Jyotika’s Ponmagal Vandhal is nothing but a two-hour-long video message presented within the framework of a movie. The heavy-handedness of this soap-opera-esque melodrama is not even the worst part. It is the graphic exploitation of the worst parental fears.
At the end of the movie, when the credits roll, Suriya narrates a few statistical information: India ranks 7th in child sexual abuse and Tamil Nadu, in particular, was the third most unsafe state for children according to National Crime records of 2018. Also, there are over 1.6 lakh cases in connection with the POCSO act pending in our courts. More importantly, 94 times out of 100, a child gets subjected to sexual abuse by someone he or she knows and trusts. Suriya’s rendition of these facts achieved a level of awareness in about 30 seconds that director JJ Fredrick could not manage in over 7,200 seconds.
It is mainly because of Fredrick’s script, which lacks fictional logic and plot integrity. On paper, the story about a survivor beating the system that enabled her tormentors might have sounded terrific. But, when the director worked out the details, it did not shape up in the way he might have hoped.
There is a saying which goes: ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’ And this movie lives up to the old adage in spirit, words and action. The problem is when the film finally gets to the revenge part, our senses are so frozen that we can’t humanly work up a feeling to cheer for our heroine.
Jyotika’s Venba Pethuraj waits for 15 years to get justice in a court. She picks up a controversial case because a woman she called mother was wrongly accused and murdered by misusing the law. She waited for 15 long years, stewing in it, plotting her moves, and imagining the day she would spit on the face of her tormentors when justice was finally served. And yet, Venba loses her heart at the first sign of trouble. She actually needs some reminding as to why she studied law and became a lawyer and took up the case in the first place. Wasn’t getting justice for Sakthijyothi, who was maligned publicly as ‘Psycho’ Jyothi, her life’s only purpose?
When you see that Venba is going after a powerful man in a case that dates back 15 years, you naturally assume that she has done her due diligence and some solid groundwork. But, actually, she rests the success of her endeavour completely on the promise of a cop who recently rekindled his comatose conscience to the right the wrong by testifying in the court. To put it simply, if the cop in question had not suffered a sudden attack of conscience, Venba would not have had a case at all.
Where is the vengeance, purpose, strength, determination, grit and wits of the protagonist that were supposed to make us feel her loss and pain and cheer for her when she finally brings the actual criminals to justice? All we get is an endless stream of ‘karuthu’ (opinions) that becomes repetitive after a point.
Most importantly, the portrayal of the violation of a child with some graphic details without any sensitivity is horrifying, to say the least. A small hint or suggestion of a crime on a child that took place off the screen would have had a great effect on the viewers (watch Theo Angelopoulos’ Landscape in the Mist). But, Fredrick uses the crime as an exploitation gimmick to cover up the ineptness of the film. Instead of creating awareness, he leaves the audience with some haunting, panic-inducing visuals.
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