BOTTOM LINE: A Relevant but Excessively Preachy Courtroom Drama
|Platform: Amazon Prime||Genre: Drama|
Skin and swear: No instances of skin show or strong language
What Is the Story About?
A businessman Pethuraj, known for the many petitions he files against the general public in Ooty, lives along with his daughter and advocate Venba. The district court is taken by surprise when Pethuraj reopens a 15-year-old sensational case where a middle-aged Jothi (who’s no more) was accused of abducting and killing children and two young men. Venba who’s taken up her first case as an advocate is on a mission to prove Jothi’s innocence in the case, despite public sentiments going against her way. What prompts Venba to stand by Jothi many years after her death? She’s up for a tough battle against the State’s topmost criminal lawyer Rajarathinam.
Jyothika’s earnestness adds value to the film – she gives a voice to many women who’ve been wronged and smashes the very idea of male entitlement with a sense of bravura. The pain and the shrillness in her dialogue delivery are a reflection of how honest she’s been to her character. However, in the quest of chasing women-centric scripts, there’s a stiffness in her demeanour and body language lately. You feel compelled to tell her not to take her sense of righteousness so seriously after all
Parthiban gets the best character in the film and milks a wonderful opportunity to be the powerhouse performer in the role of a flawed advocate. Needless to say, he doesn’t disappoint at all. His dialogue modulation in the verbal duels is excellent. He’s relaxed, composed and appears to be in the form of his life. Thiagarajan is extremely effective in the segments where he’s forced to contain his anger – the body language is indeed masterful. It’s more or less a cakewalk for Bhagyaraj, who’s entertaining in the lighter portions of the film and prefers to remain the goody, supporting character. It’s hard to understand what made Pandiarajan accept such a pointless role. Prathap Pothen’s part would have worked with a quirkier characterisation. Vinodhini Vaidynathan’s spontaneity ensures a few lively moments.
Anytime is a good time for a gripping courtroom drama – the timing for a drama is even more significant in an hour where a viewer is desperately looking for a larger-than-life outlet to escape the mundaneness in his/her life. Ponmagal Vandhal, though it screams out loud that it is an issue-based film, has a solid premise to evince a viewer’s interest. In a setting where its protagonist Venba is standing up for a supposed murderer, things just get more interesting. However, it’s obvious that the courtroom drama has more to it than what meets the eye. Discussing several issues like honour killing, molestation, child abduction, the film’s issue-heavy tone is a good excuse for the filmmaker JJ Fredrick to indulge in quite a bit of preaching, despite packaging the story with a flurry of twists.
The film is easily more riveting in the first hour. Beyond the protagonist Venba, the opposing advocate Rajarathinam is naturally the colourful yet flawed character who awakens the proceedings from its slumber. Their verbal duels are extremely engaging, though the sympathy keeps shifting towards Venba at every step. However, the tables turn frequently and Rajarathinam is no pushover despite the firmness in Venba’s arguments. The director limits the number of characters in the film and it maintains the narrative’s focus to a large extent. There are intermittent doses of humour that thankfully doesn’t dilute the intensity.
However, once the pre-interval flashback about the accused unfolds, the film struggles to find its feet. Ponmagal Vandhal becomes a loud courtroom documentary instead of a drama. The case appears to take a backseat and the protagonist suddenly switches to society-saviour mode. Though many of her revelations and personal accounts in the context of the case are extremely chilling and though the truckload of issues she rakes up merit a discussion (beyond the film), the absence of cinematic flourish is quite evident. The director preserves a twist or two to rescue the viewer from the monotony, but alas, the damage is done.
The proceedings in Ponmagal Vandhal turn too bland after an arresting start. You genuinely hope for the possibility of a greyer edge to the characters in the story, but the film’s black and white characterisations don’t offer much respite. The hill-station backdrop to a film revolving around crime is a cliché, though you don’t mind it much. There’s disappointment with Ponmagal Vandhal because it had the potential of being a Pink (Nerkonda Paarvai) and driven an important thought. While Pink explored the human psyche terrifically and the impact was more psychological, Ponmagal Vandhal doesn’t leave anything to the viewer’s imagination. There’s very little craft and you only end up feeling exhausted.
Music and Other Departments?
Govind Vasantha is terrific in doling out a memorable album with a handful of haunting melodies. What’s even appreciable is the element of subtlety he maintains in the background score in a film where the proceedings get (melo)dramatic. The Ooty backdrop is serene and mysterious at the same time, though it’s rather apparent that the film was shot on a shoestring budget. With a smarter and a crispier second hour, Ponmagal Vandhal wouldn’t have been the strenuous experience it turns out to be. The story is relevant, but the screenplay is too unidimensional to keep you glued.
Relevant story, an interesting premise with a few sharp dialogues
A preachy second hour
Did I Enjoy It?
Only for the fans of the courtroom drama genre
Will You Recommend It?
Ponmagal Vandhal Movie Review Review by Srivathsan Nadadhur
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