Jyothika’s latest starrer Ponmaghal Vandhal has been a much talked about movie in the recent weeks. Afterall, here is a A-lister tamil movie where the producer Suriya showed some spine going against the threats of exhibitors to bring a film directly to the streaming platform. Praiseworthy indeed but, on a closer look, one must admit that it also seems more of a smarter business choice.

Because truth be told Ponmaghal Vandhal, despite the stars associated, comes off like a TV movie rather than one aimed at the box office. This directorial feature from JJ Frederick is content in pushing the message strongly and this unfortunately comes at the cost of effective screenplay and story telling techniques. The end result is a well-intentioned, but an immensely preachy message driven movie.

The film opens in a misty Ooty setting where we see a witness’ visuals of a crime that takes place. A woman shooting down two men. The media and the police investigations dub her a psycho serial killer named Jothi, who has been targeting children in the vicinity. We are told about the case, the investigations, the witnesses and also the eventual death of the woman in police operations, all as the titles and credits roll out.

Cut to fifteen years later, where present day, we find a novice lawyer Venba (Joythika) deciding to reopen the case. Initial visual cues reveal itself that this is not just a mere publicity grabbing opportunity for this rookie lawyer, but something more personal and attached.

However, the reopening of the case is enough to get people around visibly concerned, most notable of that being a well-known businessman philanthropist, Vardharajan (Thiagrarajan) whose son happens to be one of the victims of this case. He is swift to rope in a hot shot lawyer Rajarathnam (Parthiban) into the case to avoid further damages to his repute.

What follows is Venba’s struggles to expose the truth behind the events of fifteen years ago.

Jyothika not only stars as Venba but also gets flash back portions where she portrays the lady ‘Jothi’. Though as Venba she fails to hit the right note, relying on a trademark smug or weepie face to get her across the line, she gets more scope to perform as Jothi, flexing her acting skills to more dramatic range. But the makers could have avoided that pointless star-entrance shot of hers on a bike – the constant snag in Tamil movies that keeps makers from unadulterated story telling. Even Frederick can’t hep but throw in nods by introducing veterans like Bhagyaraj and Prathap Pothen with their respective songs. However as much as it is a pleasure to watch them on screen, they along with Pandiarajan and Thyagarajan plays disappointingly one note characters.  Nowhere the kind of magic I expected when I heard the union of five directors in this ensemble cast.

Parthiban comes in as the rival lawyer and honestly, his brand of Parthiban-ism is what keep me engaged through the movie. But again at times even the makers ended up throwing too much star focus at times. Especially in a visually interesting investigation scene that incorporates the ‘time freeze’ shot. Though the scene is a reveal of a gruesome murder scene, the director ends up throwing attention on Parthiban’s presence than the importance or gravity of the situation.

Such odd choices make the direction inconsistent and some scenes play out rather silly or a little too in the face. Even the shot selections, especially where a sexual crime with a child is involved, should have been handled more sensitively. Frederick relies heaving on reaction cuts in many of the scenes to amplify the emotions because evidently the writing and the performances were not achieving the results.

Technically nothing much to write home about. Cinematography was overall good, but what really stood out was Govind Vasantha’s background score in some portions. He literally makes that violin of his convey that pain.

The intentions, as remarked earlier, are all good. No argument there. The makers here are indeed e focusing on the message rather than exploiting the message. To its credit, it never comes off as a mere star vehicle under the guise of socially relevant subject. There is no ‘The Great Father’ or a vigilante ‘Mom’ in here like we have been getting in the recent few years. This is much more focused on the victims and the survivors of sexual crimes.

But you really wish they would have worked harder to get the cinematic pulses right. As a court room drama, it keeps repeatedly falling on its face. As a thriller, it just fails to excite with twists that you can see from miles away.  Even the makers decide an unnecessary final twist to untwist the interval reveal, but it really does not help the cause much.

Years after cases of Nirbhaya and Asifa, sexual crimes in India are still on a rise. Victims are getting younger, and shockingly so are the perpetrator of such crimes. Certainly a relevant a topic that needs to be addressed, discussed. Therefore it is noteworthy that stars like Suriya and Joythika are stepping up to address these issues in mainstream media.  And, hopefully all the attention that the movie has generated in the OTT vs Exhibitors struggle will help in getting more eyeballs to this movie in these times of lockdown.

But if only we had a strong and powerful movie to go along with it. Unfortunately, Ponmaghal Vandhal is too predictable a fare and is a case of missed opportunity to make the kind of impression it needed to.

Cast: Jyothika, Bhagyaraj, Thyagarajan, Prathap Pothen, Pandiaraajan and Parthibhan

Music Govind Vasantha

Directed by J.J. Fredrick

Streaming now on AMAZON PRIME