Many Tamil films have made references to the Pollachi sexual assault case, and the latest is 'Chithirai Sevvanam', starring Samuthirakani, Pooja Kannan and Rima Kallingal.

Pooja Kannan and Samuthirakani in still from Chithirai Sevvanam
Flix Review Friday, December 03, 2021 - 17:15

In 2019, Tamil Nadu was shaken by a horrific video that showed a young woman being beaten and sexually assaulted even as she begged for mercy. The video was from Pollachi, and a subsequent investigation revealed that scores of young girls and women had been similarly assaulted and blackmailed by a group of men. The case was transferred to the CBI a month later and is currently in court. Quite a few Tamil films have made references to the case, considering the widespread anger that it drew and Chithirai Sevvanam, directed by Silva and written by AL Vijay, joins the list.

The film revolves around Muthupandi (Samuthirakani) and his bright daughter Aishwarya (Pooja Kannan), an aspiring doctor. Aishwarya goes missing one day and the police knock on Muthupandi's door to find out what happened. Even as the force, led by Aasha Nair (Rima Kallingal), investigates the matter, Muthupandi conducts a parallel investigation.

The story goes back and forth in time, establishing the close relationship that father and daughter enjoy. Though Silva uses simplistic, cliched moments to narrate this, Pooja's warm smile and Samuthirakani's earnest face make the scenes work. Muthupandi lives in a remote village without easy access to transport or a medical facility. His wife (the role, by the way, is played by an actor whose makeup is perfect and looks nothing like someone who's spent their life in such a place) passes away due to the lack of emergency medical services, and he vows to make his daughter a doctor.

It's Pooja's debut film and the young actor shows promise with her ability to emote. Rima Kallingal, too, does well as a strict cop who is passionate about solving crimes against women. However, the amateurish writing is a big letdown and leaves several gaping holes in the plot.

A video of Aishwarya bathing goes viral, triggering a series of events (this is no spoiler -- it was apparent from the trailer). As in Drishyam, the video is shot by a teenager who is around the same age as her. The group of boys is easily characterised as rich, spoilt brats with no attempt to explore why they indulge in such acts. The truth is that such videos are watched and shared by people across social classes and age demographics. It points to a much deeper social malaise that treats women as property, pins 'honour' on their bodies, and considers any violation to be shameful to them rather than the perpetrator. Ironically, the film ends with the line "Namadhu pennayum, mannayum, nam kangalai kaapom" (Let us safeguard our women and our land like our eyes), making it clear that its engagement with sexual violence does not go beyond highlighting the obvious trauma it causes.

Watch: Trailer of Chithirai Sevvanam 

It's even more disturbing that the incident is tied to the girl stepping out of her village to study for the NEET exam. Perhaps the intention was to highlight the unfairness of NEET, a contentious topic in Tamil Nadu, but all it does is to underline the idea that women must be closely guarded and stay within the confines of their homes if they are to be safe.

The treatment of sexual violence is also troubling, from the way it is shot (extremely triggering) to the language that the characters use (the survivor, for instance, uses the heavily patriarchal term 'keduthutaanga' or 'spoilt') and the aftermath of the incident. One can argue that this is how sexual violence is perceived in society, and that is why the film treads this path. However, such problematic representations only reiterate and normalise such ideas when there isn't an adequate pushback within the script itself. Rima's Aasha gets a couple of scenes where she challenges these notions, but these end up sounding like well-meaning, empty lines when the rest of the film is amplifying sentiment to the contrary with dramatic, gory visuals.

As a thriller too, Chithirai Sevvanam falls short, with clumsy red herrings and unconvincing twists. The intention behind it may be to portray the impact such crimes have on victims and their families — but that is something we all know very well already. Moreover, it is the fear of such an impact that makes families restrict the freedom of their daughters and forces victims to keep their silence. What good does it do to magnify it?

The film is now playing on Zee5.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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