Ayali is endearing for its intentions!
Set in the 90s in a village in Tamil Nadu, Ayali is about a girl child who rebels against the inhuman traditions around her. As serious as the topic is, this is a series that tries to infuse humour and keeps things relatively lighthearted. The Tamil OTT space (with respect to series) that is still quite new is almost entirely occupied by thrillers and Ayali is a whiff of fresh air and helps to bring in some kind of diversity in what feels like a homogeneous medium at present.
Ayali is a very simple and straightforward story. The protagonist Thamizhselvi wants to pursue her studies. But as per the traditions of her village, any girl who attains puberty should not study further and has to be married off at the earliest. How Thamizhselvi overcomes the odds and tries to infuse some sanity in those around her is Ayali in a nutshell.
Writer and director Muthukumar, spaces out things quite well. Each episode runs around 30 minutes, and this really works. It is neither too long nor too short. The initial episodes that set up the conflicts and introduce the characters work a lot better in comparison to the closure that feels rushed and simplistic. The bond between ThamizhSelvi and her mother is the best part of Ayali. It might come across as a little cutesy at times, but it really works. Abi Nakshatra as ThamizhSelvi and Anumol as her mother are really good. Anumol balancer her act quite beautifully. She plays someone who needs to be mature in handling her daughter, but she is also innocent at heart. In fact, in a way, the mother daughter equation in Ayali is kind of a role reversal. It is the daughter who holds her mother’s hand and leads her out of darkness. Their scenes together work like a charm. The portions where Anumol accompanies her daughter out of town to write her exams is the best part of Ayali for me. A grown-up woman gets to experience outside world, and it brings out the child in her. These are the portions that work visually as well without much emphasis on dialogues. Otherwise, almost always the message is stressed through dialogues. I did not mind it though. Given the intentions of the series and in this social media age when short clips and screenshots with subtitles are going to be circulated around, maybe this would achieve the purpose better. It is not that this cannot be achieved with a little more finesse in storytelling, but Ayali does it a lot better than our average message movies.
The dialogues really work. Be it about how the prying eyes of men prevent women from even breathing freely or how desire is stronger than fear, a lot of dialogues stand out. The final few episodes are a mixed bag. The bad guys aren’t those complete caricatures that you usually see in our films, but they still stick out in Ayali. The sudden change of heart of important characters isn’t really convincing either.
Ayali may be dialogue heavy and have certain other limitations. But it is endearing for its intentions, is packed with nice little moments and succeeds in delivering what it intended to.