The 'message padam' is a genre in itself in Tamil cinema but it has seldom been done well. Social issues, particularly to do with farmers, appear decoratively in a routine story to make the film weightier than it is. And the insincerity shows.
Ka Pae Ranasigngam, directed by PK Virumandi and now streaming on Zee5 as pay-per-view for Rs 199, is thankfully not in that category. If Roja in the 1992 Mani Ratnam film took on the state to bring her husband back alive, Ariyanachi (Aishwarya Rajesh) in Ka Pae Ranasingam fights for her husband's dead body to be brought back from the UAE.
It's a news item that we see often in passing. A family's struggle to bring back the dead from a foreign country, complicated by bureaucratic red tape. But to see what that struggle means, we need to live it through characters who come to us as real people, with love, hope and dreams of their own. A headline in the news can hardly have the same impact.
Virumandi takes us to Ramanathapuram where we meet Ranasingam (Vijay Sethupathi), an educated social activist who is the first to head any protest, and Ariyanachi, who develops a grudging admiration for him. Vijay Sethupathi and Aishwarya are delightful as they affectionately spar on screen, both actors effortless and comfortable with the nakkal dialogues that make their romance fun to watch.
The supporting cast, some known and some new faces, get deft character sketches that make them as believable as the lead pair. Take the airport scene when Ranasingam is leaving for Dubai. There's some emotion, some drama, some leg pulling, just as there would be in such a parting scene in real life. The bureaucrats - some indifferent, some corrupt, some honest but unhelpful - also appear in varying shades and are not lumped together unceremoniously.
Instead of making his film one long wail against the powers that be or one macho man's fight for justice, Virumandi makes interesting departures in his storytelling. For instance, when Ranasingam and Ariyanachi are getting married, a relative advises him not to bend his head in deference to his wife. Ranasingam laughs and lowers his body entirely, showing that he has no problem deferring to Ariyanachi. When the two of them meet the Collector (Rangaraj Pandey), Ranasingam encourages Ariyanachi to shake his hand, doing away with the usual Tamil cinema tradition of having the heroine do a polite vanakkam because she shouldn't be touched by another man.
Though the title defines Ariyanachi as Ranasingam's wife (Ka Pae stands for 'Kanavan Peyar' or 'Husband's Name'), she becomes more than that as the film progresses. Vijay Sethupathi is one of the leads but it is Aishwarya Rajesh who shoulders the film. And the actor rises to the occasion with ease. It's a pleasure to watch Aishwarya's dialogue delivery, among our few heroines who dub for themselves and can do so in various dialects. It's hard not to be moved when the camera is focused on her blazing, sun-kissed face as she stands up for herself.
At nearly three hours in runtime though, the film starts feeling stretched in the second half. Virumandi is keen to show us that Ariyanachi uses every option available to her, but as monotonous and frustrating as that struggle may be in real life, it becomes repetitive to the viewer. The screenplay alternates between the present and the past, keeping Ranasingam alive on screen till the end, but this technique too becomes a distraction after a point. I wondered if the film would have worked better if we had a solid flashback that showed us what happened in the past, and if Ariyanachi had led the rest of the story herself.
The ending comes as a shock, though it shouldn't be so if one follows the news. The film begins with a note that says it's based on a true incident and just like Aramm, the first production from KJR Studios, this story too is a reminder that there are many Indias. Where the laws might be the same but justice seldom is.
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.