Yaathisai Movie Review: A Raw, Stylised Reading Of War And Oppression

Dharani Rasendran’s 7th century period piece charts the age-old origins of war and its purpose with a burst of originality
Dharani Rasendran's Yaathisai
Dharani Rasendran's Yaathisai

Director: Dharani Rasendran

Cast: Shakthi Mithran, Seyon, Rajalakshmi, Guru Somasundram

Dharani Rasendran’s inventive vision of a war epic is best displayed in some of Yaathisai’s action set pieces. The director isn’t interested in customary wide shots of men wielding swords to evoke dread. He instead fixes his subjects on several closeup shots, registering raw emotions on the battlefield — whether a hunter bites off a hand in a feral state or swerves his sword to make a conscious cut on his offender’s face, every small detail in Tamil movie Yaathisai is carefully choreographed to tell us the story of the unbridled and often cyclical nature of war. 

The film transports us to 7th century Tamil Nadu, where the Pandyas have successfully defeated the Cheras and driven the Chola dynasty to exile. The flag of the fish stands tall at the now seized Chola palace, headed by the mighty warrior Ranadheeran (Shakthi Mithran), who looks more like Yama, the god of death, than a mere mortal. 

But the film doesn’t unfold from this decorated king’s perspective. Miles away from the Pandya regime, amidst a dusty village of nomads is Kothi (Seyon), a man from the Einar clan, who is restless to dethrone the Pandyas. Kothi promises Cholas their throne in return for their independence. Rounding up the exhausted men to go to war seems tough initially, for no man can have Kothi’s thirst for authority, a character points out. But he eventually succeeds, tempting them with the promise of a new life: “the hunted will become the hunters,” he declares. 

Seyon in Yaathisai
Seyon in Yaathisai

Seyon, who walks and talks with an imaginary crown on his head, is brilliant in Yaathisai, and it helps because Kothi is our eyes and ears of Dharani’s universe, where everyone speaks in refined Sanga Tamil. While the genre often demands a highly-coloured cinematic language, Dharani makes sure to offset this dramatisation with characters that stay and act true to themselves. Kothi, for instance, is blinded by his appetite for power, but he isn’t thick-headed. When his soldiers ask how they can overthrow a kingdom that easily outnumbers a inconsequential village, he reminds them of their place in the twisted social hierarchy. “Nobody will even see us coming,” he says. 

The same goes with the women in the film, who, true to its time, feature either as machines for procreation or objects of lust. When news of the Einars conquering the kingdom pervades the temples, a devaradiyar (Rajalakshmi) asks, “Who really cares? Will a change in reign stop us from dancing for them?” Dharani’s lines hit us like carefully aimed daggers, but with its two-hour runtime, one wonders if these lines would’ve had a better impact if some stories, such as Rajalakshmi’s, were told with patience. 

Shakthi Mithran in Yaathisai
Shakthi Mithran in Yaathisai

The director also makes sure to differentiate the intensities of different forms of oppression. So, if Kothi’s obstacles are depicted with the higher-rung clans dismissing his community as “barbarians”, the struggles of devaradiyars, on the other hand, are revealed through a montage of young girls being bartered in exchange for money, which is cut with scenes of a cattle sacrifice ritual. 

The VFX, although choppy in places, don’t end up mattering because routine scenes of action are inventively constructed. Its crisp runtime also leaves way to some uneven editing transitions, which obstruct us from fully immersing ourselves into Yaathisai’s world of chaos.

But again, Dharani’s vision to charge every scene with emotion makes up for its limitations. So, when a sequel is hinted even at a time like now when film universes are begging our attention for countless follow-up films, Yaathisai manages to leave us with just the right amount of intrigue to hope that the team gets a bigger budget to match their imagination. 

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