This review may contain graphic details that could trigger
There is a rare pessimistic look that arun matheswaran generates in his films by using monochrome imagery as a means of conveying despair and suffering. arun uses this black and white cinematography only at intervals, especially for character flashbacks in both rocky and saani kaayidham. It is often said of Bergman’s black and white films and the pessimistic influence they had. But the pessimism in Arun’s films stems from helplessness. monochrome, in other words, aims to convey the stillness of the characters and the absence of color in their lives. this, of course, can be attributed to narrative choice for a very specific purpose: to provoke us with a flashback. but the backstory never comes to the fore, it’s just a reminder.
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There are at least two absolutely stunning shots in the flashback that remind you of Bergman, just in terms of his choreography. the first is an extreme wide shot of a deserted shack and a child who appears to be deserted. second, also an extreme wide shot, of a mother (abandoned?) and her daughter in focus, while the child becomes a shadow in the background. I was speechless. cinematographer yamini yagnamurthy does a fantastic job; her work is very formal. she opens with a wide, medium and close shot. this type of composition is what you would find in classic movies. yamini is especially great when it comes to shooting rape scenes, but we’ll talk about that later.
arun matheswaran is a fascinating talent, no doubt. he sees film not just as a storytelling medium, but as epics. hence he is not satisfied with making movies, but epics. As we saw in his excellent rocky debut, saani kaayidham is also similarly structured as a lyrical text-heavy piece, with six chapters separated by a prologue and epilogue. . arun’s rocky was a brief exploration of the idea of earth with a protagonist who has his roots in sri lanka. politics in saani kaayidham is direct and closer to reality with caste based violence. if rocky was about a man asserting his rightful place in a foreign land, saani kaayidham is an assertion to rise above the social order. both movies are about the powerless struggling to get to the top.
If you take revenge as a genre, most filmmakers would look at it through the prism of cause and effect. and therefore they would be content to have three great moments in the narrative. or maybe four. But in Arun’s movies, these big moments are what they’re all about. These big moments aren’t exactly “big” in the conventional sense, say, like in a Vetri Maaran movie. these are big in thoughts, choices and the scale with which the frames are painted with blood. In other words, Arun Matheswaran’s films do not generate violence. they are designed to start and end in violence, even on a conceptual level.
This rare conviction that arun possesses is what makes him a committed filmmaker. that compromise is even rarer to find these days, when movies are increasingly controlled by corporations and filmmakers unnecessarily cater to the tastes of the market. Having said that, this writer definitely feels that Arun needs to put his practice of stylized violence to better use. he needs to direct his violence towards the audience and not be content to exploit it for “shock” value. he needs to direct his violence from him to make outstanding sequences.
This was a big problem for me in rocky. this is a big problem in saani kaayidham. full disclosure: I am totally on board with extreme cinema, as long as it sets me back. the violence in arun’s films is too easy, too exploitative and too playful. some scenes are censored and profanity is muted in the current version of saani kaayidham. what is the point of releasing such movies on digital platforms anyway? what’s the point of these outrageous claims about “artistic freedom” you get on ott platforms?
saani kaayidham is based on ponni’s brutal sexual assault (kudos to keerthy suresh for agreeing to do this) that goes on for so long. It’s very, very disturbing and creepy. however, the sequence flees from the usual sensationalism and ends up being suggestive. props to arun and yamini for filming the assault in minimal detail. the sequence, yes, is cruel. but arun is careful not to exploit the assault, unlike our commercial filmmakers. At the same time, Arun is equally careful when it comes to writing about the bad guys. they are not bad for what they do, but for how they think. there is a scene where someone makes a heart gesture with his hand to ponni. this was more triggering than the aforementioned scene. that’s what makes arun an important voice because more than anything, he knows how the hierarchy works, he knows how men think.
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but this does not mean that saani kaayidham is completely brilliant. the movie says that the events take place in 1989, but the language, the words spoken by the characters are today’s Tamil. yes, the violence is graphic, but it is not real. that’s why when ponni and sangaiah (an excellent selvaraghavan) go all out, we become indifferent to what we see after a point. this happens because violence is stylized. sometimes the movie makes you feel like it was conceived for these “big” moments and not the other way around. speaking of violence, there is a scandalous scene where ponni and sangaiah (who are half brother and sister) are massacring someone, their hands covered in blood, while ‘malarthum malaratha’ from pasamalar from background. it’s a scream.
keerthy suresh’s eyes never looked more powerful. selvaraghavan, on the other hand, is a great choice. he gets two superb moments where you really buy the innocence of him. although there are some shortcomings. sparing details, the way ponni reacts at the end is not how she would react. These two characters were never sentimental!
There are some signature touches in saani kaayidham. a curse comes true. the neglected half brother becomes a vigilant protector. mahabharatham plays on the radio as ponni gets the final act from her, as if to imply panchali’s sabatham . as inglorious bastards, we get an explosive climax in a theater. blood drips on kaayidham. there is a beautiful parable about the thousand eyes and a blind boy. I’m already a fan.
saani kaayidhamis streaming on amazon prime video