The film treats its protagonist with pity and not empathy.

Review In Pushpaka Vimana lazy scripting and direction masquerade as innocenceScreenshot/ Youtube
news Film Review Friday, January 06, 2017 - 15:52

It’s a premise that offers up a world of joy and pain, tears and laughter for you to potentially explore – what would happen to a man lacking the cognitive capabilities to navigate the hard world of criminal justice? Between the partial views informing testimonies and the circumstantial missteps that could leave one in the wrong place at the wrong time, where is the space for minds and people who don’t see the world the way our police and courts expect them to?

Sadly, however, the Ramesh Aravind-starrer Pushpaka Vimana (the actor’s 100th film and the official remake of the Korean film Miracle in Cell No.7) , stays firmly away from these deep waters, laying out an unconvincing narrative in an effort to be heartwarming and innocent.

At its heart, Pushpaka Vimana, directed by S Ravindranath, suffers from a consistent problem that haunts film industries across India – the inability to deal knowledgeably and satisfactorily with conditions of the mind. Whether they be mental illnesses like schizophrenia or depression, or developmental disorders like autism, so few filmmakers seem to take the time to properly research and understand the specific conditions their protagonists deal with in the film.

In Pushpaka Vimana, it’s not quite clear what condition Ramesh Aravind’s Ananth Ramaiah is living with, and the character is best described with insensitive, out-of-date phrases like “touched in the head”. Whatever condition he has, Ananth is supposed to be someone who approaches life with child-like joy and enthusiasm, and to stand and watch planes fly by is his dearest happiness in life. He has also passed on this joy to his daughter, and their life overflows with laughter, song and dance, until tragedy strikes and Ananth is convicted for the rape and murder of a child, a crime he didn’t commit.

The problem with crafting the protagonist in such a way is that this becomes a convenient foil for whenever the story is lacking in logic and conviction. So Ananth shifts from childish abandon to adult knowing whenever convenient. What this means is that the story never pushes itself towards seriously exploring the bewilderingly difficult circumstances Ananth and the other characters of the film find themselves in.

This could still be acceptable, if the film were convinced on this child-like view of the world throughout. However, the film also resorts to things like casual homophobia when it can garner a few easy laughs, such as when a male convict suddenly pretends to be gay to disgust and distract a suspicious jailer. Taken with moments like these, the depiction of the innocent pleasure of Ananth’s relationship with his daughter, the central core of the film comes off feeling more manipulative than genuine.

The film is not without a few positives. Visually, it has many bright moments, painting pictures suffused with a genial warmth that do what the story can’t – fill you with a sense of well-being. The music by Charan Raj hits some high notes along the way. And some of Ananth’s fellow prisoners try valiantly to keep the film from derailing itself.

But none of this can save the film that could have been a complete winner if only it had felt genuine empathy towards its protagonist rather than a vaguely charitable pity.

 
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