- Release Date: 29/05/2020
- Cast: Jyothika, R. Parthiban, K. Bhagyaraj, Thiagarajan, Pandiarajan, Pratap Pothen, Vasuki
- Director: J.J. Fredrick
“Jyothika shines bright in an otherwise flawed effort that could have been important and horrifying”
Ponmagal Vandhal is the first of many films to be premiered on various OTT platforms. It was slated for a theatrical release but due to the COVID-19 crisis, it has been released on Prime Videos today. It is safe to say that it is one of those films that can be enjoyed as much on the small screen as on the big and it isn’t what can be called an essential theater viewing experience. The story revolves around a serial petitioner aptly named Petition Pethuraj (K. Bhagyaraj) and his daughter Venba (Jyothika). The two are infamous for registering petitions against many and sometimes trivial issues and have a dubious record of winning most of the proceedings. Things turn serious when the two registers a petition to re-open a case involving a woman named Jyothi who had allegedly murdered innumerable children and was gunned down by the police 15 years ago.
She was dismissed as a psychotic killer from North India who carried out the killings to quench her thirst for the macabre. Interestingly, once the petition is accepted, the most powerful and respected man of the place Varadharajan (Thiagarajan) is bothered by it. He uses his clout in the government and society to assign a ruthless advocate, Rajarathinam (R. Parthiban) to take up the case and bury the petition. Was Jyothi really a ruthless killer? Why are Pethuraj and Venba pursuing a 15-year-old case? Why is Varadharajan trying to silence the petitioners? These are just some of the questions that drive the narrative of Ponmagal Vandhal.
There is a lot to appreciate in Ponmagal Vandhal. Jyothika is easily the shining glory of the film and she gives it her everything. The fact that the character of Venba suits her perfectly also elevates the feel of her essay. She starts off as a happy go lucky person but as the story progresses, horrifying details about her past are revealed and her character quickly turns tragic and heroic. This shift in the tone of the character is handled very well by Jyothika who successfully render the character in a way that is inspiring and affecting. I just loved how J.J Fredrick put Venba in the shoes of Jyothi. It was an interesting ploy and it worked well for most of the part. Jyothika beautifully changed her gears to suit this change in feel of her essay. It must also be added that Jyothika does well in the courtroom sequences and a couple of other key sequences where she draws our attention to the state of the society and the appalling abuses that women, irrespective of their age, face daily. These sequences work because of how earnest and affecting she is in them.
The supporting cast of the film comprising of heavyweights like R. Parthiban, K. Bhagyaraj, and Thiagarajan does a fantastic job. R. Parthiban as the advocate Rajarathinam is apt. He is an able adversary to Jyothika’s Venba and matches her beat for beat. He is not afraid to get dirty in order to prove his point and that raises the stakes for Venba. The man has the kind of presence that is enough to strike a sense of fear in the viewers and he uses that to his advantage. K. Bhagyaraj’s Pethuraj starts off as comic relief but soon turns out to be an important and integral part of the narrative. He is instrumental in not only helping Venba in her endeavors but is also an effective tool to voice the feelings of the viewer on the screen. K. Bhagyaraj is charming in his rendering of the character and that goes down a long way into making his act enjoyable. Thiagarajan isn’t in the film for too long but the over-bearing of his character can be felt throughout the narrative. When he comes to the fore in the end, he is successful in making the audience loathe his character.
Having said all that, Ponmagal Vandhal has its share of glaring flaws that seriously dent the film’s endeavor. Courtroom dramas don’t have a good track record in the Indian film industry and that is primarily because of the huge liberties that are taken in acting out the court proceedings. Ponmagal Vandhal falls prey to the same age-old issues of being too theatric in realizing the courtroom sequences. The character of Venba says things that touch your heart and draw your attention to a lot of things that are wrong about how the society and the judiciary works but in doing so she totally forgets to prove her point through evidence, logic, and facts. In the end, the guilty are proven so by an age-old cinematic liberty that has been proved successful by films like Pink, Shaurya, and even A Few Good Men. Unlike Section 375 that at least had the courage of giving us an outcome that was more viable than satisfying, this film takes the easier way through. It plays to our sense of righteousness and punishes the guilty without their guilt being proved through evidence and examination. That is something that spoiled the film’s climax and overall effect for me completely.
The film incorporates a first-person perspective on what happened to Jyothi and why she did what she did and by doing that, it tries to incite our hatred for the perpetrators which it plans to use in the climax. No matter how despicable their act was, was it proved with enough evidence in the end? The answer is a “No” for me. The film starts off well and up till the interval point, the viewer is kept guessing of what was happening and what was at the core of the story of Jyothi. Post the interval, the story quickly reveals its cards and shows a lack of interest in proving the guilt of the men through evidence and takes the path of social commentary to incite the humanity in the viewer to stand up in its support and cheer. J.J Fredrick had to put the guilty behind the bar but had written the story in such a way that he had left no means to prove Jyothi’s innocence in terms of evidence and fact. So, he takes the easiest filmy way of doing it and brings in a man who is so full of himself that he cannot tolerate his insult and inexplicably gives up himself in his vanity for jail time by accepting his guilt.
There is a portion towards the end where we see the judge of the case, who was an honest man throughout this life, turn corrupt but then he does nothing that he was supposed to do when he sold his soul to the devil. This portion felt laughable to me and I couldn’t understand what made Fredrick include this when the film would have been better off without it. It must also be added that the film did start dragging towards the end and no matter how much Fredrick tried to tug at our heart with the content and incessant wailing of wronged mothers, after a point of time it just ran its course and the film’s deficiencies bled out into the open. The film didn’t have any surprises for us as from the very first scene we knew that there was something wrong in the case of Jyothi. The only point of intrigue was in the “what”, “why” and “how”.
Ponmagal Vandhal could have been a shattering experience but its half-hearted approach to the storytelling and glaring loopholes in the narrative and logic leave a lot to be desired. A few re-writes would have fixed a lot of the problems, especially in the courtroom proceedings. Jyothika’s spirited act saves the film from being a complete washout and she is ably supported by a strong supporting cast. The film also raises a point against a marauding social evil that is consuming our society fast and for that, I give its due credit. Only if its execution and logic were as sound as its performances, this would have turned out to be an absolutely horrifying and yet important film for these times.
Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)