Soni: The powerful telling of a simple, ordinary, commonplace slice of women’s lives

For me, the worst thing about watching a film on television is the distraction. A pile of laundry starts moaning for attention. Tea leaves in the bottle jump up and down crying out to be boiled. The Amazon delivery agent keeps calling to deliver groceries I’m too lazy to go to the store for. Not to mention work requests on Whatsapp and bad jokes on Twitter.

Almost always, when I watch a film on TV, I’m not really ‘watching’ it the way I would in a film theatre. At the movies, I’m an active observer, consumer. At home, on television, I merely exist on the same plane as the film, grabbing once scene here, one action there and stringing together my own film.

Which is why I shy away from watching non-kuppai padams on TV — for fear of not respecting the film enough. Or not taking in everything the film gives me. Or worse, not having the mental energy at the end of a long workday to enjoy the film.

Which is why, In spite of all the tweets and reviews reminding me about Soni, I procrastinated. Until..

Within the first ten minutes of the film, I’d lost the ability to be distracted. Perhaps because I was watching it with subtitles, I had to keep my eye on the screen at all times. More likely because it touched a chord, something in my heart wanted to listen to the story.

I found myself physically reacting to every scene in the film — a tear that fights to escape, a lump in my throat, a sigh of solidarity, a grunt of disgust. While watching Soni, I felt a distinct sense of relatability.

Like the scene where a policewoman laughs off workplace harassment — a man asks for her phone number on an emergency hotline — perhaps because there are larger fish to fry. Elsewhere, Soni smells her clothes to decide if they need to be washed — for someone who is hardly worried about not having cylinder to cook, washing clothes is perhaps a bit much.

Or like the scene where a friendly neighbour advises Soni to wear Sindoor to avoid street sexual harassment. She stays stoic about the suggestion. I began thinking if she rejects the idea of dressing/behaving a certain way to be treated with respect. Nah ha! A few scenes later, she gives very similar advice to a young girl, just as casually as the friendly neighbour had.

The overarching idea that I took away from both Soni and her superior, Kalpana, is their mastery of listening, ignoring and carrying on. Both of them at some point get told about taking up an easier job, they both ignore. Kalpana’s husband — who is also her superior — tells her repeatedly that she’s too soft. In fact, in a scene, the couple is in bed reading. She asks her husband to reconsider the punishment to Soni. He lectures her about taking too much interest in her team’s personal life. She listens, ignores, and persists with her request.

This doesn’t mean they don’t do anything. Far from it. Kalpana and Soni intervene and take care of every woman in their lives, albeit in varying capacities. They find both violent and subversive ways to protect women in need. Yet, they do it without pomp and glory, like they always knew this is what it would be like.

Ivan Ayr tells the stories of two women and their unconventional and volatile lives with empathy and compassion. It is almost as if Ayr had no message; just the wish to show us a slice of life that is not often shown.

In doing that, he doesn’t cut corners, he doesn’t hurry to the point. Every scene is lingering and delicate. He lets the camera stay, watch and capture life in its own pace. In the opening scene, we see Soni ride her cycle in the night, chased by a cat caller — the scene takes its own sweet time to crescendo. Later, we see Soni make tea, in its entirety. We watch Kalpana spend previous time tidying up her niece’s room before she speaks to her. In every scene, there is enough time and intricacy to let us take in its full impact.

Soni and Kalpana are two women navigating their lives in the corrupt, patriarchal, uncaring Delhi, with the unfair hand they are dealt with. Yet, they play, if only to stay in the game.

The Road To Tamil Cinema Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

So, Aaruthra is also full of good intentions. Pa Vijay intends to make an awareness campaign for child sexual abuse — “Like how Strawberry (his previous film) imparted a huge relevant message, Aaruthrawill also have one for the society,” he told the Deccan Chronicle. From the way he treats the film, it’s easy to understand that for Pa Vijay, Aaruthra isn’t an ordinary film.

What he makes of it is constipated horse-crap cake, over-kneaded in gowmootra, baked with broken glass chips and served on a multiple-edged sword. 

Column is here.

‘Viswasam’ Review: Nayanthara Should Be The Hero Of This Ajith-Starrer

Viswasam begins as you’d expect: full of build up for Thookkudurai. Even his detractors stand up respectfully for him subconsciously. Nothing in the village happens without his consent. He’s their protector and father figure. He is powerful and loved. Yet, this benevolent overlord is underlined by a sense of melancholy. A festival he presides over brings the melancholy to boil and he begins his journey of redemption.

This takes us into a flashback 10 years earlier, where we are given another round of nauseating build up. By this time, I had nearly come to dismiss the film as yet another lazy Ajith aggrandisation endeavour. Until Nayantara arrives.

Review is here.

From ‘Kaala’ To ‘Pariyerum Perumal’, The Best Tamil Films Of 2018

2018 began like any year does in the Tamil film world with popular male actor-led love-action fare like GulebagavaliSketch and Thaanaa Serndha Koottam, occupying large screens. Vijay Sethupathi had five releases this year, Prabhudeva and Jyotika had three, and Rajinikanth, Vikram, Vishal and Nayantara had two films each in lead roles.

Yet this year also saw many miracles. Both Jyotika and Nayantara featured as police officers — ones with agency for a change, something that women cops are rarely attributed with in Tamil film scripts. With Seethakkathi’s release, Vijay Sethupathi has played a virgin, a cop, a frugal don, the god of death and an aging actor all in one year! Keerthy Suresh too deftly juggled the wide range of roles that were offered to her — from playing the incredibly layered Savitri in Nadigaiyar Thilagam to the role of a motion poster in Sarkar.

My list of top films of the year for Huffington Post.

Making the audience do the homework

Amy Jackson, playing Nila — Nice Intelligent Lovely Assistant — in Rajnikanth’s latest 2.0 (2018), says, “vada poche” to great comic effect. It is a joke that only makes sense if you know the reference to a Vadivelu comedy from another film.

Nila is perhaps the first robot to indulge in some self-referential pastiche that Tamil cinema humans are neck-deep in.

In this year-end essay for the Firstpost, I write about pastiche as a lazy way to establish audience connections.