Cast: Radhakrishnan Parthiban, Varalakshmi Sarathkumar, Robo Shankar, Priyanka Ruth, Brigida Saga
Director: Radhakrishnan Parthiban
Whether this story required the format in which it is being told, is an existential question that might not be of much help here. The filmmaker has chosen to tell his story through a certain, entrancing method, and our role as a viewer becomes that of trying to digest it in this intended form. Parthiban's new film is certainly indulgent, and feels like the brainchild of an artist's longing for attention, but is all the while endearing in its attempts to win its audience over. It's a daring feat, without an iota of doubt.
The experience of this film begins with a making sequence, one that works as a symbol of claiming and underlining the crew's efforts – which is a decision I find myself agreeing with, in this particular film's context. There are plenty of transition points for this non-linear to move from one set unit to another (which includes getting certain props and actors ready, alongside switching to new lighting setups), and a lot of them are designed in a way that makes them look like a classic stitch point, (darkened lighting, object covering the camera, etc) akin to those seen in Birdman and 1917. But Iravin Nizhal is not like any of those films, it has actually gone the length to tell its story in a single shot. So, it only makes sense for the film to go another extra mile to prove the merit of its design. The only post-production editing that seems to have happened here is the (awkward) slowing down of certain sequences to accommodate a lengthier voiceover.
But the making video does take some magic away from one particular aspect of the experience – the set design. Watching the film after having seen the manufactured nature of the set, does impact the potential of momentary fascination in many of the scenes. I wish the makers wouldn't have revealed the smart mechanics of the sets, by just sticking to the engaging tension in the various retakes of this mammoth undertaking. The memory of the set design becomes an undoing in moments that I otherwise would've been captivated by. This is a small cost of the making-sequence (read: compromise) that's being used to prove a bigger point.
The actual film begins with Rahman's terrific 'Kaayam', a part-sermon, part-warning to a sinner, playing over abstract imagery that alludes to the title of the film, shadow of the night. This is the story of a man's final attempt at retribution against someone who wronged him, all the while repenting his sins – and by extension – his birth. It's an expansive journey, with buckets of memories to pour into. It can be seen as a spiritual sequel to Parthiban's debut, Pudhiya Paadhai, which also spoke of how a supposedly "contaminated" birth can eventually lead to an equal or even darker life for the newborn.
Parthiban's arguably cynical worldview is painted on a wild canvas here. Nandu's life (Parthiban) is ridden with sexual abuse, rape, deceit, and corruption. He's found feeding off his mother after her death at the hands of her husband. "Yen porappukku naan dhan poruppa?" Nandu asks his abusive father figure. This moral rambling is undoubtedly crafty in wordplay, but the weight of it isn't felt in the moment it's a part of. The director doesn't offer such lines the pause and calmness to leave an impact.
What we're watching is essentially the last couple of hours of our protagonist's life (the single-shot device makes sense from this vantage point). Nandu's on a hunt. He has a gun to go for the kill. But he's also being chased by police. He's treading amidst scorpions. There are all these stakes, but we don't sense the tension. He is also going on a retrospective of how his life has pushed him to this point. So many memories, good people, bad people, curses, and blessings. But we still don't get anything substantial to feel for. His own conscience will eventually make him pay for his sins, or was it his birth that destined him to such a death? There's no tangible answer in here and the suggestive ones don't register their presence.
Thus, the philosophical pursuit of the film isn't quite realised by the time we reach the end of its narrative. In extrapolating Nandu's sins to the mere circumstance of his birth, the story also becomes quite emotionally illogical with how a victim of sexual abuse grows up to become a rapist himself. It could happen, maybe, but the film doesn't stress the beats that take the character to those depths.
Another undoing of the film can be attributed to Parthiban's omnipresence. We're watching him act, we're hearing him narrate, and he's also dubbing for his fictional younger self. The last one hampers our emotional connection with that character at that point in life because the actor essaying him isn't allowed to take full ownership of the role. This is the sort of device that makes the filmmaker look indulgent, and the film, unaffecting. There are also some fascinating moments where present-day Nandu spills over to react to the world in his past. The poise seen in these instances isn't seen in plenty of others where we only get a rapid glimpse at the event they're depicting.
With an unshakeable feeling of watching a stage play because of its cramped and crowded sets, the gapless soundscape (voiceover, dialogue, score), and the uncut nature of filming, Iravin Nizhal can come across as being excessive. Character beats aren't allowed to breathe amidst remarkable technical endeavours. There's more to respond to in the making video than the story itself. So what we have here is a film where the thought behind the craft is more affecting than its emotions.