Cast: Keerthy Suresh, Selvaraghavan
Director: Arun Matheswaran
Saani Kaayidham was brilliant. At last, a Tamil film which is worth the best international recognition. Arun Matheswaran has given us a film which is mesmerizing and packed with layers of narration rarely witnessed before.
I feel that this film packs the combined energy of many films. Top on the list would be Subramaniapuram by Sasikumar, Nandalala by Mysskin, Asuran by Vetrimaaran and Pithamagan by Bala and many more such pioneers. The narrative is of course strongly influenced by Aaranya Kaandam and Super Deluxe by Thiagarajan Kumararaja with whom Matheswaran has worked before. The film is also a tribute to the slow cinema traditions set by masters such as Kim Ki-duk from South Korea, Paweł Pawkiloski from Poland and Ming-liang Tsai from Taiwan. I feel the title of the film is a tribute to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Saani Kaayidham translates as “pulp document”.
The primary narrative
Last but not the least, this film has deep influences of the famous poem drama by Subramania Bharati called Panjali Sabatham, a work dedicated to the tragedy of Draupadi in the Mahabharata. A very important line in the song says ‘eridhazhal kondu va da annanin kaiyai posukuvom‘. Draupadi, when she is humiliated in the court of the Kauravas over a game of dice, she shouts out to Bhima asking him to bring the flaming torch with which she could burn the hands of his elder brother Yudhishthira, the great dharma raja who had the audacity of gambling her body away in a game of dice. This rape of Draupadi or Ponni in this film played brilliantly by Keerthy Suresh is the central theme of Saani Kaayidham.
If the Mahabharata is centred around who should be the owners of the kingdom of Indraprasth, the conflict of this film starts with a dispute over the inheritance and ownership of property between two brothers. And poor Ponni is dragged into this conflict because of the stupidity of her drunken husband.
Ponni represents modern India employed as a police constable who has to face the arrogance of the feudal landlords in the hinterlands of Tamil Nadu. This brings us the audience to deeply introspect — Has feudalism and the legacies of the arrogant landlords really left India? I am sure young filmmakers like Matheswaran must have encountered so many film producers and distributors who behave with such authority that can destroy the confidence of these youngsters.
Coming back to the film, Ponni’s help comes from her long lost brother Sangayya played by Selvaraghavan. Who is he representing? Krishna, the person who is always imagined with the conch in his hand. And therefore he is aptly called Sangayya and like the famous charioteer that Krishna was in the Mahabharata epic, here he is seen as driving a rusty old matador van. The narrative presents itself as ‘what happens when Draupadi and Krishna get together to fight the warring feudals’.
The real difference
What makes the film so different from the other recent anger-revenge based films like Pushpa: The Rise and KGF: Chapter 2 which are so toxic? The characters in this mythical story are not dependent on an inexhaustible supply of weaponry or on heavy-duty computer graphics and pyrotechnics. The heroes of Saani Kaayidham are raw, vulnerable human beings like you and me. The only difference, unlike most of us who are watching the movie in reasonable comfort, these characters are trapped in a dystopic, self-destructive social framework.
Ponni is trapped in a corrupt and cruel police cum legal system while Sangayya has to play out the curse bestowed upon him by his impoverished family. What certainly stands out throughout the film is the pathetic poverty of our rural landscape. Even the so-called landlords live in abysmal conditions, drinking their days and nights out.
The creative technicians
All of this is brilliantly captured by Yamini Yagnamoorthy. What a cinematographer! Boldly experimenting with b/w, focus shifting and some amazing long single takes. The music track by Sam CS is one of the most original soundtracks ever composed. And what a relief to see a film with no songs to amplify the emotional arcs of these characters.
That brings me to the splendid performance by Selvaraghavan as Sangayya and Keerthy Suresh as Ponni. Both of them have ingested their roles in totality and blended with the locations in involved manners. Be it on the arid sea coastal terrains or in the temporary cinema theatre tents, they blend into it like a perfectly fitted glove.
The fight-out in the street abutting a temple as edited by Nagooran Ramachandran will be etched in my memory forever. Arun Matheswaran’s screenplay and direction are so deeply layered that it will require one or two more viewings to capture the intrinsic essences that he has thought and worked through. If only Tamil filmmakers were existing in a more encouraging and internationally committed production system, this film could have been the opening film in the India celebrations slotted in this year’s Cannes film festival starting 17th May. But alas, we need to be content to watch it on a TV. And sadly many will even be watching this brilliant work on a mobile phone.