For an honest Oru Iyakkunarin Kadhal Diary review, I think one must be familiar with director and lead actor Velu Prabhakaran’s other work, specifically his other films that explore ideas of sex, sexuality, and love. The only other movie of his I’ve seen is Naalaya Manithan, on TV a long while ago, and it does not feature much love, let alone lust and sex.
Velu Prabakaran earlier made Kadhal Kathai, a film he described as a commentary on kama – hedonistic desire, and on caste and sexuality. Kadhal Kathai featured rape, and nudity, and the CBFC refused to pass it for release. Eventually, after cuts and compromises, the film released. The film starred two actresses, Shirly Das and Preethi. Velu Prabhakaran said this film was autobiographical, and as the opening titles rolled on, he described his fight with the censors to release the film. He claimed it was sex education, and essential for young people to understand love and lust.
With Oru Iyakkunarin Kadhal Diary, Velu wants to continue educating young people about sex and sexuality.
He cycles back and forth between his personal life, the films he’s made, the women in his life and his films, and commentaries about ‘pure’ love. The film stars himself, as himself, Pon Swathi playing multiple roles – as actress Swathi, as actress Vijaya, and as Swathi playing Vijaya and Padma, and dancer-choreographer-musician Raghunath Manet. Produced by Sures Krishna, the film is written and directed by Velu Prabhakaran.
Also said to be autobiographical, Oru Iyakkunarin… starts on a promising note. A film director has been summoned to the police station on the basis of a complaint by an actress. The complaint is clearly one of sexual harassment / rape. And so the director flashes back to see what lead to that moment.
At this, the film stops being narrative, and becomes a loose, self-referential apology. But it is also confusing. What seem to be attempts to break the fourth wall feel like just gimmicks. There’s a film within a film, within another. And never an attempt at resolution.
Perhaps they were designed to pull the viewer into the film, and get her to question the idea of truth, verity, in cinema. Perhaps a shot at doing a French New Wave film in Tamil, at a cost less than the already-tight budget of a Fr. New Wave film.
And that is Oru Iyakkunarin…’s biggest failing. It looks, sounds, and feels like a cheaply made film. Little more than a home video, with some hammed-up, scenery-chewing performances, poor lip sync (which is, to give the film and director credit, referenced and explained away in a scene), questionable make-up, and really bad sex. It could easily pass for an amateur sex tape made with the most boring people on earth.
But what stops it from getting there, is just the tiniest suspicion, at least for me, that perhaps all of this is intended.
This Oru Iyakkunari Kadhal Diary review also requires me to talk about where I saw it. An old, nearly extinct species of theatres. A single screen one, with an old-fashioned balcony seating, and regular seating. One which requires you to duck through a blanket draped over the entrance.
A theatre with a metal cage around the box office, and an old man handing out tickets without having to consult a computer, tablet, or mobile phone. One can still book a ticket for this theatre online, but regulars just land up, nod to the parking lot assistant, go into the box office and emerge with a yellow scrap of paper. I had a balcony ticket, and was sitting right under the projectionist’s box. He assured me there were no rats, but shifting shadows and the sound of scampering something didn’t inspire much confidence in his words.
A cinema hall whose cousins are Parangimalai Jothi, Virugambakkam Devi Karumari. Seedy places on a side lane, with a reputation of showing ‘bit padam‘. There was a total of seven people in the entire hall. A couple of them perhaps expecting Oru Iyakkunarin… to be a bittu padam, too.
For an A (Adults Only) film, and for all its suggestive posters and marketing, Oru Iyakkunarin… has little to no nudity, and has poorly choreographed sex scenes. For the bit-padam connoisseurs, this is a betrayal. And sure enough, three out of the seven members of the audience leave midway through the film.
Or perhaps they leave, not for the lack of titillation, or single-thread narration, but lack of ventilation: the theatre has no provisions for air conditioning, and became rather muggy.
The standout character in the film is choreographer-dancer-musician-poet Raghunath Manet. He plays himself on screen (as do most other actors), and makes it very, very apparent that he is an extremely kind, courteous person and a superb artiste.
But the others turn on the ham. Swathi as Vijaya, and Swathi as Swathi playing Vijaya, and Swathi as Swathi playing Vijaya’s niece Padma, all hit the same registers, the only difference being their clothes. All three also have the same tattoo on their arm. Is this Velu Prabhakaran trying to play with the idea of film and reality, or merely the absence of a continuity editor?
The end of Oru Iyakkunarin… is for me, the most confusing, and the most intriguing bit of the film. The director in the film seems to apologise for his abuse of the heroine, and through that, Velu Prabhakaran seems to apologise to all of us, for whatever past regressions he’d committed. But then, immediately, is a scene that bends this idea around.
Velu uses the film to wash all his dirty laundry in the open, but does he really though? Is he confessing to being a sexual predator, or bragging about it? Is he asking for pardon, or is he just asking us to deal with it?
Sure enough, the day after the film’s release, Velu announces that he is getting married to Shirly Das, his Kadhal Kathai heroine.
Is Oru Iyakkunarin Kadhal Diary just an elaborate wedding invite, after all?
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