Tamil Reviews

Lens Review: Well-Written Thriller About The Dangers Of Voyeur Porn

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Lens Review: A review of the film starring Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan, Anand Sami, Ashwathy Lal and others, directed by Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan

This Lens review is a bit late because I had to go back, check my browser history and make sure I wasn’t throwing stones at my own glass house. 

Lens, a bilingual film by Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan, is many things. It’s a morality tale. It’s a thriller (a bit on the tame side given that there are no ghosts, ghouls, and goblins). It’s a story of love, loss, and revenge. It’s hostage-rescue drama.

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But above all, it’s a lesson to people looking for pornography online.

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Lens stars Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan, Anand Sami, Ashwathy Lal, Misha Goshal, and a few others. Written, directed, and produced by Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan, it was distributed in Tamil Nadu through Mini Studios and Grassroots Films. It features music by GV Prakash Kumar in the Tamil version. 

Although simultaneously made in Tamil and Malayalam, the Malayalam version hit the screens late 2016, while the Tamil version has only just released. Long before though, Lens did the rounds of the film festivals, where it won awards for writing and direction. 

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Lens is billed as an 18+, adult only film. Stills from the film – and buzz from those who’d seen it either on the festival circuit or the Malayalam version – set up expectations for many that Lens would be a film about porn. 

Quick disclaimer: I don’t think porn is necessarily exploitative. In fact, feminists have slowly begun to come out in support of a kind of porn: Ethical Pornography. Ethical pornography respects the agency and the dignity of the performers, the viewers, and the makers. Ethical pornography believes in ensuring that every porn performer consents – not just to doing the video, but to the partner, to the use of/need for contraceptives and safe sex devices, and every act of sex portrayed in the film, and that everyone is paid equitably, their rights are not violated.

In other words, ethical pornography says that everyone involved in the porn ecosystem (studios, performers, directors, distributors/websites, and the viewer) is absolutely okay with everything involved in making that video.

Feminists have also come out strongly against hidden-camera, ‘real-world’ couple videos. A genre made famous in India by a video titled Mysore Mallige.  

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By day, Aravind (Jayaprakash) is your average dude in the IT industry.

Married with a kid, he lives in a regulation 2BHK flat, works from home when possible, drinks green tea, has an iPhone and a Macbook. His wife Swathi (Misha Goshal) is frustrated with his growing disinterest in her; he has conversations with her either through post-it notes, or through a closed door. Their kid is away at a grandparent’s place.

And like a lot of dude-bros currently online, Aravind knows all the buzzwords. Privacy. Consent. Feminism. 

But at night, Aravind chats up women online, and has a second Facebook account – only for women – under a pseudonym. Aravind will talk with women more readily than with men, and offer a shoulder to cry on, and possibly more. The flirt is dialed up a few notches, and his every sentence ends in a kiss-emoji. His Skype session with “clients” occasionally end up in steamy cyber sex, with no requirements for cuddles and conversations afterwards. 

Unless you are a dude. In which case Aravind probably has important work to do, like talk to his wife. 

And like a lot of dudebros, it so happens that Aravind has heard of Mysore Mallige and its ilk, but not of ethical porn. He gets access to what’s clearly a secretly filmed video featuring a newly married couple. But that’s the flashback, and a plot point, so we will leave it at that. 

What seemed like another potential night of action, turns Aravind’s life inside out. Yohan (Anand Sami) – a tonsured stranger hands Aravind his retribution, and slowly unravels every little lie that Aravind has told the world, and himself. 

***

Lens is a very well-written film.

In an interview, Jayaprakash said that the central idea for the film came from a statement: you cannot prevent a suicide over a Skype call. And from here, he expanded the idea, to take in voyeurism, and Amanda Todd and her suicide

The two lead characters and their motivations are perfectly etched out.

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Everything has a logical beginning and end. For a Tamil film to wrap up in under 2 hours, deliver all the drama and the thrills in that time, and impart an important lesson (keep your firewall updated and don’t post porn that you don’t own) – is an amazing feat. More so, that a first time writer-director could do it. 

That this is an independent production made on a limited budget, with producers like Vetrimaran coming in only to distribute it, makes this all the more significant an achievement. 

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However, the lead actors look, sound, and feel wooden throughout the film.

Especially producer-writer-director Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan. Perhaps it was the language? For a man whose life is held hostage by a stranger on the Internet, Aravind sounds almost nonchalant. The scene with the “emotional outbreak” feels like the actor gave up after the 15th take, and the director just had to include whatever was available.

It is true that Yohan is in deep mourning, and the death of his wife has all but killed him. But, surely, someone who has planned a revenge for over a year must feel something. A gleam of evil in the eye? Anticipation? Slight satisfaction in the knowledge that the person responsible for the death of your wife and father-in-law has fallen into your trap? 

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Still, for me and the audience – in Vadapalani’s Palazzo, and Perambur’s S2 – this was easy to overlook.

Conversations overheard during the break – slowly, hesitantly at first and gaining conviction soon – criticised Aravind’s actions, but there was a tinge of disappointment. They were promised an 18+ film, adults only. And so far, there was nothing in it to justify the tag. Or was that for the violence about to follow?

And for those who did criticise Aravind and his porn-seeking habits, perhaps this was a guilt-laced statement too? After all, which dude bro (and I too have been one in the past) hasn’t done the very things Aravind is doing?

That I know of Mysore Mallige, even though I didn’t actively seek it, see it, is because dudebros like Aravind existed, and continue to exist. And for them, this film is both a moral lesson and a warning. 

*****

The Lens review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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