Director: Roshan Andrews
Cast: Roshan Andrews, Saiju Kurup, Manju Warrier
Vehicles or different modes of transportation form an important motif in Roshan Andrrews’ Prathi Poovankozhi. The opening shot itself is that of a cycle, with Gopichettan (Alencier) sitting behind a youngster as he makes his way to Madhuri’s (Manju Warrier). Her friend Rosamma (Anusree) is then introduced — we see her hop on to a stranger’s motorbike to catch up with the brisk Madhuri, who is in a hurry to catch the morning bus to get to work on time. Despite the effort, she reaches work late, but just by three or four minutes. The reason, she says, is “bus chadhichu. (Or the bus cheated us.)”
This statement foreshadows an incident that goes on to nearly destroy her life. On another day, on a similar commute, a man gropes her from behind and runs away, before she can catch him (Balamurugan’s camera cuts to a Gandhi statue after his escape). Most of the women in her life, cutting across religions and age groups, dismiss this incident as routine, as something every woman goes through in a public space. But Madhuri doesn’t take that as any consolation, neither does she back down upon realising that the man who groped her is a criminal. Her idea of revenge is to slap him for the crime he has committed, and that’s justice as she sees it.
But this criminal in question gets a hero’s introduction with a sprawling fight set in the most cinematic of places…the dead centre of a vegetable market. He also uses two primary weapons as he beats a bunch of faceless goons to pulp in full public view…a jackhammer and a banana bunch, both phallic symbols, and he goes on to proclaim, ‘Njan Antappan aanu da…“aanu appan” (I am the father of man).
Not that this stops Madhuri, who even admits that’s she afraid, but sees no other option than to retaliate. When it is time, after a lot of searching, to exact her idea of justice, it’s in the middle of a railway station, with a train (another form of commute) coming in the middle, separating the two. A group of attackers stabs Antappan multiple times as Madhuri stands there watching. There’s trauma and shock, but she refuses to see this as karmic justice. “God may have punished him now, but I still haven’t.”
Lines like these make Madhuri a fascinating character. If she’s still so hell bent on revenge, why does she help the man get to a hospital? Is it the humanity in her that makes her do this or is it something far more sinister? What if Antappan dies before Madhuri gets her justice…that too is a possibility she has to constantly wrestle with. Because, revenge as an emotion is more lenient towards men.
Not only does this incident get her kicked out of her job but she also finds herself in the middle of another system of abuse when a police officer, who is supposed to help her, begins to wield his power — first to make advances at her and then to trap her. Like her uncle Gopi and her friend Rosamma, Madhuri never finds (and also doesn’t need) a “vehicle” that can take her away from this mess. She doesn’t want a husband who can solve her problems, even when such an offer presents itself.
The ending, which culminates in another incident in another bus (despite the convenient timing), finally gets Madhuri to let out all that bottled-up rage, like rain bursting out of an angry cloud. In this rage, every man becomes Antappan, but her fight is no longer just for herself…it’s for every woman who has felt violated, to reclaim not just their right over public space but also their own bodies.
Written by Unni R., the film is populated with several interesting characters, all of whom present interesting anti-theses to Madhuri, like Antappan’s wife who sticks by him even after everything he has done, and the mysterious Sheeba (Grace Antony), who seems to be only other woman who shares a somewhat similar idea of justice. The writing is also careful to never judge Rosamma for her many boyfriends and her decision to marry someone just to keep her family happy.
Yet it feels like a terrible misstep when the same film makes a fool out of one of her boyfriends for the way he speaks and behaves (he asks Madhuri if he should go back home on a bus or a train) for the sake of comedy. Even a song in the beginning involving Gopi and Madhuri feels out of place in a film that sets its eyes on matters far more ambitious.
But, it is Gopi Sundar’s overpowering background score that feels most alien in a challenging film like this. It never lets moments be, using techniques of mass commercial cinema to jackhammer the scene’s emotions right into the skulls of the viewer. Which also means that Roshan Andrews the actor easily outperforms the director to give us a character that delivers weakness just as well as power. And, if anyone thought Manju Warrier hasn’t had too many great performances in her second coming, show them Prathi Poovankozhi along with Asuran, to remind them that no one can play anger like she can.