Aruvi and the art of telling stories: What can Hindi cinema learn from the film

Aruvi is a 2017 Tamil movie written and directed by the talented Arun Prabu Purushothaman. The film stars newcomer Aditi Balan in the titular role, and is easily one of the best movies produced by the industry.

Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi | Published: January 24, 2018 6:30 am
Aruvi's poster Aruvi is a 2017 Tamil film written and directed by Arun Prabu Purushothaman.

Aruvi, a Tamil film directed and written by Arun Prabu Purushothaman, needs to be watched by a wider audience. And the audience should ideally include a number of filmmakers and writers of Hindi cinema.

Here’s why Aruvi is a modern masterclass in story-telling. What is required of good literature is also required of good cinema — showing instead of telling. The shots that make up a scene and the scenes that make up a movie should tell us about the character’s motives and intentions. Everything should not be spelt out by the actors. And Arun Prabu Purushothaman has done the same with Aruvi. Aruvi’s actors do a lot of things on screen, but they don’t literally ‘tell’ you what they are up to.

For instance, take the title of the movie itself. Aruvi in Tamil translates to ‘Waterfall’ and the movie lives up to its name. Aruvi is a waterfall of emotions, where one second you are nostalgic, the next second you are sad, and in the next, you are just plain confused (in a good way).

The movie opens with a shot of officer Shakeel (Mohammad Ali Baig) interrogating Aruvi (Aditi Balan). But you don’t see Aruvi immediately. You first see a pair of eyes and a bruised mouth, and later, the complete face. You put them together and you see the protagonist. The entire film follows in the same vein. You can never say, ‘Oh, there, I see what she (Aruvi) is all about’ until the movie is about to reach its conclusion. And therein lies Aruvi’s beauty.

Aruvi is not a thriller, but it forces you to think. Why is Aruvi, the main protagonist, the way she is? The film does not follow a linear narrative. The movie, at times, feels like a documentary. This is especially true of the scene when both Aruvi and her best friend Emily (a transgender, played wonderfully by Anjali Vardhan) are sitting and talking by a waterfall.

Aruvi is about a seemingly innocent and ordinary girl, who after growing up in poverty, is forced to make her own path, (SPOILERS ahead) after she is tested positive for HIV. Her father, who she deeply loves and admires, abandons her and so does the rest of her family. Aruvi is devastated. But we don’t get to know about her family’s reason for throwing her out of the house instantly, we presume it is because she has vomited, and is therefore pregnant.

One of the most interesting devices used in the story to make the narrative move forward is the inclusion of reality show Solvathellam Sathyam, which loosely translates to Whatever is Spoken is the Truth. The reality show is a strong narrative tool, which not only reveals Aruvi’s motives and her ‘truth,’ but also serves as comic relief in the movie. The characters–the snob, the poor, the meek, the culprits, the loyal friend and her protagonist–get together and play a game after the reality show bit gets over. And the following scenes of the film form the funniest part of Aruvi. Through a game of make-believe and Spin the Bottle, our players question and resolve conflicts.

The father-daughter bond is also portrayed wonderfully. Aruvi and her father are close, and we know the kind of impact she has on him when early on in the film, she asks her father to quit smoking, and he does. Later, when she is older, and when their relationship undergoes a strain, he takes it up again. He is hurt, upset that the daughter he had trusted with everything dear to him, has ‘betrayed’ him.

And then there is the gun. Chekov’s gun. According to Chekov’s gun, every dramatic element in a story serves a purpose. In Aruvi too, there is a gun, literally. But we don’t know how it will be used in the film until the latter half of the movie. Another traditional, but subtle story-telling device used effectively in the film. Aruvi is a breath of fresh air cinematically because the writer-director employs all kinds of tools to make the audience understand that he trusts them enough to know that they will ‘get’ Aruvi, without him resorting to conventional tell-tale signs.

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        Shahnawaz Hussain
        Jan 24, 2018 at 12:45 pm
        Please improve your analogies. "For instance, take the le of the movie itself. Aruvi in Tamil translates to ‘Waterfall’ and the movie lives up to its name. Aruvi is a waterfall of emotions, where one second you are nostalgic, the next second you are sad, and in the next, you are just plain confused (in a good way)." A waterfall of emotions won't suggest variety of emotions rushing through. Still, nice article. Cheers!