During the interval of Iraivi, as I sat in my theatre seat wondering where the film was headed, a balloon that was let loose by someone in the audience came floating by. Watching it get bounced around, I felt it symbolized the flow of Iraivi’s screenplay.
I’d only say that the film has desperately “tried” to be a feminist film. I won’t call it interesting or fascinating as Baradwaj Rangan effuses in his review. For me, the film didn’t work and here’s why.
The opening was simply brilliant. It established the characters, their hopes, their desires and the way they’d react if presented with a situation. The first bar scene with S.J.Suryah was simply brilliant, his reaction when he’s asked to click a selfie of another director and his spontaneous anger, when people make small mistakes that to him as an artist seem like colossal sins. He basically plays a thinner version of Mysskin without the karuppu kannadi. I mean who else would call a film his baby? And would walk all the way to some random person talking something in the bar just to correct him?
But then, just like SJ Suryah’s addiction with alcohol, Karthik Subbaraj seems to have an addiction. With crime, with heists, with betrayals of trust, with putting sketches and with single-word lines like “Mudikkarom!”, “Seyyarom!” He keeps going back to this fetish throughout the film and that is the single biggest fault of Iraivi and why Iraivi fails in what it sets out to achieve. In the climax, when SJ Suryah suppresses his crying while talking to Kamalini on phone, a guy in front of me, let out a huge “ussssssss” sound (the kind that Vadivelu makes when Parthiban tortures his soul) That’s the sound of the film failing. When Anjali slaps Vijay Sethupathi after he returns, the cut to the old lady outside nodding her head induced laughter in the theatre. And it doesn’t stop there. Karthik always mixes up comedy in weird places that jerks you out of the film. You have SJ Suryah in a broken state after Kamalini has sent him a divorce notice. What happens after that? He goes to some restoration place that has some funny master who beats up people like they’re dogs. And this is intercut with Vijay Sethupathi’s agony in jail as he’s separated from his wife and his newborn child whose face he hasn’t yet seen. Seriously, how are we supposed to react when you present something like this? Don’t tell me this is art. This is just inexperience in not knowing how to handle emotions and their trajectories.
Let’s say the film is about women liberation, as expressed by the anthem at the end in which the singer asks some lady to come out. Vadivukkarasi represents the previous generation that keeps mum and quietly bears the agony, which is explicitly symbolized by her comatose state. Then, you have the confused Yazhini who’s not sure whether to be Vadivukkarasi or the free-spirited Malar. So in this whole scheme of things, why have a heist? It just doesn’t fit! It only helps in the analogy that “Hey look! Even the statues that help these men make money are those of women! What sacrifice women are doing ya! What irony ya! What meta ya!”
And what’s that whole climax bit about men being frustrated and angered and killing each other in ego? Haven’t women committed crimes? Are violent crimes committed because of the ego that one is a man? Are all women quietly enduring agony? Even in the generation that Vadivukkarasi represents there have been strong women. You can’t just like that sweep away an entire generation and say “My paatti generation and all they pammify in front of husband” It just means you haven’t seen the world. I mean if paatti generation was truly like Vadivukkarasi how come there were films like Aval Appadithaan and Aval Oru Thodarkadhai?
Iraivi could have been a simple story had it been in the hands of a Balu Mahendra who’s thanked in the opening credits. Does Malar have to make it seem like she’s a slut so that Michael should leave her? Can’t she tell him directly, “Dude! You’re married now. So fuck off!”? Does Michael have to die so that Ponni gets down from a train, gets drenched in the rain and tastes liberation? Can’t Ponni straight away show the middle finger to Michael when he’s alive and walk off?
Another thing I realized – I don’t know if this is a trait or just inexperience – this film has a lot of quick cut shots to show a character in extreme emotion. When Vijay Sethupathy finds out that Bobby Simha loves his wife, we see multiple cuts of him sitting and walking and standing in different places. Just to show us that in his mind some serious thinking is happening. Somehow Karthik seems hesitant to have a single closeup where a character is expressing a particular emotion. In this film, there were several moments where I felt some more time was needed for the emotion to sink in. The movie was always missing a beat. It was being more mathematical than emotional. Karthik hasn’t completely given up his short filmmaker traits. The bits about the thieves wanting gloves and rayban glasses, the bit where SJ Suryah is released without being fully cured and then the stare that the master gives when Radha Ravi brings him back. Such things although minor feel very short-filmish.
And the whole analogy with Silapathikkaaram. I get what Karthik Subbaraj has tried to do. With Anjali being Kannagi, Vijay Sethupathy being Kovalan, Malar being Madhavi, SJ Suryah being the king and Bobby Simha being the minister. Vijay Sethupathy is lured by the artist Malar (Madhavi was a dancer) and ignores the demure Anjali. But once he’s chucked away by Malar he goes back to Anjali. And thanks to the deceit by Bobby Simha, Vijay Sethupathy is finally killed by an impulsive act of SJ Suryah, similar to Kovalan’s execution by the king. The rough story arc of Silapathikaaram is there. Just that from Karthik’s point of view, a Kannagi won’t burn down the city in her anger, but instead would taste the power of freedom in a shower of rain. And also, just like the question that Bobby Simha asks in the lecture, this film is a question Karthik Subbaraj is asking us directly. What if Kannagi had a love affair? That’s what he’s done in this tale too with the stuff between Anjali and Bobby Simha. And the ending with Anjali’s outstretched hand, is similar once again to Kannagi’s outstretched hand with the anklet. Just that in this case the anklet is missing. In its place is emptiness or the freedom from shackles. That freedom is now in her hands. It’s a very good take on Silapathikkaaram.
But, the film with all the distractions and turns that it takes, fails to do justice to this core. You don’t quite get into Ponni’s mind. When she said she loved Jegan but left the city, why did she do it? What exactly was going on in her mind? Somehow this film’s core remains imprisoned and doesn’t get unleashed on screen, just like the Kannagi who’s caught in the clutches of the demons.