Starring S. J. Surya, Vijay Sethupathi, Bobby Simha, Anjali, Kamalinee Mukherjee, Pooja Devariya, Karunakaran, Radharavi, Vadivukkarasi, Seenu Mohan, Kaali Venkat.
Karthik Subbaraj is one of the new age directors in Tamil cinema, who has achieved tremendous recognition with just two films. Both his previous movies belong to extremely different genres, and he has a special knack for adding comedy in those, like his compeer Nalan Kumarasamy or Alphonse Puthren. Iraivi too belongs to a different genre dealing with a completely different subject, and tries to hit a hat-trick for Karthik. Along with his regulars like Vijay Sethupathi, Bobby Simha and Karuna, director S.J. Suryah has been added to the cast, raising everyone’s eyebrows. How did the movie fare?
Arul (S.J.Suryah) is a struggling cinema director, whose last movie is still in cans because of his dispute with a psycho producer who doesn’t want to release it. “17/05” is the unreleased movie's name (Edit: 17 May 2009 - Tamil Tigers conceded defeat on this fateful day. There are several hints that the unreleased movie is about the war and Tamil Eelam). Arul’s movies prior to that have given him decent recognition in the industry but he doesn’t want to start work on another movie, until he see the release of 17/05. Being dejected about his situation he ends up being a drunkard with no care about his wife Yazhini (Kamalinee Mukherjee) and kid Dolly. His brother Jegan (Bobby Simha), a feminist but also a crook, tries to help Arul in releasing the movie through illegal means. Michael (Vijay Sethupathi), staunch loyalist to Arul and his family, helps Jegan in his illegal activities. But things don’t go smooth for the trio, and how the events affect the women behind these men forms the rest of the story.
In the beginning of the movie, Karthik pays tributes to directors Balachander, Balu Mahendra and writer Sujatha. Sujatha’s “Jannal Malar” is mentioned as one of the inspirations for Iraivi. Though the story revolves around men predominantly, it is much more about the women who are affected by these men. Almost all of the men here are the antagonists, and the women are the real heroes.Though the men are sympathetic and not completely bad guys, their chauvinistic attitudes do put the women around them in dire situations. The first half leisurely sets up the characters, their dynamics, and struggles. But the second half is packed with lots of punches, and the unexpected events will leave you gasping. When the movie starts, you might mistake the movie for a comedy, where the men resort to heists for beating the baddie. Even “Iraivi” is referred during these scenes, making you think that the title was chosen for that reason. Just before the interval, he gives enough clues about the deception so far, and how the movie might travel after that unexpected interval twist. It's a pity that due to censor restrictions, some violent scenes are cut abruptly (in Sydney theaters), even though I would have preferred keeping the continuity with complete or partial blurring, and no cut in the sound effects and the BGM.
The second half is full of surprises, where the narration takes darker and darker tones, and eventually hits so hard you cannot think of anything else for few moments after the movie is over. There is no comedy, except for some scenes in a rehabilitation centre for drunkards. Karthik Subbaraj shows some brilliant writing and direction with well written characters, liberal symbolisms, razor-sharp dialogues, and even some hidden easter eggs. Movie starts and ends with rain, where the women want to drench in it. Here the rain is a symbolism for something, which you will understand seeing the movie. There is a neon light that says “Men’s world”, a monkey toy that does somersault, a drying wet shirt falling down, a line of cycles falling one by one, the number 17 being used couple of times, most of the men wearing checked shirts when they are about to do something wrong (may be I am reading into too much about this one), the statue used in the climax, few main characters being artists and doing similar acts at different junctures, Iraivi being used as metaphors for unreleased movie, and women being treated badly - you can notice so many such little things that are organically added to the narration with a lot of thought process behind them. I rarely see directors in Tamil cinema putting such efforts to stand apart.
