jigarthanda and Pizza. The storytelling was good in parts, all actors did a great job, and the photography was great too.
SJ Surya definitely deserves a word of appreciation. I have always steered clear of his directorial ventures and his epic acting attempts! However this one stands apart, and it speaks of the director’s potential to get the best out of an actor. I liked every frame that had SJ Surya in it. An absolute powerhouse of an actor; a great find, but which works only under the strict supervision of an able director! Radha Ravi and the character John gave some great performances; was totally floored by them! Anjali was good, except for her Telugu accent grating on your ears. So, I wouldn’t write off the movie completely, it does have some interesting spots, but that’s all there is to it…spotty and speckled with the faraway haunt of a feminist specter!
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