Cast: Sai Pallavi, RJ Balaji, Naga Shourya
Like last week's Mercury, Diya is not quite the horror film (in the pure, genre sense of the word) it's been advertised as. As with Mercury, the basis of the premise is a tragedy, and the ensuing events are tinged with the ache of a life not allowed to flower to its fullest. There's another tragedy in the film, and that's the sight of Elango Kumaravel as the sidekick of a senior cop played by RJ Balaji. After his superb, career-redefining turn in Kurangu Bommai, in which he finally shrugged off the image of the softie from Radha Mohan's movies, it's heartbreaking to see this actor in a role that's the dictionary definition of thankless. The fate of actors (as opposed to stars) in Kollywood is more horrific than anything writer-director AL Vijay conjures up in Diya.
The opening portions hold promise. We see a man (Krishna, played by Naga Shourya) and a woman — Tulasi (Sai Pallavi) — in a hospital. Another film might have led us to this scene through a couple of courtship scenes, maybe a duet that culminated in sex, some drama when Tulasi discovers she's pregnant (hence the film's earlier title, Karu, embryo)… But Diya, which runs just 100 minutes, wastes little time, and the story is quickly set up. Perhaps too quickly. The screenplay needed to dwell more on the emotional beats, so we could feel the things we are meant to feel but I can't talk about here because they'd be spoilers. I know. I know. If a film is too long, we complain, and if it's too short, we… complain.
But how can you not question the utter lack of investment in Tulasi's feelings? She undergoes a traumatic event, and it's only during her honeymoon (with Krishna) that we (and he!) realise she still carries scars from the past. Individual scenes are beautifully conceived — like the one with an album containing sketches of an unborn child (the face is featureless), or a child sleeping with an arm around the mother (we only see the tiny hand), or the part where Tulasi, after a nightmare, turns away someone who's come to help. But these scenes need solid emotional anchoring, and we get no sense of Tulasi's inner life. And without that, Diya is just a series of jump scares… that aren't much of jump scares.
There are other writing problems as well. The red herring around a villain-like character is embarrassingly obvious. The reveal of who/what is responsible for the goings-on occurs way too early, so there's practically no suspense — only the anticipation of what gruesome end will befall this character or that one. And why the delay of five years from that opening scene at the hospital to the present day? Genre films have "rules" that need to be set up, and we remain clueless. Still, the music (Sam CS, working overtime to make us feel what the screenplay should have made us feel) and the classy cinematography (Nirav Shah) make the film at least easy to sit through, in a generic sense.
But the second half really comes apart. The RJ Balaji character — named Raghavan and prone to painful jokes about his "Raghavan instinct" — turns, overnight, into a serious investigator. (This prompted more laughs than the supposed comedy he was peddling earlier.) And the scene where Tulasi saves Krishna is, again, wonderfully imagined but woefully executed. It all happens so hurriedly, it's as if they ran out of shooting days. The performances don't help. Naga Shourya and Sai Pallavi come off more like sorrowful siblings. There's not a glimpse of the initial spark that resulted in their predicament. And what about the problematic message (when the presence of a message is itself a problem)! It's a pro-life plea that brutally simplifies the complex political and personal aspects of abortion. It's way too controversial for a film this slight.
Watch trailer here: