Aadai - An intriguing narration that ends up as a problematic take on morality!
A column by Bharath Vijayakumar
(Mild spoilers ahead)
Cinematically Aadai is definitely an experience.The first half is some wildly imaginative fun. There is so much happening and the film is a livewire with some amazing visuals. We are introduced to Kaamini and her gang. They are employees of a media house and enjoy their work. They are a crazy bunch and Kaamini is the craziest and wildest among them. She can never take no for an answer and she hates the word impossible. Tell her that she isn't supposed to do something or that she cannot do something and she will be up to it the next second. Amala Paul plays Kaamini with a whole lot of flamboyance. You can clearly see that she has had a blast. The second half should have been so much physically and emotionally exhausting. The cinematography is brilliant and visually there are some stunning frames. There is so much to like in this film as a visual experience and it is fairly entertaining for the most part with solid performances from everyone.
But Aadai left be baffled. For all it promised through its promotions and even for three quarters of its runtime, it throws a googly in its last leg. The opening titlecard sequence narrates about how the breast tax came into prevalence and the heroic act of this woman named Nangeli that resulted in the abolishment of this tax. So you anticipate Aadai to be a take on how the politics of dress is even relevant today. Yes it does take a stand but that is what becomes problematic for me.
Aadai seems like progressive cinema for the most part. The central character has many negative traits but we constantly keep getting the feel that she is a rebel. In one of the recent interviews the director had said that he liked the Vinayak Mahadev character in Mangatha when talking about Aadai and so you obviously think and draw parallels. Kaamini isn't half as evil as Vinayak but you know what! She gets punished and the film endorses this. The problem isn't that Kaamini gets punished but the way the film decides to punish her definitely is . Kaamini could have been punished in so many different ways but stripping off her clothes is what the film thinks will make her realize her follies. The film talks a lot about misuse of freedom, the unhealthy trend of trivializing everything in social media and how intruding into others' lives for mere fun could end up jeopardizing them. You accept everything but all these seem like an effort to camouflage the crux which actually is that by exposing your bodies you are misusing freedom. The problem for me is not this. Let us take the director's side in this debate. But none of the many mistakes that Kaamini ever does is related to sex or shaming a person for his/her body. The punishment meted out to her is not remotely connected with her actions. Kaamini actually realizes her mistakes when the affected girl spells it out to her as to how Kaamini has played havoc in her life. But for a good hour before this we are shown the mental and physical agony of Kaamini running around naked. Consider that a guy had done those mistakes. Would putting him under the same scenario be considered as such a big punishment. Why to even consider? There are 3 males in the film who are part of the 'sins' that Kaamini commits. But they aren't punished this way. In fact their part is trivialized and sort of ends up as a comedy track. When the Vijay Sethupathy character was made to stand naked in public in Puriyatha Pudhir, it made sense. It made the character understand the extent of humiliation of being in such a situation. It was in sync with what he had done earlier. But in Aadai it basically looks like irrespective of what mistakes a girl does, the ideal punishment is to shame her by revealing her body. There is even an explicit dialogue where she is sort of commended for not coming out naked and preserving her modesty. There are portions in the film where her life is in danger including an episode where stray dogs attack her. So you are only imposing that preserving you modesty (or maanam as the film calls it) is more important than your life. The film uses another female character who is an IAS aspirant to put forth these points. So subconsciously it is trying to in-force that studying well and coming up in life through career is what a girl should be ideally doing to fight the gender inequality in our society. Fair enough. But you know the actual danger of this film. You cannot but imagine that if this girl becomes an IAS officer and takes on the evil and powerful in the society, those elements have the easiest route to suppress her - just strip her! (Remember that powerful scene in Kaala where a protesting Anjali Patil is stripped.)
The posters of Aadai bear the words Arrogant, Audacious and Artistic. The irony is that you promote your film as being bold because the lead actress has shed her clothes and then your film says that having your clothes removed is a punishment of epic proportions that would tame you!