Aadai and its overt conservativeness

This is a likeable film for the entirety of its first half, which lays a strong base for the heavy floors up ahead. It begins with an animated preface – the story of Nangeli who kills herself in protest against the “breast tax” imposed by landlords of a higher caste. Then we get to Kamini, in today’s time. We understand that Kamini is sort of a rebel-without-a-cause, and someone who lacks basic empathy. She is the brains behind a shocking and annoying prank show on television. She has problems like any of us, like not being able to see her own privilege. While you’re waiting for her to understand this, she is put through one hell of an experience that would ideally help her open up to her own foils. But the makers use this event, happening to an individual with her own flaws, to address other macro-level issues. What’s wrong with that, you may ask. Well it is the tone and disconnect in their stand that made me rethink the whole film. Initially I thought the makers weren’t judging Kamini for who she is (an urban woman, a feminist, etc), but only her actions (her disregard for others’ feelings and emotions). It turns out to be the opposite. Once the climax played out, I felt deceived for thinking that they were exploring a character in grey terms, while they were actually painting her entirely black. So this also makes me fear that her lack of empathy is almost being equated to her leaning towards feminist ideals.

Nangeli’s battle, was against her harassment on grounds of caste. The film that begins with her, ends with a modern-day Nangeli making a reference to that story from the socio-political climate of 200 years ago, except it is oddly used to judge women of today’s time. “Women fought to cover themselves in those times, while today you are fighting to disrobe and show it off.” The #freethenipple movement is voicing an opinion against fetishizing of the female body, it is NOT projecting sleaze as some noble thing. Adorning that movement’s ideals would have only helped Kamini out of her position (Not practical, yes, but I feel cinema can go that extra mile to put across a bold point, and especially this film for coming this close). So I just couldn’t buy the film’s final point. It comes across as a dangerous “message”, let alone hypocritical. Nangeli from those times represented the fight in women of choosing what they want to do, versus being told what to do. Sadly, even Aadai does the latter.

The film does want to end on a well-intended note, but one that comes off as some sort of a post-climax “bonus” scene. It sure does give a cause to this rebel, and even completes her character arc. But it doesn’t add anything to the bigger picture, because the actual takeaway of the film has been delivered in the previous scene. For my eyes, the damage has already been done.

Also the idea of putting shame above one’s life is heading towards the same kind of culture shock seen in Shankar’s Endhiran – The Robot where a robot saves a woman from a fire and she commits suicide for being exposed in public. Agreed, society and reality are not as ideal, blah blah. But for me, seeing an opportunity for a progressive argument and seeing it getting blown up with “You are not that bad of a girl” is frustrating. (Would plug in a Nerkonda Paarvai appreciation post here, for how it stuck to a truth) In the end, Kamini isn’t allowed to redeem herself – she is “corrected”. What if she had never found any material to cover herself with? Should she have stayed indoors and starved to death? I am aware of the privileges I am coming with as a male, while I put forth this argument, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the film tries to reform her with its own idea of a “good woman” over a good human. Yes, I also agree that this is a case of difference in ideology where my liberal ass felt cheated. So I still won’t call this an objectively bad film. It is a well-executed production with a few good ideas – the nightmare, the setup, graceful cinematography, and even the genuine adult humour. Audacious stuff maybe, but it grapples with its own conservativeness.


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