Someone recently pointed out how reviews of anything are now titled ‘Thoughts on …’, in what is possibly an attempt to straddle the middle ground and emphasize that they’re just that, one’s thoughts. In that sense, this post is aptly titled, as Iraivi is a movie that will force you to think. And like the other meaning of the word, it will force you to chew the cud for quite a while, be it by watching it a second time in the theater, or multiple times in your mind.
In the world that Karthik Subburaj has created for Iraivi, opportunity knocks not just once, but over and over again and its voice, unsurprisingly, is the rain. At times it is heavy, unabating and Thalapathy-esque; at others, a pitter-patter on the windows, but at every instance, playing a role. For the most part, it serves to establish the limits that society has placed on women, and that too with one of the most beautiful lines in the movie. It is wonderful, when, later, the rain is used to signify liberation, thus completing the movie in more ways than one.
The name itself is pretty cool, uniting the subplots and the main plot overtly, but it also makes me wonder whether the name came first or the plot. I say this because a few plot points are weak and look force fitted onto the rest of the pretty good script, and the grand explanation scene involving is really quite terrible. Any scene involving a character explaining his actions out loud to an unresponsive character is just poor writing in my opinion, and no scene personifies this better. There’s a scene in the first half where SJ Suryah’s character notes that a film should speak, and not the director. The irony is painful. It is made all the more appalling considering the wonderful earlier scene with Vadivukarasi in the hospital, with just the right mix of humour, plot advancement and character development.
This right here is all that’s good and bad with Iraivi. Arul, the director character essayed by a near-perfect SJ Suryah, whose movie is being held hostage by the producer, is the most fleshed out character I’ve seen on screen in a while, while Jagan, played with no conviction by Bobby Simha, the least. A generous hour of the runtime is devoted to Arul’s development, but we get barely a sentence or two indicating Jagan’s. Perhaps this was intentional, but surely there are better ways to keep the ‘suspense’?
Michael, underplayed to just the right extent by Vijay Sethupathy, is the crux of the second half, which, while a tad too long, connects all the dots slowly and beautifully. It is his character that catalyzes the entire movie (including THAT interval scene) and it is apt that Dhushta, a song (shot beautifully, by the way) set within Michael’s head, shows all the women he’s wronged as demons haunting him. His foil and wife, Ponny, has the best lines in the movie and is the strongest female character in the film, and Anjali does both of these more than ample justice, only to be out-acted by SJ Suryah. Her conversations with Michael are a delight, despite the inherent brooding, and that confrontational exchange is an absolute delight.
SJ Suryah’s last scene, well, I’m better off not describing it. I was a tad disappointed by the lack of Arul in the second half right until then, and simply couldn’t stop gaping in awe after. His soliloquy, though delivered in the presence of another, was perfect, and Manithi, the song that follows right after and leads to the last scene of the movie, could not be more perfect if it tried.
To round up the others, Kamalini Mukherjee is quite decent as Yazhini, but I personally liked Pooja Devariya as Malarvizhi more on account of the way she is portrayed — strong headed and independent in the presence of Michael, but a tad vulnerable in his absence. Radha Ravi and Cheenu Mohan are efficient in their roles as is Karunakaran, whose presence lights up the screen, even if only for a brief moment.
Iraivi is many things, but a feminist film it is not, fortunately or unfortunately. While the director could have set it up as a feminist film as well, it is a triumph in how it puts its female characters (temple idols included!) at the root of the plot, even if seen through the eyes of the men, because this narrow gaze also allows us to view how society (read men) looks at the problems of women today, thus failing to understand any of them, thus being a reflection of reality, which, after all, is what we want from movies, yes?
If you haven’t watched Iraivi yet, go watch it first. Iraivi may not be the movie that sets the precedent for well meshed female characters in cinema, but it is a movie that will be remembered. You may step out out of the theater ambivalent, like I was, but it will make you think, and really, that’s all a movie is meant to
– Niranjan Murali