I have many good impressions to share about Netrikann, a faithful remake of the South Korean film, Blind. Likeably, it gets straight into the action, without any laboured introduction shot for the ‘female superstar’. Likeably, this adaptation doesn’t write for its woman protagonist a cursory love angle, or as an extension, really care about the usual ‘adapting to our sensibilities’ drivel. Even an important development like Durga (Nayanthara) losing her sight and learning to adapt to it, is taken care of over a song (the flipside to this is, of course, how you don’t really get a sense of her loss—not just of eyesight, but of a close one too). Even in a straightforward accident scene, the film shows evidence of much imagination. The aerial shot of a car tottering on the precipice of a flyover… it’s arresting.
In this Nayanthara vehicle, my most favourite performance is that of Ajmal, who plays an abductor/murderer/sex offender called James, with so much internalisation that not once, do you find yourself stifling a laugh at some of his OTT antics. James is a predator, a man of perverted stare and sly pursuit. Given that he’s a man of science, you see a certain method to even his running and fighting. Like Bane embraces darkness, he does pain. It’s perhaps why he hardly seems to feel any, even when subject to attacks that would leave most of us writhing in a foetal position.
It’s a film with many likeable ideas— that work more in the head than in the actual film. The title itself is clever. It’s about a third eye, and an obvious take on Durga’s ability to see, even without her eyes. And then, there’s of course the Rajinikanth film, Netrikann (1981) that’s about a rapist— even if the demanded punishment has undergone a transformation. I liked that while Durga helps out a dull police officer, Manikandan, with her problem-solving ability, he doesn’t necessarily become her ‘eyes’. I liked the idea of Durga getting a like-for-like replacement for a person she loses. I liked that she is in as much pain about her dog, as she likely was about the death of a person she loved. And yet, Netrikann does feel strangely cold, with these moments not overwhelming you as much as they should. This is not for lack of emotional heft in the writing. Durga is a victim of guilt and loss; Manikandan has a sense of purpose; another character, a food delivery executive, is part of what should feel like a warm relationship too. And yet, not once did I find myself feeling overwhelmed, except, of course, when the dog gets into trouble—which, I suspect, speaks more about me than the film.
My favourite bits of Netrikann are those about the mind, not of the heart. In such thrillers, the protagonist’s revelations can often feel coincidental or force-fed, but each of Durga’s deductions occur organically. Meanwhile, the exotic disorder that James is said to be suffering from, acts as a defence for any criticism about the likely vilification of BDSM, a practice that is not particularly well understood in society. This film is careful about such spaces. You see a verse from Bharathiyaar’s Pudhumai Penn framed in Durga’s home. You see the influence when James labels women ‘bad’ for engaging in premarital sex, and Durga thunders, “Un mai***** enna?” The film, perhaps too satisfied with this moment, gets carried away and has her mouth another obscenity, but that doesn’t work as well.
I also enjoyed that this film, with cruelty and brutality at its centre, doesn’t shirk from violence. I remembered Kill Bill as a door is rammed into a person’s face. I remembered American History X, when a head with an open jaw gets kicked in. Perhaps the foremost issue I had with this film concerns Manikandan’s over-thetop attempts at humour that really take away from the mood of this film.
Why then, does this film with as many positives, not really leave you feeling satisfied? Perhaps its indulgent length at 2.5 hours, with an end that feels stretched. Or perhaps it’s the fatigue of certain ideas— like the one about delivery executives helping each other out at a time of great need for the protagonist. Hostel inmates, engineers, unemployed youth, Facebook groups… We have seen our films utilise this idea many times over in recent years. Or perhaps it’s the exotic disorder idea that also feels overused. In this film, despite a small origins moment, there’s almost no exploration into this disorder, and this leaves the idea coming across more like a gimmick.
Or perhaps it’s the now-all-too-familiar idea of this lonely woman literally fighting a stonecold killer. We seem to get either the housewife-turns-businesswoman template, or the incapacitated woman-defeats- evildoer template. Truth be told, in our society, women don’t really need to have lost their eyesight or get relegated to a wheelchair, to be underdogs or victims. They already are. And with stories centred on women protagonists now having been fairly normalised, it would not hurt to see more variety in the women we see and the stories they are in.
Director: Milind Rau
Cast: Nayanthara, Ajmal
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar