The filmmaker seems to lack clarity on the direction she intends to take the story in, and at the same time her vision seems too expansive to fit into the movie’s runtime.
Last Updated: 10.30 PM, Jul 28, 2022
After taking over her father’s photocopy shop, a young woman finds her life limited to the banal routines of her everyday life. Her mundanity is interrupted when a human rights activist and writer, known for his defiance against the status quo, delivers an explosive manuscript to keep in her charge.
From the title it seemed that filmmaker Indhu VS did not want to play it safe with her directorial debut. The film’s title 19(1)(a), which is in reference to the article in the Indian constitution that guarantees an individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression, made it clear that the narrative would explore a story around the volatile topic. The subject matter definitely had a lot of potential, especially since clamping down on free speech seems to be an issue that society is no stranger to these days. But rather than attempting to explore the nuances and intricacies of the vast, yet volatile subject, the filmmaker seems to have chosen the easy way out, with a disappointing, shallow and oversimplified story that frankly seemed to undermine an important message.
The director made sure to set the stage and really drive home just how mundane life was for our protagonist, portrayed by Nithya Menen, a young woman forced to take the reins of her father’s photocopy shop. Viewers are meticulously taken through her life and routine, which takes up a major chunk of the first act. Although it starts out as charming at first, especially due to the cinematography, it quickly gets tiring as the story is dragged out with what seems to be unnecessary fine points which bear no relevance to the overall plot save to establish how subdued and restricted the protagonist finds herself. Although most sequences of the nature seem to make the lead up to the character’s growth all the more affecting, this unfortunately isn't the case here. Ironically, the protagonist’s poor excuse of a character arc ends up seeming muted throughout the film, save for a few moments of defiance that ultimately fall short. Even those small moments, where she finally opens up to her loved ones about her annoyances with them, fizzles out as quickly as they pop up.
Her growth, albeit minuscule, is ushered in by the arrival of Gauri Shankar, a writer and human rights activist who never shies away from challenging the flaws in the system. He leaves a manuscript for the woman to make a copy of, promising to come back for it that night, and this sets forth the chain of events that form the crux of the story.
Most of the other characters in the film are more or less given the same treatment as Nithya’s. Indrajith Sukumaran as Anand, Gauri’s close friend, and Sreelakshi as Gauri’s sister Sarojini are reduced to mere fillers of roles which fail to utilise their talents. Comparatively Vijay Sethupathi as Gauri Shankar fares far better, although his characterisation is too in no way perfect. Although he too, like the film’s story, started off with promise, the character soon seemed to take on the form of a caricature of all that Indhu wanted to convey. Granted his unwavering moral compass, the explosive content of his final writing and his zeal to bring about systemic change does make him a strong character. But he is let down by what seems to be a refusal to polish his character further into someone more layered.
Indhu seemed to have overestimated just how much of the story she wants to tell can be fit into the film's less than two hour runtime. Her writing seems to make attempts to take the story in multiple confusing directions, and frankly ends up without clarity on which route to take in the end. The protagonist’s confusion on how to handle the sudden predicament she finds herself in mimics the indecisiveness of the writing as well. More than once, the plot finds itself with glaring loopholes enough to cut its story short if addressed. We see Gauri’s house being ransacked, but the vandals conveniently miss out on his important manuscript which lies neatly packed and untouched. Similarly, Nithya's character’s purposeful visit to Anand, who happens to be one of the last people the slain writer contacted, is left hanging in the balance and never revisited again.
The nuances and complexities of the subject matter are barely explored, and the story culminates into a weak, idealistic and oversimplified ending that one can see coming from a mile away. But the silver lining to the climax comes in the form of the affecting content of the explosive manuscript, which definitely shines a light on some relevant issues.
Credit must be given to Indhu VS for her attempt to tackle an important subject, which is particularly relevant in present day society, with 19(1)(a). Unfortunately, uninspired writing and a lack of clarity on her vision for the film, prevents the movie from living up to its potential.