Tamil Reviews

Nerkonda Paarvai Review: A Faithful, Honest Gaze

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Director: H Vinoth

Cast: Ajith Kumar, Shraddha Srinath, Andrea Tariang, Abirami, Rangaraj Pandey

This is what I wrote in my review of Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink, the film that H Vinoth’s Ajith starrer Nerkonda Paarvai is based on – “In Pink, every proclamation is accompanied by the sound of a gong. Sentences are book-ended with a pause as if the speaker is waiting for applause from the audience. Is this what the current generation would call a mic-drop? Then yes, and they sure are mic-drop worthy. Is this great cinema? Not always. Is this what the current cultural climate requires? There is a solid case for that.” Nerkonda Paarvai, for the most part, is a faithful remake of the Hindi film – it misses neither the beats nor the mic drops. It knows where to sound the gong and where to remain silent. It’s three years since Pink and it suddenly feels like the case for something like this is even stronger. Almost one year since Me Too exploded in India, violence against women and sexual harassment aren’t topics that discomfit people into practiced awkwardness. They are not confined within hushed tones and careful whispers. The atmosphere has slowly but significantly emboldened. So has the aura of a big star like Ajith Kumar, hitherto comfortable in his action adventures, where the vulnerabilities betrayed end with a doted upon young daughter. For everything else, it is the macho star who rises to the occasion.

In Nerkonda Paarvai too, the star rises – quite literally from the ground – with a piercing glare, as if to ask others and of himself – “What have we been doing all this while? It’s time to take stock.” Here, Ajith divides himself neatly into two halves – the first half has him delivering the gaze of a star, occupying the screen like a mythical being whose purpose remains a mystery, his emotions and actions unpredictable. The other half has the actor turn in black and white, keeping his emotions in check, possessing a kind of wisdom that complements his countenance. Everything else is gravy. The mental condition and bipolar disorder we are told he suffers from is gravy. An unnecessary, bloated flashback to colour the regrets of his life is gravy. We needed none of that. The measure of a star is probably in him convincing that he can be both – he can be the man destroying enemies with an iron pipe or it can be the man who holds forth in the court of law on the most glaring iniquities of our society. With tremendous conviction. He can embody both those kinds at the same time. He can be at the garage and in the sessions court at the same instant. He possesses both limitless violence and the knowledge of life-affirming truths. Like Krishna, in the Gita. Isn’t that what lawyer Bharath Subramanian (Ajith Kumar) is all about? He had long retired for a life in perennial lull. But he returns to the grounds one last time for the sake of the wronged, for justice to be meted out.

In Chennai alone, we see scores of men and women from the North East, during late nights, buying dinner or walking home. No one stops to wonder how safe they feel, how included they feel. Like in Pink, the idea of women in Nerkonda Paarvai – Meera (Shraddha Srinath), Andrea (Andrea Tariang) and Famila (Abhirami) – coming from different cities, different religions and households, rings true. Nothing at the plot level is different in Nerkonda Paarvai though. Following Choudhury’s footsteps, Vinoth too fills up his frames with public spaces the women occupy – they travel in trains, they are stalked in coffee shops and chased on roads, they loiter in well-lit streets and are kidnapped on the darkened ones. The trauma of sexual violence is thick in the air. Meera steps out for a jog but comes back home running. They constantly feel as if a thousand pairs of eyes are on them and this fear dredges up the screen.

Shraddha Srinath delivers her best performance, covering a range that probably anyone in Meera’s position would have to go through. She can be valiant one moment and succumb to the trauma the next. She conjures the temerity to register a complaint and the disbelieving, bigoted police authorities shake her very core. The last straw is the depth the prosecution is willing to plunge to. In U-Turn, Shraddha played another character trying all stops to make authorities listen to her, believe her side of the story. Here, she is even better and what she is trying to say even more significant. It helps that the prosecutor is played by Rangaraj Pandey, a readily irritable face contributing towards our utter disregard for him.

We are probably a generation that abhors complexity. We like things fed straightforward, nicely wrapped and presented. Nerkonda Paarvai is one such film. It isn’t a deep dive into the aftermath of sexual violence, its genesis and its psychological effects. The film loves its lines because what it says is indisputable and that makes the film work. It wants to underline the concept of unambiguous consent, a quality that’s traditionally been found lacking in characters played by some of our biggest stars. And when one of those stars, on screen, utters the same words you’ve been screaming at his lot off-screen for the longest time, it flips the table. Everything else is just gravy.

*****

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