‘Ispade Rajavum Idhaya Raniyum’ Wants Us To Empathise With A Toxic, Violent Man

Ranjit Jeyakodi’s film is perfectly in line with recent ‘toxic male’ films like ‘Arjun Reddy’, ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’ and ‘Taramani’.

There is a scene in Ispade Rajavum Idhaya Raniyum (IRIR) where Gautham (Harish Kalyan), an angry, violent man, helps Tara (Shilpa Manjunath), a kind solemn woman, escape a scene of violence. He asks her, “eppo paathaalum crime scene-laye irukkiye” (how come you’re always at crime scenes?). Nothing captures the tone and intent of the film as well as this scene does.

The three times that Gautham and Tara met each other became violent/crime scenes mainly because he made it so. Yet, he is nonchalant, even eager, to blame it on her. Throughout the film, Gautham blames his mother, “ponnunga” (as in, generally, women) and Tara specifically for his bad behaviour. The film wants us to listen to him, empathise with his predicament and understand his story. And gosh, is it an ugly one.

IRIR is the story of Gautham trying to prove that he’s the least horrible of the men in this world, and wanting a badge for it. Every time he behaves badly, there is another man exhibiting worse behaviour. When Gautham beats up a man in the middle of the night, the man runs away and abandons his girlfriend, making Gautham the gentleman. When Gautham goes to the heroine’s house and throws stones at her window, her father comes out and makes personal attacks at Gautham’s mother. When he physically attacks Tara’s friend, there is a “mad man” in the background singing ‘women are all evil’.

The only reason Gautham is the ‘hero’ is because Ranjit Jeyakodi, the film’s writer-director, creates a world where every other man is significantly worse than him. For good measure, Gautham’s friends are always making crude jokes about women and relationships on the side. (If you know what’s so funny about MaKaPa calling everyone Kumar-u, please let me know).

In that sense, IRIR is perfectly in line with any of the recent ‘toxic male’ films you might have seen—Kaatru Veliyidai, Taramani, Arjun Reddy and the likes. And just like in all of these, in the end, the hero redeems himself, having to face absolutely no consequences for his actions other than taking a bike ride across picturesque mountains.

When the film ends, Ranjit wants us to believe that Gautham understands the folly of his ways and knows how much trauma he has put Tara through. If this were true, why bother with so much screen time, dialogue and empathy for an abuser?

Let’s accept that IRIR’s intention was, in fact, to show a light on Gautham’s toxic ways. A far better way to do this would have been to concentrate on the story of Tara, a young woman deftly juggling education, family pressure, an impending marriage arranged when she was a child, an inter-class relationship and the unbearable Gautham. It is she and Gautam’s mother who bear the burden and guilt of his obnoxious behaviour.  

If I must be fair, until the intermission, IRIR isn’t a boring film, even if every scene is some form of regurgitated soup scene with Gautham’s voiceover. Kalyan keeps you hooked, playing Gautham with a mix of nihilism and vulnerability. He brings Gautham to life as a broken man, a teetotaller among drinkers, jobless among gig economy workers and lonely among friends. For a man like Gautham, love for a woman like Tara is preordained. She is kind to him in a world where he thinks everyone hates him. Her kindness is new to him and unsettles him as much as it exhilarates. She is the perfect masochist for the sadist in him.

Yet, after the interval, the film becomes unwatchable. There are seemingly unending conflict scenes, and the only form of resolution is when Tara comes back and they have makeup sex. The conflicts in this movie don’t really escalate, they just repeat. Scene after scene, he treats her badly and she walks away, only to return parroting the same dialogue about always being by his side.

If this were an SJ Suryah love story, he’d have told us whether or not the lovers come together in the end — love stories are pretty obvious, aren’t they? But Ranjit Jeyakodi wants to retain the suspense, he doesn’t want us to know if Gautham and Tara end up together. But much of this suspense is cheating. There are several scenes where there is suspense just for the sake of suspense. The scene right before the interval, for instance, leaves us waiting for an accident that might potentially kill Gautham. Yet, when we return, the film just goes on like nothing happened. Every time we see Gautham repent for his past behaviour, there is some bit of cheating.

Throughout the film, Gautham walks away without consequences for uttering the most insulting/abusive lines. In one scene, he publicly humiliates Tara for hugging someone and grabs her hand. When she says he is hurting her and tears up, he yells at her, “kanlaye vechutruppingala” (do you always keep it in your eyes). The audience around me roared in understanding applause—that women use tears as weapon. The film is full of scenes like these which give Gautham the chance to humiliate, abuse, gaslight and destroy Tara. His near-murderous experience and the Himalaya tour after that is just not enough consequence.

IRIR’s ‘hero’ is a toxic, violent man who deserves to be in jail. In an interview before the film’s release, director Jayakodi dismissed questions about depicting toxic masculinity, saying he doesn’t consider these issues while writing. He should have read and engaged with at least some of the pieces written about earlier ‘toxic male’ films and then, maybe, he wouldn’t have failed as much as a writer.

Previously published in Huffington Post India.