Jyothika's Geetha Rani is a refreshing character but the film does not rise above the predictable one-line story of a teacher turning a school around.

Raatchasi review Jyothika holds together a preachy film
Flix Kollywood Friday, July 05, 2019 - 17:37
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As Geetha Rani enters the government school in R Pudur, the camera carefully trains our eyes on all that’s wrong with the place. Broken compound walls, children lazing around on the grounds while it’s clearly school hours, some buying cigarettes from a snacks stall, broken gates, broken roofs, teachers who read magazines inside the staff room… you get the drift.

Jyothika’s introduction comes as a surprise to many in the film but not so for the audience - who else but the HM can land at a school and examine it so critically?

Quite a few Tamil films have been made to criticise the country’s education system, Samuthirakani’s Saatai for example. Raatchasi, as promised by its trailer, is clearly one such endeavour.

The film has, at its heart, a genuine, compulsive urge to reform government schools. Raatchasi’s storyline was no secret before it released - Jyothika plays an educator who turns the place around for good. And the actor is refreshing in the role of the brave, straightforward and kind headmaster. She’s especially riveting in the scene when she has a confrontation with goons inside a closed classroom. When we’ve been able to swallow unreal stunts by heroes on screen along with our salted popcorn, why not cheer for Geetha Rani when she slaps, kicks and punches able-bodied men who have no clue what hit them?

But does the film rise above the one-line story of a woman teacher who turns around a school? Unfortunately, no. The film goes about narrating its story in WhatsApp forward style all through the runtime of 134 minutes, with the dialogues often turning into white noise that we unknowingly tune in and tune out of.

Debut director Sy Gowtham Raj has populated the film with several characters - an auto driver, who is unaware of his passenger's identity, asks Geetha Rani, “Have you heard of the Raatchasi headmaster who’s joined the school? Thimiru pudichava!"; there’s a young kid who’s full of admiration for the HM - “I want to marry you, teacher,” he says innocently; a lazy teacher who is just furious that Geetha Rani is asking him to be more productive; a PE teacher (Sathyan) who snacks all day; an entitled brat, and a sincere teacher (Poornima Bhagyaraj). Most of these characters are built like caricatures.

For the villain, we have actor Hareesh Peradi, the correspondent of a private school in R Pudur, and he has a problem to solve - “If government school students start excelling, how will children join my school?”.

Despite its good intentions, the film has its share of problematic ideas. In one scene, when Geetha asks the school’s caretaker why her room has doors, he tells her that it is to keep a tack on who can come in. To this, she asks, “Is this a temple’s sanctum to decide who can come in and who can't?” The dialogue has been beeped out but it's shocking that nobody from the film's team found it to be casteist and inappropriate.

Ironically, in a bid to make everyone in the class “casteless” and “equal”, Geetha Rani cuts off the threads around their hands which serve as caste markers.

There’s also another scene where Geetha tells an angry teacher whom she has suspended that if she wanted to, she would have reported him for harassing women teachers and girl students in the school, but she didn’t do so because he’s a father to two daughters. Such writing makes us wonder if the film is really about reform.

The film also indulges in teacher bashing which sounds pretty unfair, going on about how inadequate and underperforming government school teachers are the sole reason for all problems. Lines like “You teachers protest when it comes to salary but not for good education” end up sounding insensitive. Only towards the end there’s a tokenistic “not all teachers are bad” dialogue. For a teacher, especially a government school teacher, watching this film might be a testing experience.

But it’s not all downhill. Raatchasi has a few genuinely inspiring moments, like the scenes where the students perform in contests, the running race especially felt very real. All the children who’ve acted in the film have done a brilliant job, not for once making us feel like they’ve “performed” for the camera. There’s also a very moving father-daughter relationship in this film.   

Sean Roldan’s background score seamlessly blends with the scenes. “Nee En Nanbabe” is an especially evocative piece and the scene where it plays is an unconventional one in Tamil cinema.

Raatchasi does not offer anything radically new when it comes to the story, but it’s still worth a watch for Jyothika’s Geetha Rani.

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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