Director and writer: CS Amudhan
Cast: Vijay Antony, Mahima Nambiar, Nandita Sweta, Ramya Nambeesan, Nizhalgal Ravi, Jagan Krishnan
Available in: Theatres
Duration: 144 minutes
In a tense sequence at a rundown bar in Raththam, a madha veriyan or a caste fanatic is persuaded by a man to attack a young mother who is pregnant with the child of a man from another caste. Their drunken stupor becomes heated, and just when we ready ourselves for bloodshed, the tension is undercut with a sort of subtle situational humour that you never saw coming. It goes without saying that CS Amudhan’s Raththam is his most serious film till date. The director, who cracked us up with satirical critical darlings (Tamizh Padam films), weaves an investigative thriller set against two real time issues that hits close to home: press freedom and hate crime. But for a theme as explosive as this, Raththam’s screenplay doesn't depict the spark — the spark that we’re used to seeing from Amudhan — that even the tiny bar sequence in the film manages to evoke.
Vijay Antony is Ranjith Kumar, a venerated investigative journalist who has hung up his boots after a tragedy. He is now a horse tender who lives his life with alcohol, guilt and a young daughter in Kolkata. But when he spots a pattern among a series of murders in Tamil Nadu that no one notices, he’s pulled into Chennai, same as he is into a profession that took everything from him. What he’s on to isn’t simply a throwaway murder though. Only the person committing the murder is considered a criminal. But what about the person instigating him to do so? Isn’t he a murderer too? Through Vijay Antony, Amudhan alerts its viewers of the different faces of hate. So, when a journalist is murdered for calling out a star’s behaviour on paper, a fan from an economically backward position is provoked to become the scapegoat. Or when an MLA is killed, the murderer isn’t just a person, but religious fanaticism. When else has a mainstream commercial Tamil film spoken about something as relevant as this in detail? For that Raththam needs to be credited.
But the freshness that the film leverages on as an effective PSA, doesn’t get translated into emotional stakes. There’s nothing wrong with a straight face thriller, sure. In fact, we’re grateful when we don’t get into a brutal flashback for a killer, who instead simply smirks and reminds us of their power. An elaborate chase sequence involving damning evidence is exciting because we’re not sure what this killer is actually capable of. But Raththam doesn’t show the same restraint with some of its lead characters. It spends quite a bit of time with Kumar’s past, only for us to stay unmoved by anything that’s happening in his life. We would’ve rather seen his flair in the newsroom. Kumar is a highly-functioning intellectual who also doesn’t do the one thing that most such men end up doing on screen — mansplain. So, even when he’s explaining concepts like why the incriminating evidence is important for an article or how psychological profiling is used by on-hire murderers to Madhumitha, the newsroom’s head crime reporter, he does it with a sort of gentleness and respect that comes very naturally to Vijay Antony.
The newsroom plays silent spectator even as the grand mess unfolds around it, and Amudhan depicts this with realism. So, even if he adds in a joke about an editor yelling at a reporter waiting outside a press conference with no real story, he also throws in an observation of how beyond the greater good, a great journalist continues to do his job because he has a slight narcissistic side. But these scenes remain outliers in a film like Raththam, which has ambitious and responsible things to talk about, but isn’t too concerned with how it delivers the message.