In one scene, we see a Muslim man carry a bowl of burning incense into the house of a caste-supremacist. The latter pleads with the former to stop and go away — "wheezing, wheezing" he gasps. The Muslim man continues to fan the smoke exacerbating the situation. If you've seen the trailer of Yennanga Sir Unga Sattam, you'll be cautious, even outraged at this stereotype. That is exactly what the film expects you to do. And then, in barely a few seconds, it tells you that this was a grand plan by the caste supremacist's son to make his father sick, so he can skip his exam.
Scene after scene, Yennanga Sir Unga Sattam is a game of bait and switch. It baits you with preposterousness, only to point and laugh about the assumptions you've made. "Rot is in your head, not the story," the film wants to say. But no, rot is in the film only.
Yennanga Sir Unga Sattam is a duplex film. This means that its two halves are two entirely different films, merely connected by the actors playing the various roles. Its first half is the story of JP, a jobless youngster who warms the sofa, in addition to stalking women, disrespecting them and scarring their lives. The second half is the story of two interviews — one for the post of the assistant commissioner of labour and another for a priest at a temple. Neither of these stories have been told with any semblance of intellectual honesty.
The first half of the film meanders pointlessly. The hero claims to fall in love with a bunch of women, none of whom have any reason to return his affections, but do anyway. A woman from Chattisgarh who complains about Maoism, a Christian woman named Genelia who doesn't let him watch a cricket match in peace, a Muslim woman who asks too many questions — they keep coming, caricature after caricature. There are all sorts of quips throughout this part, any of them barely funny at all.
Suddenly, the second half ventures into serious message padam territory, speaking of reservations, caste-based discrimination, 'Indhiya Arasiyalamaippu Sattam' (Indian Constitution) so on and so forth. All done from a place of disingenuity that is characteristic of upper caste WhatsApp groups.
It equates soundi Brahmins — priests who perform last rites — to Dalits. There are multiple scenes showing their "discrimination" at the hands of higher-caste Brahmins. But instead of questioning the bigotry in its own community, it wants a piece of whatever little is reserved for the scheduled castes.
It also demonises rich people from lower castes. There is a scene where a Brahmin child watches in poverty as a rich scheduled caste child receives scholarship money. The utter deceitfulness of pitting a poor Brahmin against a rich kid from a marginalised caste must be shocking, but in this film, it is the least of problems.
It deliberately confuses the audience showing corruption in public service commission interviews as intertwined with reservation. It throws together a bunch of bad Brahmins and very bad Brahmins to offer a sense of balance, all while playing the 'Brahmins are the new Jews' card. Multiple Brahmin characters say, "as a Brahmin person, you have to work harder to even merely survive."
It shows middle caste men beating up a Dalit man, quickly followed by a Brahmin priest lecturing the former about equality. It wants us to believe that there are generous Brahmin priests too. Oh, and then there is poverty porn, the lesser said the better.
The film reiterates everything that progressive voices have identified as harmful for years. It concludes that poverty is the only kind of discrimination there is, which is proven to be patently untrue. It places the burden of eradicating caste on the marginalised, arguing that they should decline reservations voluntarily when they become rich. It cunningly presents a Brahmin male who is incapable of finding a job in the general quota of TNPSC on his own merit as someone hurt by reservations.
Yennanga Sir Unga Sattam is a dog whistle for the upper castes. It is the upper caste man telling the marginalised what they should do with their rights. The director Prabhu Jayaram claims this to have been his dream. To the audience, however, it is a horrifying nightmare.