Gargi (2022) is a rare film that rewards you if you pay attention to it. This is something that becomes apparent from the opening itself. Through a phone conversation between Gargi (Sai Pallavi) and her soon-to-be-husband Pazhani (Kalesh Ramanand), we get to know that her mother often cooks upma. So a few moments later, when Pazhani goes to Gargi's house, and her mother asks if he will have upma, we chuckle along with the couple. This minor moment lets you in on an inside joke. Take another scene at a pharmacy where Gargi buys medicine for her father's diabetes. A few scenes later, when a police officer hands over a bag of medicines for a diabetic patient, we, along with Gargi, quickly understand that the bag is meant for her father. Through these small details, the movie included us in its world and made us feel like a part of it. You don't watch the events from a distance but walk alongside the characters.
A good director competently handles the material, while the best ones use their imagination. Nothing is "original," and everything is recycled. What's important is how you recycle it. Take the scene where Brahmanandam (R. S. Shivaji), Gargi's father, accused of gang rape, walks out of the court. People angrily throw insults and abuse him while Gargi shouts, "Appa!" How does director Gautham Ramachandran visualize this scene? Using a background score, he mutes the angry voices because they all scream the same thing. Only Gargi's voice echoes loud and clear because she is saying something different from the others. It also shows how her love for her father transcends the hate around her. The camera also ominously brings our attention towards a sharp knife, leading us to expect blood. Since Ramachandran knows this is precisely what we would expect after seeing the knife, he is able to pull the rug from beneath our feet with aplomb. More on this later.
Initially, a hotshot lawyer takes up the job of defending Brahmanandam. But he backs out as soon as Advocates Association bars him from taking the case. He is not bad or corrupt. He just cannot risk his career. Bills must be paid, and his family has to be fed, for which he cannot give up on his fame and wealth. The characters who come across as bad in Gargi are simply trying to do their job. The investigating officer named Bennix (Prathap) just wants to nab the criminals. The opposition lawyer just wants a rapist to go behind bars. The journalist (Aishwarya Lekshmi) who leaked Brahmanandam's identity was pressured by her boss. These characters have no wicked agenda. They exist in a highly competitive system. To excel, they do whatever they can or is asked of them.
Ramachandran is adept at squeezing out the full potential of a rousing moment. He delays that stirring line of dialogue for a few minutes to make the scene ripe for action. He lets Gargi walk silently as the media throws questions at her. But as soon as one of them questions why they are so eager to let a rapist roam freely in the society, the scene reaches its zenith, and the movie unleashes Gargi's furious rebuke. Inside the courtroom, when a lawyer complains that a "different" judge would have efficiently handled the case, the transgender judge doesn't immediately berate the lawyer. Instead, she adjourns the court, allowing this point to burn silently in the background before bringing it up a few minutes later with maximum fervour.
In the absence of that hotshot lawyer, his novice assistant, Indrans (Kaali Venkat), steps up and defends Brahmanandam. Observe how this scene is handled. When Indrans comes to Gargi's house, there is no electricity, so the rooms are filled with darkness, mirroring the unhappiness in their life. After his request is approved, he fixes the main switch, which not only lights up the house but also fills Gargi with a ray of hope. Scenes like this prove that the man behind the camera is not merely interested in a point-and-shoot approach. Instead, he has infused some creativity in his film.
But let's go back to Ramachandran's rug-pulling skills. He is successful with this approach because he also thinks like a viewer. He not only knows our reaction upon seeing a knife but also how we tend to judge people based on their faces. This is where Shivaji's innocent looks come into play. His sad eyes and soft face signal the presence of a good soul. Moreover, a flashback to Gargi's childhood reveals how Brahmanandam saved her from a paedophile. These flashbacks are mostly colourless because they show something miserable. When the rapey teacher comments on Gargi's frock, we see it in yellow colour and grasp exactly why she was scolding her sister earlier for wearing a yellow dress. Furthermore, in the present, Brahmanandam has two daughters, one of whom is as young as the girl he is accused of raping. How then can this man, this father commit such a heinous crime? Even the victim's father breaks into tears and understands that such a man cannot be guilty.
But guilty Brahmanandam is. When the movie discloses this information, we go into turmoil. At first, we scoffed at the media and the public for being idiots and ignorant. But the fact that they were right in this case evokes mixed reactions. After making us believe Brahmanandam is innocent, the movie turns the tables and hurls us through the ugliness that nothing is black or white. When Indrans tries to see the case from all sides, Gargi tells him to only think from one side – her side. While watching the movie, you become Indrans and Gargi becomes Gargi. When you apply other perspectives, the film aligns you towards the goal of its titular character, and you surrender yourself to it. There is so much Gargi says without actually saying it that the scene played over the end credits feels jarring. It looks like a flab that the movie dispenses just because it has something extra to say to its audience. It doesn't feel cohesive with the rest of the film. This is not exactly a deal-breaker, but such moments leave a slightly bad aftertaste when your expectations and rewards run high while watching a movie as good as Gargi.