Anbirkiniyal Review: An Impressive Relationship Drama That Has Sneaked Into A Survival Drama

A finely-detailed drama that uses the metaphor of survival to depict a woman stuck between two well-intentioned but ineffective men
Anbirkiniyal Review: An Impressive Relationship Drama That Has Sneaked Into A Survival Drama

Director: Gokul

Cast: Keerthi Pandian, Arun Pandian, Praveen Raja, Ravindra Vijay

Anbirkiniyal (Keerthi Pandian) and Sivan (a widower, played by Arun Pandian) have something of an inverted father-daughter relationship. She is the responsible one who works odd jobs to pay off his debt, while he is the kind of person who hides cigarettes all over the house. Anbirkiniyal, a remake of the Anna Ben-starrer Helen, doesn't just invert the typical father-daughter relationship. It also inverts the structure of a survival drama. Instead of emphasizing how Anbirkiniyal survives a horrific situation that she finds herself in, the film emphasizes who she is and focuses on her relationships as a way of exploring that. 

Sivan is not the only man in her life that she has to worry about. There's also her boyfriend, Charles (Praveen Raja). Like Sivan, in spite of his love for Anbirkiniyal he isn't able to materially support her. Anbirkiniyal is stuck between the two men, not just metaphorically, but also literally—in fact, she's frozen. Between them, the two men have to make her unstuck again. 

We don't really feel a sense of urgency when Anbirkiniyal is trapped because we are shown events that happen at two different speeds. For example, when she attempts to board off a cooling vent by balancing on top of a ladder, we are shown —in a few seconds —what would have taken her over an hour to accomplish. In contrast, in the dialogue-heavy scenes where Sivan and Charles are looking for her, we are shown conversations unfolding in real time. So, we never feel that Anbirkiniyal is losing time quickly and she could soon be dead. 

This wouldn't have been a problem if sequences involving Sivan and Sub-Inspector Ravindran (Ravindra Vijay) were treated seriously. But they are treated with a lightness that takes our minds away from the stark suffering of Anbirkiniyal. This mismatch in the treatment of the survival and the rescue sequences is at its most awkward in the climax where they come together. You are left with a lingering feeling that Anbirkiniyal's survival story deserved a more satisfying ending. 

The survival drama part is often convenient. A person in a prison cell plays good samaritan. Charles bumps into Anbirkiniyal's co-workers when he is out looking for them. A car crashes into his bike in front of the building where she works. But you don't mind these logical problems. Because the how in the survival drama was never really going to be the interesting part of the film. 

The film begins as a relationship drama, even small events build up to satisfying endings. For example, Anbirkiniyal smiles at everyone when she comes in to work (even when she is very upset) and this pays off superbly later in the film. Early in the film, when her father calls out to her, she remarks that he shouts like she has disappeared, and she does eventually. 

Even logical questions have easy answers in the relationship drama part which is crafted with detail. Why did the manager lock the freezer without checking first? Why didn't Anbirkiniyal text her father that she was still at work? Is Charles really the kind of guy who would reverse his journey to come back for Sivan? Answers are apparent from what we know about these characters. We don't get similarly satisfying explanations for what characters do in the survival drama part. 

Keerthi Pandian is perfectly cast as Anbirkiniyal. She brilliantly depicts physical pain in scenes where she is trapped. The symptoms of the cold creep up on her until she is covered in sores. In the end, though, Anbirkiniyal returns back to the relationship drama, which she would prefer. In the survival drama, her father and boyfriend were in control, while she was stuck. She's in control in the relationship drama. 

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