Gautham Ramachandran’s second film is the result of a filmmaker confidently reigning in all his creative departments and maxing out their potential. His debut, Richie – a Tamil remake of the Kannada cult Ulidavaru Kandante, felt a little too calculated and “designed” as opposed to the enigmatic flow and organic texture of the original. But here in Gargi, that feeling of an elaborate design works as a strength.

Heavy spoilers ahead.

From the way the inciting incident is laid out, to the cut from a “fail or pass” in a dream and the “buss pass” shoutout in real life, I see an accutely designed film. The subtle setup to a character’s trauma through the mention of a yellow dress, using the date on a blackboard to show the passage of time, and the time taken to focus on a variety of stakeholders of a case, are illustrious examples of thought gone in at various levels of the screenplay, credited to writers Hariharan Raju and Gautham Ramachandran.

The way people talk in this film is remarkable too, with natural pauses and convincing shorthand dialogues to convey bigger emotions. Sai Pallavi is particularly good at this, landing sharp lines with the apt clarity of that of a school teacher. The reactions in general seem to be directed to stay at the lower end, especially for the kind of drama that the film deals with.

A huge chunk of the narrative’s subversion lies within its characters. Sai Pallavi’s titular character is earnest and driven, but she’s also someone can’t win this battle alone. Welcome an endearing Kaali Venkat’s Indrans, who’s archetype might be that of a male saviour in a lesser film, but in here we see a socially and professionally disadvantaged man finding his own personal catharsis by offering to help someone. His win belongs to him alone, and isn’t attributed as the reason for the protagonist’s wins. Ultimately Gargi’s own decision-making becomes the deciding factor of the case. Amidst them we also have the victim’s aggressive father breaking down with an affecting arc of realising the futility of retribution. Aishwarya Lekshmi’s mediaperson is the only arc that isn’t fully realised, with visibly truncated moments that don’t gel cohesively with the rest of the proceedings.

One device that’s put to smart use is the monochrome flashback to Gargi’s history of being sexually abused in her childhood. At first, it works as an idea that indirectly nudges us to believe in her father’s innocence – a woman who has had a traumatising incident with an abuser might probably be a fair judge of her father’s character. But towards the end, the perspective shifts, and the true purpose of this flashback takes a new form – that a victim of trauma knows best to stand up for someone with a similar experience. These flashbacks appear in three different segments, and the third one features Gargi’s father condemning her abuser. This is an instance where I feel the misdirection is felt or rather a little too exposed, in retrospect.

I also do wonder if the narrative could’ve done with a more neutral gaze towards Brahmanandam. That couldn’t have been possible considering how the story is unfolding only through Gargi’s point of view. There are a couple of red herrings, one in Livingston and the other in Saravanan’s relative. An additional, slowly simmering doubt on Brahmanandam could’ve added a touch of more thrill and also made this narrative far more emotionally complex than the last moment “reveal”. Gargi’s already made up her mind in the climax. She’s done with her emotional calculation for her biggest decision yet, and we don’t quite get to be a part of it. In my head, that would’ve made for a better film. The current “twist” ending has the risk of being seen as conveniently manipulative with not even an iota of foreshadowing done within the character.

Gargi’s catharsis is picturised in a memorable closing scene that’s visceral in a way that it successfully carries the weight of the film’s final messaging. The makers simply want us to stay with an image of a person who has done the right thing, and not necessarily show how that person managed to emotionally arrive at the decision to do that right thing.

Politically, there are a couple of instances where I’d say that the film crosses certain lines. The visualisation of the abuse could’ve been toned down, considering the minimal tone of the rest of the film. I couldn’t quite digest why a well-intentioned police inspector had to be named Bennix Jayaraj. This may not be an appropriate way to humanise someone on the other side of the current (and valid) anti-cop zeitgeist. I also sincerely hope this film’s relatable gaze and cinematic merit doesn’t lead to further other-ing and predetermined suspicion of the working class, and that “abusers could be among our closer ones” is the primary takeaway along with “doing the right thing”, regardless of the background of the viewer.

Keeping my reservations aside, this is a well-realised film that displays a clever use of craft to drive a point across, and most notably, it does so without getting into conventional portrayal of sentiments. With measured and immensely memorable performances, Gargi also marks the arrival of someone with a subdued yet effective cinematic sensibility.


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