Along with the directors he paid explicit tribute, Karthik could add Mani Ratnam and Quentin Tarantino to his list of inspirations. Some of the BGM and how few scenes are set up would remind us of Tarantino. Effectively using rains, trains and hospitals to take the story forward is Maniratnam’s signature touch. Some of the general audience may end up disappointed if they are expecting a light hearted comedy movie, and may not understand the theme of the movie. Karthik, as he says through his characters, doesn’t want to create a soapy massage(!) movie. So he doesn’t want to compromise, when his objective here is to show the perils of chauvinistic traits, including excessive drinking and anger/ego issues. However, there are few missteps as well. Bobby Simha’s character is biased, and so when the director wants to use him as a mouthpiece for his opinions, they lose some of their credibility. There are some forced scenes/songs/characters, which do not contribute much to the story. In spite of these minor issues, I would still rate this as Karthik’s best outing yet.
Santhosh Narayanan once again proves that his background music can do wonders to the story narration. However, some of the songs fall under ordinary category and may indicate the burnout of Santhosh. There is one more unofficial music director in this movie, Ilayaraja! Almost 10 of his songs are used in the background either in a pub or in a radio or just the characters singing his song. “Unnai thaanaey thanjam endru nambi vanthaen” song is used in two different occasions for a same character in similar situations. Anyone watching Iraivi will think about “Thendral vandhu theendum pothu”, while drinking tequila. Sivakumar Vijayan and art director Vijai Murugan go hand in hand, and set up lighting and objects in each frame to have a certain theme and colour. The colours green and yellow fill the scenes liberally throughout the movie. Apart from production design, Vijai Murugan also impresses as an actor. He just nailed the psycho producer role. Editor Vivek Harshan could have removed few excess scenes but I could see that most of those scenes are for the general audience. If not for those few light hearted scenes, Iraivi would have become too intense to bear. But I wouldn’t have complained.
Iraivi should be considered as the first film for ‘actor’ S.J.Suryah. In all his previous movies, his overacting was a solid turn off, and one could see ‘director’ S.J.Suryah working overtime. But here, he just shatters any preconceived notions we had about him with his powerful acting. He underplays when required. When his despair turns into uncontrollable anger or crying, he just emotes brilliantly. He clearly overtakes Vijay Sethupathi and Bobby Simha, whenever he appears on the screen. Anjali steals the show once again with a heavy duty performance and staying true to the character. Kamalinee Mukherjee acts well but in few scenes, her reactions to S.J.Suryah’s tantrums are bit artificial. Pooja Deveriya may remind you of some bold heroines from Balachander movies. Except for her poor Tamil diction, there is no flaw in her act. (FYI, all the heroines names are classic Tamil names and I expected reasonable Tamil dialogue delivery.) We have seen Vijay Sethupathi in similar roles and he is effortless in his character. Bobby Simha seems to get proper roles only in Karthik/Nalan/Alphonse Puthren movies. His burst after having his first drink is brilliant. ‘Seenu’ Mohan gets a solid support role after a long time, and we just wish he could have been given more such roles. You may no longer remember him as the ‘Seenu’ from ‘Madhu Seenu’ but the character he played here. Radha Ravi is on a roll nowadays getting more characters where he can show his calibre. The scene where he shouts at the nurse for doing her job, will give you enough hint on how he would have treated his wife, before she (Vadivukkarasai) was comatose. Karunakaran gets a small role but he is effective as usual. There are numerous other small characters, who may appear only for a scene or two, but hard to forget, like Anjali’s grandmother, Anjali’s cute daughter, Karuna’s brother, his sidekick, Kali Venkat, Vijai Murugan’s brother and so on. Kudos to Karthik for elaborately creating these characters, and the supporting cast for fitting their roles perfectly.
If you are a man, Iraivi will seriously make you to give more respect to the women around you, be it your wife, mother, daughter or anyone. It will seriously remind you to reconsider your drinking habits or anger issues, if you have those problems. If you are a woman, it will plant an idea for being more independent and to be not afraid of conventional ‘men’ wisdom. To me, when a movie makes you think and that too positively, that is a huge success.
What are you still waiting for? Grab your tickets!
8.5/10!8, Review, Tamil, 2016