Director: R Kaiser Anand
Cast: Andrea Jeremiah, Aadhav Kannadhasan, Azhagam Perumal, Ilavarasu
Streaming On: SonyLIV
12 years since the infamous fire accident scene in Shankar’s Enthiran in 2010, Tamil cinema has come a long way with its narrative of a woman’s body being weaponised against her, and held as the sole source of her “honour”. In 2022, we’ve seen two films from here that rightfully want the woman to not be ashamed of herself when an offender films her without consent. They are the perverts and low-lives in that situation. Pandiraj’s Etharkkum Thunindhavan sold this message through the male-saviour mass hero, and Kaiser Anand’s Anel Meley Pani Thuli does it better by sticking closer to reality and more importantly - with the narrative being delivered through a woman.
Mathi (Andrea Jeremiah) is a manager who is both articulate and assertive in handling situations inside, and outside her workplace. The narrative wastes no time in building her character and setting up red-herring characters for forthcoming events. There’s also a rooted depiction of a community that has not been represented enough by Tamil cinema, woven very organically into the screenplay. This entire flashback stretch has a very fly-on-the-wall demeanor to it, with raw frames and clumsy cuts, much like producer Vetri Maaran’s own sensibilities. The fact that we’re already aware of the trauma that’s to be inflicted upon the character, courtesy non-linear narration, lends the required seriousness to this amateur stretch of filmmaking.
The film becomes something else once it gets done with the flashback. Velraj’s framing starts to look deliberate, there’s more poise on the edit, and the mood is finally cinematic, away from the not-so-tasteful rawness until then. The makers who have so far stayed away from showing any explicit sexual act, begin to turn gears towards a gruesomely detailed, procedural experience of a rape survivor. It’s meant to take us into the psychological headspace of a woman who’s just gone through the most horrifying act of violence possible. Every single line of dialogue in this stretch has the potential to be a moment of horror. Are the service workers she’s interacting with saying the right things? Are they sensitive to her condition? Will they inadvertently add to her trauma? It’s a psychologically volatile situation and the tension is very much palpable.
The story then takes a sharp left turn. We get a shocker of a reveal, with just the right amount of flashiness in cutaways to Mathi’s emerging memories. The police station, where this almost hour-long sequence is set in, is also in a transitional juncture. The premises is being upgraded to a newer building adjacent to the current one, and all properties are being emptied out and shifted. This lends a certain kinetic energy to the whole scene, one that could also be read as a signifier of an emptying of the collective conscience of the police.
It’s surprising that the film doesn’t come with a trigger warning of any sort, for the severity of a traumatic episode in the police station. It’s a sequence that doesn’t hold back on being crude. The cop trio of Azhagam Perumal, Ilavarasu and Nithin George make it a deeply disturbing experience that would likely be the most skipped over scene of the film. This stretch also has one moment that comes across as convenient writing, with the confounding decision of a woman inspector (Anupama Kumar) who doesn’t think twice before leaving a survivor of rape remain in the station for a night, along with the rapists. If this insensitivity wasn’t enough, she also indulges in ill-timed passive aggression towards the criminals, that only drives them to another extreme act. This whole bit is hard to buy into, and adds on to the frustration about the already dark proceedings. The point about cops being the worst abusers of power has already been made, but depicting negligence of this sort, coming from another woman, feels like a cinematic liberty to inflict more violence upon Mathi.
This has to be Andrea Jeremiah’s best act, for the kind of physicality she brings to what her character is going through mentally. She might be a tad stiff in scenes where she has to be jovial or casual, but has a visibly strong hold over emotionally demanding moments. It’s a sincere performance for the way she embodies a resilient character who has the will to fight any situation. The fiancé in Sharan says and does all the right things, and it’s satisfying to watch a man display such sensitivity to Mathi, but a limited Aadhav Kannadasan doesn’t quite measure up to the weight of the character.
There are a couple of instances where a character says something that’s meant to shock Mathi (and us), only to do a straight U-turn to reveal their true, noble stance. One, right before her fiancé reveals his will to stand by her. The other is her house owner, who shares all the bombs that the society is dropping on him for renting his house out to a “victim”, only to go on to say that he doesn’t give a damn about any of them. These are overtly manipulative moments that hamper the sense of reality achieved by the film.
Kaiser Anand’s film seems to want his film to come across as a PSA, with how he chooses to sign off with Mathi’s account-cum-monologue to a judge, which then cuts to her speech at a talk show. The message comes across very strongly, but the quality attained up until then takes a hit with these dated choices of conveying the takeaway. There's an effective montage song that covers the different instances of a woman's clothes - and by association, her body - being policed throughout her lifetime, and there's enough being said here, rendering all that comes after it as a mere vocal repetition of these visuals.
While it undoubtedly makes a strong statement, the makers also don’t achieve an appropriate balance between their messaging and cinematic engagement. It’s a heavy watch, one that I can’t wholeheartedly recommend to anyone knowing what it can put them through, but it’s a coarsely made film that has empathetic, empowering and powerful things to say.