It’s been close to 12 hours since the end credits of Arun Matheshwaran’s Saani Kaayidham played on Amazon Prime Video, and at some level, I’m still fuming. We had been primed to watch something deeply primal, so that was not a surprise. The blood and the gore and the apparent violence did not get to me as much as human venom did — a scene in a court featuring a pride-filled misogynistic man making a very vulgar gesture is shot through the gaze of a woman. You see what he does, but feel what she feels. For that, thanks Arun.
Through the film, amid all the violence and brutality, is a thread that’s all heart. If the violence in the KGF universe was mandated by a mother guiding her child, here, memories of her child and husband guide Ponni to do what she has to do. What does a woman who is in law protection do when that very law does not give her recourse? When every rule is flouted and people get away with it, because caste, money and pride are on their side? As Ponni and Sangayya eliminate the oppressors one by one, the visuals of her dead family recedes further and further into the background, almost as if her actions have liberated them from the agony they were in.
The film, his sophomore work after Rocky, is proof of Arun’s control over craft and form, but it is also proof of the fact that only when good writing becomes great can repetitive, predictable action work on screen. Because, you already know what’s going to happen, the how is what is important. After a point, the how stops affecting you, because the mind is numb, watching name after name get ticked off a list. But, Sangayya, with his everydayness and Ponni with her emotionless face sell you their bottomless pit of grief.
Keerthy Suresh dips into some deep reserve of angst, anger and agony to play Ponni, the constable who looks at her job as just something that helps feed her family, before life does a number on her and she’s forced to go rogue. Even then, she trusts the process as she has been trained to, before it lets her down.
Sangayya (a brilliant Selvaraghavan, who is molten wax on the inside and a tough nut to crack on the outside) is a loner, the man in khaki shorts who transports gas cylinders in his blue Matador. The world of adults has been cruel to him, and his friends are the little ones — Ponni’s daughter Dhaya and her blind friend Sudalai. He’s always careful to see they don’t stumble over stones. What happens when he can’t protect one anymore and wants to look after the other, though Ponni has her misgivings.
There’s a backstory to Ponni and Sangayya, and a young Ponni, who heard Sangayya’s mother curse her family, almost seems to believe that everything in her life plays out as mandated by that curse. It’s almost as if she senses things will go south, and is prepared for it. Even when she has to go for a late-night enquiry, her face seems to mirror her apprehensions — she sets right her one protection, her uniform, and looks around as if seeing escape routes, before she enters a den from which there is no escape.
Saani Kaayidham’s primary conflict is rooted in caste pride and the fury that someone considered lower down the social pecking order wants to contest an election, and refuses to clean the toilet. But before you know it, the men cast their eyes on Ponni, who is fair (a backstory links back to this), and a policewoman, because “sex work does not know caste.” Punishing her in the only way they seem to know will also send a message loud and clear to all, they feel. But, no one expects the twit of a girl, who’s all skin and bones, to have a spine of steel. The assault on Ponni is not mentioned by anyone in her vicinity, except the perpetrators, who seem to think they “enjoyed” a night. She seemingly gets on with life, without a single tear shed. And then, what happens in the house of law tells her she will find justice only while off-roading. Sangayya is an unlikely collaborator, united in their grief for Dhaya, and they set about making gruesome plans.
The film, set out in chapters, also makes you question the reserve of fury inside each one of us. Till pushed, the surface is smooth. And then, the volcanic anger surfaces, decimating everything in its path.
The relationship between Sudalai and Ponni is interestingly written — before her assault, she’s one of the few who speaks to him, after her assault, she thinks he touched her too, and itches to add him to the list on the saani kaayitham, but Sangayya stops her, insisting she turn his protector. The last chapter, Aayiram Paarvai (A thousand gazes) tells you what really happened.
I’m very curious to see what Arun comes up with next. We now know he knows how to turn violence into an art form, without really glorifying it. It’s all swift and haphazard, so you are not really drawn to the violence but its aftermath. But he seems to also know who to pick as his co-travellers. In this film, lending him superb support is music composer Sam CS, whose haunting score mirrors Ponni’s angst and Sangayya’s state of mind. Art director Moovendhar, editor Nagooran Ramachandran, sound editor Jitin Moni and art director Ramu Thangaraj are in top form. Cinematographer Yamini Yagnamurthy’s frames are exquisite, especially in the black-and-white portions, with light and shade telling innumerable stories.
Even in the acting department, he makes unusual choices in the form of Keerthy and Selvaraghavan. And, how they deliver. It helps that in Keerthy, he also has a heroine who is willing to do what the character requires — including sun-tanned hair and faded, worn-out saris (costumes by Nagu and make-up by Pallavi Shroff). In many scenes, Keerthy just sticks a curry leaf twig to her pierced earlobe. And when she shouts, “Caan engae,” you know an actor has entered that rare zone where the difference between character and artiste blurs away into nothingness.
This Saani Kaayidham 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.