There once was a time when Tamil cinema used rape as a plot device to show its heroes as courageous people who save the “honour” of their women. We have also our comedians flippantly use rape for humour. From the disgraceful yet unapologetic portrayal of rape, Tamil cinema has begun to develop some spine and has trained its gaze on the survivors, their ordeal, and their trauma.
SonyLiv's latest release, Anel Meley Pani Thuli, starring Andrea Jeremiah, is a film that follows Tamil cinema's newly developed conscience, and poses a few pertinent questions about the system along the way.
Anel Meley Pani Thuli begins with a half-naked Madhi (Andrea) waking up in the middle of a forest. Realising the violation her body has been subjected to, Madhi heads to a nearby hospital. Instead of being administered first aid, she is asked to first go to the nearest police station to file a complaint.
While this itself questions the existing system (which is a common theme in Vetri Maaran’s films, who also happens to be the producer of this film), Madhi makes her way towards the police station, in an unknown town she was just visiting to attend a colleague's wedding.
The policemen— Azhagam Perumal and Ilavarasu— treat her with courtesy as they almost fast-track the probe and nab the alleged perpetrators within minutes. It also helps that these men already had issues with Madhi. While this promptness in receiving the complaint to arresting the perpetrators, and filing the charge sheet is the stuff of dreams,
Madhi senses that her culprits are far from being caught. She unearths something even more sinister, and it is her dogged persistence to bring the culprits to justice that makes the rest of the film.
Anel Meley Pani Thuli largely talks about the aftermath of a sexual crime, and is a well-intentioned and honest attempt to talk about the resilience of women, who are often shamed and blamed for 'losing their honour.'
The film is clear about portraying these women as survivors, who have no other way to pick up the reins of getting their own justice. It is interesting to note that the makers portray Madhi as an everyday woman but with a few unique character traits. Director Kaiser Anand makes Madhi an operations manager at a Decathalon sports store in Chennai. This isn't a random choice because we are shown Madhi to be an active sportsperson in her school and college days.
She is engaged to a man of her choice, Saran (Aadhav Kannadasan), who has a limited and underwhelming presence. She is also someone who doesn't just stand up for herself, but looks out for women around her too. This is the part the film gets right. Despite the never-ending violations committed on her, Madhi refuses to succumb to these pressures.
As the subtle yet strong Madhi, Andrea knows when to show off her craft, and when to keep it simple. The police station scenes work brilliantly, and the palpable discomfort just adds to the tension in the film. Andrea delivers an effective portrayal of a resilient woman, who has to battle not just the magnitude of the incident, but institutional harassment in the name of police enquiry.
While kudos to the writer for keeping it grounded in parts, the film lacks clarity and finesse in several others. It suffers from gaping loopholes that just cannot be brushed aside. The film reiterates the law of not holding women under the roof of a police station after 6 pm, but what follows is just illogical.
A scene involving Anupama Kumar, as a senior police officer, is conceived well, and the conversation between these two women may seem to give a ray of hope, but subsequently, the narrative suffers from a lack of depth in writing and just lets down the film.
The core theme of Anel Meley Pani Thuli is honour. As mostly seen, rape survivors are shunned in society for losing the same. The film points out that honour is indeed important, but wisely redefines what honour is. Is it just limited to one’s body?
Or can honour translate into courageous ways one can defend and get justice? The film makes a strong point on how women are made to perceive that honour is tucked within their bodies, and uses Andrea's Madhi to smash that belief.
However, the execution of this idea, especially in the last stretch, involving Madhi and a judge, is just a preachy and uninteresting conversation that dilutes the message.
Anel Meley Pani Thuli deserved a more coherent narrative with a cogent resolution. The film needed to be more convincing to enter the subconscious of the audience and make them ask those pertinent questions about misplaced honour and ingrained patriarchy. But it fails to do so effectively, ending up as one more film that had its heart in the right place, but little else.
Cast: Andrea Jeremiah, Azhagam Perumal, Ilavarasu, Aadhav Kannadasan
Director: Kaiser Anand
Ratings: 2.5 out of 5 stars