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‘Aadai’ review: Amala Paul elevates a weakly-scripted film

Amala Paul in 'Aadai'  

It is Tamil cinema's most trending phrase at the moment — the 'female-centric' film.

I hate it because I believe that it is deeply misogynistic to categorise films as such. That women have had to find a way out of the patriarchal shadows of a Tamil film hero in order to display their acting chops, however, is the unfortunate truth. It is a situation that stakeholders in Tamil film industry too seem immensely comfortable with.

Aadai
  • Director: Rathna Kumar
  • Cast: Amala Paul, Sriranjini, RJ Sarithiran, Vivek Prasanna, Ramya Subramanian
  • Storyline: A woman, who dares to break stereotypes, and makes a living out of playing pranks on people, wakes up to find the roles reversed with seemingly no way out.

Having said that, does Aadai qualify for the best review a mainstream Tamil film can earn — is it worth the ₹150? Well, it does and it doesn't. Let me borrow a few words from Vadivelu to explain my dilemma: it is a film whose building is strong but the basement is weak!

Aadai is an Amala Paul show throughout. The star breaks every convention about the "ideal Tamil ponnu", last seen taking advice from Rajinikanth in Padayappa on what it takes to be one.

Here's a spoiler: Amala Paul's character is named Suthanthira Kodi, which she changes to Kamini because she chooses to live with freedom instead of merely carrying it around in her name. She is branded a sadist by her friend, and the biggest nightmare in her life is finding herself dressed in a traditional outfit (a red sari) at a temple, and praying to the deity while smelling of floral blossom. She also rides a cool motorcycle to work. She drinks, smokes a joint, and hangs out with male co-workers at odd hours... all this much to the chagrin of her rooted-in-tradition mother (Sriranjini).

But that's just how far deep the character design goes. That, I thought, was a disappointment. Perhaps, it was a mistake to expect layers to this woman's persona. It is difficult to shake the question of... is that all there is to Kamini? Maybe, Rathna Kumar thought one "bold step" at a time.

Where the director scores is in the adult comedy. There's a generous addition of double-meaning dialogues, and some genuinely bring a smile to your face. There are also numerous pop-culture references. The digs on Vijay film Kaththi's contemporary analysis of communism, that tea shop owner threatening to one day become a Chief Minister or Prime Minister, the 'would I have to pay royalty for singing a song in a game of drunk antakshari?' scene, and the obvious gag on a recent politician's preference to be a centrist in a neatly concealed scene are all things to look out for.

 

Then, there are those little things. The numerous metaphors. The second half, which is when the film gains momentum, is replete with them. For instance, when Amala is trapped in an empty building without a piece of cloth on her, threatening her modesty, she finds herself bumping into a world full of men.

First comes the voyeur who spots the naked girl from a mile across in another building. The fetish with which he comes running towards her is a marker of how the society looks at a vulnerable woman. It is a feeding frenzy. Then comes the mirror, which she holds up against her torso, with the object's face turned towards us — the audience. It is a trap. Rathna Kumar catches us looking into the mirror in an ultimate Choli ke peeche kya hai moment. It pushes us to reflect upon ourselves, and our morality, because here is a woman who needs help, and all we do is to stare at her bare torso.

Then it is one man after another man after another. That is a woman's world. It is poetic. The deep mistrust in men is best captured in the scenes where Kamini rings up her mobile service provider's call centre hoping to be connected to a female voice. She asks for a female delivery assistant after placing a restaurant order. And when there is a suspected murder, it takes a female doctor to rescue the life of a woman in distress, long after a group of male cops had declared her dead without even taking the trouble of checking for life on her.

Still, the best scene was the group of feral dogs chasing Amala's character as she runs to save her life. Foaming at the mouth, having tasted blood, it takes little imagination to decipher who or what the dogs represent. And when she is pushed into a corner, broken, bruised and battered, Kamini picks up a weapon, and the dogs cower and run away.

 

But in paying attention to these little things, Rathna Kumar seems to have missed out on developing a strong plot. Characters around Amala Paul while appearing to influence her situation end up leaving little to no impact on the screenplay. And when the big plot reveal happens, the intensity built up until that point by virtue of Amala Paul's screen presence, deflates in an instant. This kind of a plot reveal didn't really merit the scenes that preceded it, and that is a game killer. In an instant, the film turns into an unconnected mess.

Overall, Amala Paul usurps everyone and everything, which is great, but is also eerily similar to the manner how heroes overshadow everything in their film. This is not a criticism. It is a worry. Perhaps, what we need is a plot-centric film.

Surely, Tamil cinema writer-directors cannot be so one dimensional that they cannot understand the distinction of making one.


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Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 3:12:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/aadai-review-amala-paul-elevates-a-weakly-scripted-film/article28615927.ece

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