Director: Nelson Venkatesan
Writers: Sankar Dass, Renjith Ravindran and Nelson Venkatesan
Cast: Aishwarya Rajesh, Jithan Ramesh, Aishwarya Dutta, Anumol
We all come across several strangers every day. While a few remain just random faces, some become a part of our life. But does every individual mean well? And if you trust the wrong person, are you the one to be blamed, especially if you are a woman; a working woman?
A woman's fight doesn't end when she procures a job by overcoming patriarchal beliefs; it is only the tip of the iceberg. The real deal is how she manages to continue working. One wrong move, and bam — her life might take a reverse gear. Nelson Venkatesan’s Farhana focuses on this battle of a woman with her inner self, family and society.
Farhana’s (Aishwarya Rajesh) father Ajeez Bhai (Kittu) and husband Karim (Jithan Ramesh) run a small footwear store together. When their business takes a hit, Farhana, a mother of three who was confined to household chores until then, decides to take up a job at a call centre. But her father, conditioned by patriarchal thoughts, does not understand why a woman should go to work. He sarcastically says, “When a man can’t earn, even his wife and children won’t pay heed to him. Since the business is dry, ellarukum rekkai mulaichu pochu (everyone got their own wings).”
But yes, when Farhana goes to her new job at the call centre, rekkai mulaichiruchu (she does get wings). And the film’s visuals portray the emotions beautifully; we get glimpses of Farhana swirling her dupatta around before wearing it as a hijab. And every time she does it, you can see how much that freedom means to her, that dupatta signifying her wings to fly.
While she pays her children’s fees and manages the expenses, one of her kids gets hospitalised and Farhana shifts to a different department for better incentives. However, it is too late when she learns that it is a sex chat call centre. She is shocked and decides to shift back to her old department until she receives a call from a musician named Dhayalan. Unlike others, Dhayalan strikes up a friendly conversation. The call soon becomes a window of liberation for both, as they exchange thoughts and memories that they have not been able to share with anyone else. Credits to the dialogue, even though Dhayalan’s face is not revealed and the visuals are restricted to just the call centre, the sequences are poetic and rarely get boring. But what if Dhayalan is not benign as his voice? With a bang-on intermission, the film, breezy and poetic until then, takes a thrilling turn as Farhana finds herself caught in a mess.
Be it an old man who harbours patriarchal ideas or people who work in a sex chat center, it is easy to pass a judgemental opinion. Nelson, however, refrains from doing so. The film deftly mirrors the different people as they are, which is the biggest strength of Farhana. That said, in an otherwise organic plot, some of Farhana’s and Dhayalan’s decisions stick out like a sore thumb, especially during the climax.
Four out of five recent films by Aishwarya Rajesh are women-centric. She has been wonderful as the daughter who takes revenge in Driver Jamuna or the woman who fights a patriarchal household in The Great Indian Kitchen's Tamil remake. But Farhana is arguably the best among the lot. Backed by nuanced writing, Aishwarya lives as Farhana. Be it the newfound joy in going to work or the suppressed fears and remorse she feels later on in the film, Aishwarya lets her eyes do all the talking. And since the film relies heavily on Aishwarya’s expressions to instill tension, her performance helps the film to a great extent. Apart from her, Gokul Benoy’s cinematography and Justin Prabhakaran’s music complement the tense mood of the film. From the gloomy underground passages of the metro train to the ticking moments of a credit card being swiped, the camera focuses on external objects to induce the fear of a ticking clock, which keeps us at the edge of our seats.
For a thriller, the film is beautiful in the least expected ways and the magic lies in the minute details it subtly focuses on. Watch out for the sequence where a fruit seller makes Ajeez Bhai realise why women should go to work. Similarly, in one scene, Farhana rushes back to her home, and out of nervousness, she forgets her parda. Her husband questions her for forgetting it, but also instinctively closes the screen of her father’s room, to shield her from his potential anger if he finds out the same. Karim, as a progressive husband, is the solution to all her problems. Maybe all we need is a supportive family who trusts us no matter what.
Nelson and his co-writers Sankar Dass and Renjith Ravindran have crafted each character with great detail. It is impressive that most of them are not mere tools to drive the narrative forward. For instance, Sakthi Raj who plays as a quality-checking employee in Farhana’s office, has a crush on her. Often, he is the funny sidekick who sprinkles humour. But even he goes out of his way to ensure her safety and happiness, even if it means his job is at risk. From Sakthi to a random old woman who lets Farhana rest on her lap as the latter cries her heart out in a crowded metro, the film portrays several kind-hearted people in Farhana’s world, representing strangers who change our life for the better.