When I started thinking about this write-up, I questioned myself on its value. After all, “Iraivi” is probably out of the theatres by now. (I watched it legally on HeroTalkies.) And, I don’t even think it got the kind of rich, unanimous accolades it deserved on the critical front. So, is this a case of too little, too late? Probably. But wait. That doesn’t really matter, does it? After all, a movie-going experience is unique for every individual that watches it. Certain films ‘speak’ to us the way it may not have to others. And, that is fine, I suppose. The fact is, “Iraivi” made a TREMENDOUS impact on me. That’s TREMENDOUS- bold, italicized and underlined. (Is there another way to emphasize?!) Let me tell you how and why.
“Iraivi” is the story of three (or rather, four, if you count the small but beautifully etched role of Radha Ravi) men with differing shades of grey and whose impulsiveness, self-absorption and hot headedness wreaks havoc in the lives of the women that care for them. The director is Karthik Subburaj whose previous works “Pizza” and “Jigarthanda” were smartly written tales with an emphasis on the surprise factor and the desire to inspire our awe but not necessarily strike an emotional chord. But with “Iraivi,” he completely surprised me, not with a twist necessarily. But with his ability to be stunningly honest in his characterizations and the dialogues. Dialogues of incredible depth of emotion, delivered by actors in whom we never knew such shades and nuances existed. (More on that in a bit.) There is a scene where a husband asks a wife a question about her fidelity. The way this scene plays out, the emotions that are on play and the quick lifelike change of tone from playfulness to a dead serious interaction...this is the kind of ‘twist’ that you see in the little scenes and moments in this movie. If there was a thing called ‘emotional twist’ and not a ‘plot twist,’ this movie is full of them. And, in those moments of unpredictability, Subburaj creates a gnawing sensation because sequence after brilliant sequence, we are hit with things that are not only unpredictable (mostly) but also seemingly spontaneous. And, all of this in the make believe world of cinema where we know that it is the most difficult task to make us think that the happenings are based on spur of the moment decisions of certain impetuous fools (these characters, that is) and not the result of thoughtful writing, stunning craft that’s evident in the mood-enhancing cinematography (like the unforgettable rain sequence at the end; cinematography by Sivakumar Vijayan) and the splendid acting.
Talking of performances, this is an ensemble piece in the truest sense of the word. Everyone from SJ Suryah, Vijay Sethupathi, Anjali, Pooja Devariya to the smaller characters like Radha Ravi and Cheenu Mohan (from the ‘Crazy’ Mohan troupe of the 80s and 90s, effortlessly essaying a serious part here) are spectacular. Everyone has at least a moment or a scene where they move us deeply. Anjali’s ‘Enaku Malar matter theriyadhu-nu nenachiya?’ and SJ Suryah’s phone conversation in the climax take the cake and the toppings when it comes to moments that stayed with me long after the movie ended.
When a movie like “Iraivi” comes along, there is another reason why I feel so proud of thamizh cinema. And, that is the blending of form and content. Being a huge fan of the writings of Baradwaj Rangan, I have come to appreciate the need to go beyond just the written material and employ cinematic tropes to create an ‘experience’ where we walk away thinking about the content and admiring the form. “Iraivi” is one such experience. It is impossible to watch this movie and not think of the people in our lives and question our choices and attitudes towards our loved ones. And, right from the title, this is a movie that shows incredible respect, love and admiration for its female characters. In this day and age where we talk of the ill effects of having a callous attitude towards stalking, to have a movie that raises uncomfortable questions of men and their attitudes towards women is an achievement in itself. And talking of the 'form' aspect, there is nothing in the music or the cinematography that distracted me or called attention to itself per se. But upon reflecting on the movie, I could truly see how the background music in the more tense scenes and the lovely framing of the scenes such as the Anjali-Vijay Sethupathi confrontation with the most appropriate of close-ups on actors who could do justice to them, added value to this journey that Subburaj takes us on.
So, what is my hope? I don’t know. I suppose that I really hope that this movie doesn’t get completely forgotten amidst the plethora of releases that we get hit with every week and the fervor with which audiences lap up horror flicks and star-driven vehicles. Amidst those star-driven vehicles, I am glad that I took this 'director-driven' journey, which was a roller coaster ride of emotions. While I wish more people had hopped on to this ride, I am just glad that I had an experience that I will cherish as a die-hard movie fan. And for that, let me doff my hat to Karthik Subburaj and the “Iraivi” team.