'Dha Dha 87' review: A confused film reeking of transphobia

The film is a tangled mess of pseudo-activism that is presented with a terrible lack of understanding of gender and sexuality.
'Dha Dha 87' review: A confused film reeking of transphobia
'Dha Dha 87' review: A confused film reeking of transphobia
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Even though 2019 is still young, I make no mistake in saying Dha Dha 87 is one of the most misleading titles of the year. For one, the film is not on old people falling in love. The first night scene that was released on YouTube does not even find a place in the film’s runtime!

Leave aside romance, it is not even about an 87-year-old don. The film, instead, is a tangled mess of pseudo-activism that is presented with a terrible lack of understanding of gender and sexuality. In one of its earliest scenes, a local rowdy, high on drugs, is shown sexually abusing a very young girl child and in the very next scene, we are taken to a local gang war triggered by caste. While we are left hanging as far as the horrendous act of child sexual abuse is concerned, the director throws in a couple of dialogues on how love has no caste right after. The man who committed the crime is killed later in the movie, but it's more of an excuse to establish the don's character rather than addressing the crime itself.

Characters are often made to spout the word ‘jaathi’ throughout the film, but no one gets into specifics and these lines remain lifeless. It reminded me of the stiff and flat dialogues we hear on PSAs translated from a different language.

However, my disappointment soon turned into disbelief and then to anger.

The film is set in north Chennai where Anand Kumar plays ‘Jail’ Pandi aka ‘Jollu’ Pandi, an unemployed youth whose only job is to incessantly stalk women in his area, forcing them to accept his love (hence the ‘jollu’). Sri Pallavi plays Jenny, daughter of ex-army personnel (Janagaraj) who moves into the neighbourhood.

While there’s an inevitable and boring love angle, the film also has a local power war between corrupt smalltime politicians and rowdy gangs. But even if you can wipe off that look of self-reproach (on having chosen to watch this film) and swallow your impatience, it's understanding of trans people and their thoughts on love will get you riled up.

Also, the film does not have a plot-line, only opportunities to deliver “messages”. We’re made to believe that there’s more to what meets the eye with a few woke dialogues on acid attacks and stalking. But there really isn't.

I’m sure you’re asking ‘What about Charushasan and Saroja’s (Keerthy Suresh’s grandmother) characters?’ By the end of the film, I actually quite forgot that I'd stepped into the movie hall expecting to watch some ‘cutsey romance’ between an elderly couple with a good dose of ha-ha humour. The two get a maximum screen time of three minutes together. However, Charu manages to twirl his moustache, roll his eyes and deliver a few dialogues on his reputation, his unrequited love and his hate for caste. Unfortunately, actor Saroja and her cute smile are blink and miss flashes in the film. Actor Janagaraj too join them in the list of underutilised characters.

Every scene that follows after Jenny's revelation to Pandi is sadly missing in sensitivity. There’s one particular scene when Pandi questions a trans woman on her body parts, under the pretext of “understanding” who they really are. He also asks her why she didn't go to a hospital.

While the director could’ve offered decent answers to these questions (in spite of the questions being outrageous in the first place), he brushes them under ‘I am like you (a man) but I have the heart and mind of a woman’ and the scene ends with both the characters crying. At this point, Pandi's frequent emotional outbursts become overly annoying.

The film reverts to the stigma and discrimination that trans people go through repeatedly but does nothing to ease them. It also ends with one of the most tone-deaf and crude statements you might have ever heard in your life about trans women.

In retrospect, it is quite amusing, in a strictly annoying way, how the director has added this disclaimer - ‘To touch a woman without her consent is a punishable crime’ right after the ‘Smoking kills and liquor drinking is injurious to health’ lines. I almost thought I was going to enjoy watching the film.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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