‘Yaathisai’ movie review: An impressive period drama made with conviction

A few narrative stumbles aside, ‘Yaathisai’ is a truly commendable feat that one can look back on for its many positives

April 20, 2023 02:10 pm | Updated 04:10 pm IST

A still from ‘Yaathisai’

A still from ‘Yaathisai’ | Photo Credit: Saregama Tamil/YouTube

Coincidence or not, Yaathisai, the latest Tamil period film with an all-new cast, will draw comparisons with Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan - 2 since the latter is gearing up for release just a week after the former’s; they are both period dramas, with a fictional twist on history, on famed Tamil kingdoms. But the similarities between these two stop there, and Yaathisai, directed by Dharani Rasendran, is a film with enough gravitas and distinction to stand tall on its own. On one hand, it does sometimes lack the finesse of a Mani Ratnam film, but it’s also much more grounded, brutal, and raw in its form, and, in that sense, can be likened more to an Indian version of Zack Snyder’s 300 than anything else — you read that right!

From the word go, there are quite a few surficial errors that Yaathisai wants you to look beyond, like the distracting CGI blood, theatrical dialogue delivery from a few actors, and the straightforward staging of a few scenes. And, although commendable for the attempt, it does take a few minutes to get used to some characters talking in 7th-century Tamil (adding the subtitles here is a win). But beyond these initial halts, what awaits a patient viewer is truly impressive.

Yaathisai (Tamil)
Director: Dharani Rasendran
Cast: Shakti Mithran, Seyon, Guru Somasundaram, Subatra Robert, Rajalakshmi
Runtime: 121 minutes
Storyline: Kodhi, a hot-blooded warrior from the Einar clan, goes on an impossible mission to defeat the Pandiyan king Ranadheeran to recapture the Chola castle

Throughout its runtime, Yaathisai takes itself very seriously and the writer means business right from the way he begins to narrate his story. An old man from the Einar clan begins to tell the tale of how 15 years prior, Kodhi (Seyon), a young hot-blooded man from their clan, took on the mighty Pandiyan king Ranadheeran (Shakti Mithran), who defeated the massive coalition army of the Cheras and Cholas. And he tells this to the son of Ranadheeran who they’ve held captive. Note that it’s not the story told to a son about his father — which is usually the case — and it’s not a story about a king taking on another. Fearing death during the Great Chera-Pandiya war, several surviving Chola clans took refuge in the dense forests, helplessly living as ‘hunting nomads,’ as one puts it. Yaathisai is the story of an underdog soldier from a lower-rung Chola clan, comprising mere hundreds in number, aspiring to defeat a Pandiyan monarch ruling from the castle of the defeated Cholas. The world of Yaathisai, as the old man goes on to narrate, then grows and grows.

The most staggeringly impressive feat of the film is how this newbie director and an inexperienced crew have pulled off a period film of this scale. Take the two big action sequences to support this; one happens when Kodhi first meets Ranadheeran and the second, a stunning sequence, involves the clash between the Einar Clan and the Perumpalli Clan. Apart from the well-choreographed action involving hundreds of stuntmen, they are also up close and brutal, putting us right in the middle of the gore-fest, so much so that you wince despite the occasional annoyance of the CGI-manufactured blood and wounds.

A still from ‘Yaathisai’

A still from ‘Yaathisai’ | Photo Credit: Saregama Tamil/YouTube

The sets, when not done using graphics, are brilliant, the acting for the most part does the job, and there’s enough to hold your attention throughout — the biggest being that there hasn’t been a film like this in Tamil (some might call it an Aayirathil Oruvan on drugs). But all that doesn’t necessarily translate to a perfect film-watching experience for there is something amateurish throwing you off every now and then.

The biggest issue is the editing; it does get a bit uneasy to see a film that refuses to let its frames, even when shot quite well, breathe a little. The sense of urgency in the narration could have eased down a bit. On the other hand, a sequence involving a human sacrifice (featuring Guru Somasundram in a cameo) is stretched beyond a point for an effect that this film didn’t need. The music in the film, though very distinctly made, is sometimes too distracting. Though the cinematography is neatly done, the irregular grading is a turn-off; it looks highly saturated in some places, making the portions that look natural seem duller, and the colour tones keep changing.

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What the poor editing and the distracting music really spoils is the clarity in the storytelling, especially considering that after a point, the screenplay struggles to move all the weight it boasted of carrying initially. Kodhi’s quest to ascend the throne has enough reasons but we don’t dig deep enough to really care and look at him as anything more than a vengeful man turned into a mad, lustful beast. Ranadheeran, meanwhile, gets to spell out who he is, interestingly, while consummating his marriage and explaining to his new wife that she means very little in this political game played by men. Also, the film isn’t clear enough in its attempts at showing the perils faced by women in this game of men, and we are asked to wait for the sequel to get our answers about an intriguing subplot, featuring Rajalakshmi as Devaradiyar, which is meant to explore that theme.

But for all these issues, this is a film that the future can look back on positively, as a commendable attempt by an all-new cast. Above all, this is coming from a young, one-film-old director who has a strong voice and, like Kodhi, the vigour to ascend to the top, pulling off something truly impressive in Yaathisai with a lot of conviction.

Yaathisai is scheduled to release in theatres this Friday

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