PONMAGAL VANDHAL movie review: Swing and a Miss…

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

Mohanlal: From Narendran to Kunjali Marakkar IV, a Journey to be Admired

With all of us being confined to our homes for nearly 2 months or so, all thanks to the Covid-19 outbreak, we have seen our lives getting altered in ways that we had never anticipated and looked forward to. I have been someone who generally preferred the experience of watching movies in cinemas, not getting lured by the abundant content (films, web-series and much more) available on the numerous OTT/digital platforms that we have access to. Every few months I would ponder over trying to embrace the OTT platforms, but kept delaying the inevitable, only for this lockdown to finally bring in the transition in my case. So thus, I have been getting my daily fix of entertainment at home in the last couple of months, watching film after film, series after series. And in this process, I also watched Ranjith’s Drama (2018), a rare Mohanlal film in recent times that I had missed watching in a theatre.Continue reading “Mohanlal: From Narendran to Kunjali Marakkar IV, a Journey to be Admired”

Gamak Ghar Movie Review: Ozu and Kore-eda subtly echoed in form and poignancy

It is not very often that you are treated to an Indian film as meticulously constructed as debutante Achal Mishra’s Maithili language drama Gamak Ghar(translated to ‘village house’ and pronounced as ‘गामक घर’).The young filmmaker’s control over the cinematic form is impressive, especially his mis-en-scene. The sources of his inspiration also filled me with much delight.

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda is one of my most favourite contemporary directors and I spent a better part of the last month devouring his oeuvre. I am still under the spell of his subtle, minimalist cinema that unexpectedly leaves you emotionally wrecked, much like another Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu’s films. Many a movie buff has lamented over the absence of such intimate domestic dramas in Indian cinema, despite the large potential. Imagine my delight on spotting the influence of these legendary filmmakers in Gamak Ghar.

The opening frame of the film sets the mood.

Continue reading “Gamak Ghar Movie Review: Ozu and Kore-eda subtly echoed in form and poignancy”

Aamis (2019) Movie Review: The New Normal

Two people meet, a bored doctor in her late 30’s and young man in his 20’s. Sparks fly, they bond over food and fall in love. Well this could be story of so many countless romantic films. So, what makes Aamis stand out?Continue reading “Aamis (2019) Movie Review: The New Normal”

20 Years of Kandukondain Kandukondain: A Pioneering Tamil Film In Many Ways

As I write this, we are 6 weeks into the lockdown, all thanks to the Covid-19 situation & most of us are working from home. With cinemas being closed (and with no clarity of when they will reopen again) and Satellite T.V facing an acute shortage of content (hence the re-runs of old soaps and reality shows), its thanks to the various digital/OTT platforms that we are managing to get our regular dose of entertainment. And with a mention of digital/OTT platforms it is also mandatory to add the point that in today’s times, the language barrier is not as severe as before and thanks to English subtitles (let me not elaborate on this as it requires a separate article by itself) a lot of regional cinema (and web-series) is being watched by people who aren’t fluent with the language in particular. Similarly, Hindi cinema (and web-series) is continuing to reach out to those who do not understand a single word of Hindi.Continue reading “20 Years of Kandukondain Kandukondain: A Pioneering Tamil Film In Many Ways”

Anjaam Pathiraa (2020) Malayalam Movie Review: The Hunter and the Hunted

The latest Malayalam thriller to stream on our home screens is Anjaam Pathiraa (the fifth midnight).  Kochi the metro city of Kerala is shocked by a cold blooded murder of a cop. An investigation team is formed, with Anwar (Kunchacko Boban) who is a psychologist helping the team.  Soon the cops realise that they are looking at a serial killer who is out to murder the cops.Continue reading “Anjaam Pathiraa (2020) Malayalam Movie Review: The Hunter and the Hunted”

Bheeshma (2020) Telugu : A Tale of an Organic Farmer and Meme Creator

If you are a follower of Tamil and Telugu commercial films, you would have realized long ago that one of the pet topics of their filmmakers is that surrounding farmers and their associated plights. The recent Telugu film Bheeshma also follows the oft-repeated template with the hero fulfilling the dream or wish of another person, and in the process he gets transformed himself.Continue reading “Bheeshma (2020) Telugu : A Tale of an Organic Farmer and Meme Creator”

Alaipayuthey (2000): 3 Magical words

There are very few films which have punched me in the gut and made me wonder how could someone make such a good film. It happened when I saw Pather Panchali when I was 17, when I watched King of Comedy at the age of 19, and most certainly when I watched Bombay at the age of 9.Continue reading “Alaipayuthey (2000): 3 Magical words”

Bombay (1995): Mani Ratnam’s ode to the city that never sleeps

Bombay now Mumbai, was a city considered to be a cosmopolitan city, a city which was only concerned about making money and not interested in knowing from where you have come from or who were you.  Post ’92, the fault line has run deeply with ghettos that are now an integral part of my city.  For a city which is the epicenter of Bollywood, there are hardly any movies based on ’92 riots. The one which comes to my mind are Bombay and Black Friday, both coincidentally directed by people by non natives. Continue reading “Bombay (1995): Mani Ratnam’s ode to the city that never sleeps”