It’s not exactly a new trope—this idea of a former specialist returning to show who’s boss. What’s interesting about Raththam isn’t this trope but the field the protagonist, Ranjith Kumar (Vijay Antony) operates. Typically, this former-specialist-returns-to-rock idea has been utilised to generate mass moments in the action territory. He’s not a coward; he’s, in fact, the most violent of them all! In Raththam, however, Ranjith’s heroism is his ability to practise efficient investigative journalism. This isn’t just about Ranjith’s keen eye for detail and his ability to form unusual patterns; this is also about his willingness to apologise when the work isn’t good enough. And that’s perhaps why that cursory action sequence we get—to signal his comeback—doesn’t quite feel like it belongs in this film or is able to generate enough pleasure. Ranjith’s punches land better in print.
The film begins by showing Ranjith as a depressed drunk. There’s a fair amount of ungainly exposition in these areas: when his former boss/father-like figure (Nizhalgal Ravi) meets him for the first time, he ensures through dialogue that we learn that Ranjith is “India’s best investigative journalist”. Or in a scene that follows, a woman, in talking about her kid, says, “Ungalukku dhaan dyslexia nu theriyume” and in talking about herself, says, “Naan divorce-aana single parent-nu therinjum…” Yet, the same film is admirably economical in certain other spaces—like Sangeetha (Mahima Nambiar) offering sarcastic comments about her flashback or allowing us to get a brief hint of some demons in her past in a passing conversation with a co-worker. I also liked how the film glides past some initial resistance from a protégé journalist (Nandita Swetha).
In this film that is urgent on paper but doesn’t feel as urgent on the screen, I sat up each time the focus shifted to Sangeetha’s character. Even if we don’t exactly understand the dynamics of her arrangements, this still feels like a new personality in our cinema. While the music—like the film for me—was on and off (the percussion bit to signal investigation felt simplistic and overdone), I enjoyed the waltz bits that come along to join Sangeetha. I wanted to learn more about her, about her ability to wield control, even if not her motivations—and that’s a compliment, I suppose, to the interest the film is able to create about her. Above all, I’m glad she, a single mother, isn’t pushed into becoming a mother figure for Ranjith’s daughter. Director CS Amudhan must surely have had a laugh or two about rewriting conventional rules when writing this woman, the way he did.
For Raththam to be more effective, it needed more emotional strength. The Ranjith-Chezhiyan friendship needed to register more strongly so that the cool visual idea of a magazine left on a tombstone worked on an emotional level as well. The almost paternal relationship he has with his mentor (Nizhalgal Ravi) needed to create more warmth. The fleeting visuals of him crying with Ranjith don’t do enough, and when he comes to recruit Ranjith, it feels almost opportunistic. As for Ranjith himself, I’m not sure the catharsis of his transformation into a fully functional journalist comes through as it should. In theory, you can see that he is lured into journalism one step at a time, almost like a recovering alcoholic being lured into addiction through one sip at a time. In fact, I enjoyed how Sangeetha rubbishes his transformation by pointing out this too is an addiction. It adds an interesting layer of narcissism to Ranjith’s character, even if a lot of these layers don’t necessarily have a visceral effect.
It’s a film that’s refreshing in its presentation of journalism and its faith in the transformative powers of good journalism. You see this in obvious ways and in simpler ways, like when two policemen are about to come to a compromise but then, the media lands there and makes it impossible. So, yes, it’s a film that rings quite relevant in its advocacy of conscientious journalism. Also relevant is its commentary of the social media age when everyone’s life is out in the open for everyone to see and like and share and… as Raththam suggests, exploit if needed. Without giving away too much, perhaps I can just comment that the film’s cinematic events are just a small exaggeration of the many ways in which prejudices and a lack of self-worth can be easily… influenced.
It’s a film that has the recipe to fill up the air with tension, but I’m not sure that happens consistently in this procedural. I don’t believe I truly worried for Ranjith or thought he might ever be in real trouble. While the script pushes him into some tight corners as far as his investigation is concerned, the feeling that he’s a simple move away from winning doesn’t ever leave you. Perhaps it has something to do with how unflustered Vijay Antony looks; perhaps it’s a function of his stoic face, which in the best scenes allows you to see that there’s more than he lets up, but in the more sedate scenes, leaves you wishing he would let go and channel some real frustration and anger.
Ultimately, the film’s value is in the topics it takes on and its view of them. Ranjith, as a man who beats up rogues ‘singlehandedly’ or as a fearless man who rides horses into walls, is wholly forgettable. On the other hand Ranjith, as a-bit-of-a-selfish man who sees patterns where others can’t, isn’t so forgettable. The film ultimately makes the point that you don’t need to be noble to cause positive change; in fields like journalism, just doing your job well is good enough.
Cast: Vijay Antony, Mahima Nambiar, Nizhalgal Ravi, Nandita Swetha