A Tamil movie these days is often a template that writers/directors cling to for comfort. You expect a song to ‘introduce’ you to the hero. You wait for the leery introduction to the heroine (even in 2017), demand it even, and after that it is all fan service. So when a director comes up with art on a blank canvas, it is often refreshing.
Enter Aruvi, Arun Prabhu Purushothaman’s seemingly unfiltered debut take on society as a whole. I say seemingly because the director is awfully intent on upending all our expectations. This is not a movie with a message, but by the end of it, it opens our eyes not by touching our hearts as much as shining a bright, well-intentioned torch in our direction.
Aruvi, the movie, is anything but traditional. There is no star-power on display. There is no hero. There is Aditi Balan as the titular character, and there is Arun Prabhu Purushottam the master puppet. And that is more than enough.
Aruvi, the character is though, traditional, sort of. The first act is full of little moments that are a testament to Aruvi – her character, her relationships. None of these are heroic moments whose aim is to differentiate the star from the rest – if anything, they tell us, softly but emphatically, that Aruvi is just as normal as anyone else – studying last minute for exams, forgetting her homework, FLAMES etc.
There are cuts to the present – an interrogation is underway – but each one feels relevant, necessary even.
Another little moment when Aruvi’s friend and her dad are drinking a glass of wine and the father asks Aruvi to adjust her bra strap is all sorts of revealing – of character, of ideologies and of what’s to come. In fact, the smoking gun in the movie is depicted as a normal occurrence, yet another blink-and-you-miss-it moment that has so much underlying significance. The director throws shade at our short attention spans, our expectations of mediocrity and a lot more.
When Aruvi throws up, and her dad falls back on his smoking – another little moment with much emotional heft – we are primed to think she’s pregnant. Considering that all of this happens right after Aruvi and Jessy jokingly discuss premarital sex, traditional cinema has taught us to ask why else would someone throw up, if not an unexpected pregnancy? We’re wrong, again, boxed in by our narrow understanding. More shade. More brilliance.
When Aruvi is kicked out by her parents, they react like traditional parents would. Words are spoken, there is drama and much crying, but the slow haunting music as Aruvi leaves in silence is anything but traditional.
And all of this, in the first seventeen minutes of the movie.
We now know that something has happened. And yet, the sense of normalcy seems to persist, albeit a slightly grown-up version, as Aruvi is now employed. Life goes on, happily even. There are difficulties, there are more little moments that make you smile.
Another clean cut. The story moves forward, the flashbacks with it.
We spend a good half hour building up to the second act. We are led to believe this is a social drama. Every stereotype of a traditional society and its beliefs is laid bare in the next hour. Right from the three accused men to the director to the assistant to the host of the show to the help. We learn that this is personal, on so many levels.
The movie suddenly becomes a witty dark comedy moving at a stunning pace, barely giving us time. All the little details from the first hour slowly start to add up, and with each subsequent reveal we are often left picking up our jaws from the floor. The supporting cast gets enough time to etch itself out, and they make glorious use of their (metaphorical) fifteen minutes. They stand out even in the background that Aditi Balan relegates them to.
A teenage Aruvi very casually asks how one can describe love with just words. I’m yet to find a better metaphor for this movie, specifically for the second act.
The movie is seemingly (again, that word) done at the end of the second act, which leads in to the intermission. You’d think the movie is done at this point. You’re wrong again. But by this time, you’re too captivated to care. The movie feels like a giant slap in the face. This is work beyond us. For the first time, you’re right.
When the facade, built with neat editing and excellent plotting to withhold information, is finally revealed, that’s when the brilliance of the movie really hits you. As Aruvi walks out of the scene, you feel compelled to whoop and whistle and cheer. Give in to your urges. This movie deserves every minute of it.
The conversations in the second act are brutal ruminations that one does not come to lightly, and it is where it is clear that the director isn’t some hack who got called upon but one whose thoughts are written out with great clarity. One monologue in particular stands out, and one story within the story brought me to tears. I won’t say more than I already have.
You’d be forgiven for thinking a movie with two acts in the first half would limp to a tame conclusion. But in this harrowing, deeply humbling section, the director rips out the bandaid slowly and excruciatingly.
This movie isn’t larger than life. It could be biting satire or it could be a raw, powerful, unabashed judgement of society’s shortcomings. Embrace this movie with all the energy you can give. It could be the story of a nobody or the story of everybody. It usually is all of these, at once. There’s joy, sadness, pain, humour, grittiness, and so many more emotions packaged into the two odd hours. I couldn’t decide on a genre to slot Aruvi into, but I believe that’s for the best. Here we have a film that deliberately blurs these lines to make a point. And what a fucking brilliant point it is.
– Niranjan Murali