Directed by Arun Matheswaran, this affecting Bandit Queen-esque vengeance saga, streams on Amazon Prime Video
Last Updated: 11.54 AM, May 06, 2022
Selvaraghavan and Keerthy Suresh in Saani Kaayidham
Story: Arun Matheswaran, who made heads turn with his debut venture, Rocky, is back with another revenge saga—Saani Kaayidham. According to a statement released by Amazon, the story follows "a heart-wrenching journey of Ponni, who works as a constable and lives with her daughter Dhana and her husband Maari, a coolie. On one unfortunate night, she loses everything. To avenge the injustice done to her, she takes the support of Sangayya, with whom she shares a bitter past."
Review: Saani Kaayidham is not a run-of-the-mill revenge saga. Sample the famous 'Malarndhum malaradha' play in the background, as Ponni (Keerthy Suresh) and Sangayya (Selvaraghavan) brutally kill someone. Both of them don't bond like Savithri and Sivaji Ganesan in the iconic Pasamalar, but Sangayya is fiercely protective of Ponni. 1989. The film opens with the visuals of a woman crying out loud, in pain and despair. You don't know who she is. You are shown a restless Selvaraghavan, in a pair of shorts, smoking. He lights his cigarette. As the smoke became thicker, the wailing kept rising. The intro scenes succinctly sum up the man and his attitude.
There's a lot of red in Saani Kaayidham, which reflects Ponni's female rage. The opening credits roll in red. The frames were filled with the colours of blood and gore. A character in the film states in a crucial scene, "Maththa aangal maadhiri enna pottai nu nenachiya?" — which makes Ponni furious. She shows a woman can do what a man can. A woman can be as bad as a man, too. She repeatedly stabs him in anger.
A brilliant Keerthy Suresh steals the show. And she finds her groove again, after Mahanati. Keerthy delivers simple powerful lines, borne out of sheer rage, and a need to avenge. The shift in body language and emotions are something to watch out for. In Mahabharata, Kauravas tear-off Draupadi's clothes. She gets manhandled and insulted by Duryodhana and Karna. At least, Krishna was able to salvage the last fragments of Draupadi's dignity. In Saani Kaayidham, a group of older men rape Ponni. She writhes in pain. There's no divine intervention to protect her. There's not a speck of hope that lurks in there but urgent desperation to escape the suffocating world she is in. Whatever the reason, there is no self-pity. Ponni is a fighter. She wants to take revenge for what she was put through. She seeks Sangayya's help.
The problem I kept fighting through the film is Arun Matheswaran's deliberate distance from reality. In Arun's universe, Ponni could do so much. But, in reality, can a woman, single handedly, fight against the odds? I highly doubt it.
Though Saani Kaayidham is a straightforward revenge story backed by not-all-that great writing, you buy into Ponni's rage, which is more against the system. Predictability is certainly a problem here, right from the early scenes, but this is the kind of film where you still root for the characters. Even at its weak points, Selvaraghavan and Keerthy Suresh's performances hold the film together.
Sangayya isn't a bad man. One look at him and you know where his strength comes from. There is a nice friendship between Ponni's daughter and Sangayya. It's beautiful. The little one talks a lot, and Sangayya simply listens to her. The same man turns into a beast and kills a bunch of men. The actual reason comes much later. Selvaraghavan is terrific in the scene he breaks down, as he witnesses fire engulfing Ponni's hut.
In principle, Saani Kaayidham is essentially the empowering story of a rape survivor. Though the film floats seamlessly on a thin storyline, Arun Matheswaran crafts the scenes; seasons them with intense writing (aided by some terrific background score by Sam CS) and sensitivity. All of this makes Saani Kaayidham, a compelling watch. Arun Matheswaran's staging of gruesome scenes in a poetic manner continues to amaze me! Each scene delivers the exact intended mood, through light and colour, without clamouring for attention. A huge shout out to cinematographer Yamini Yagnamurthy.
Verdict: Despite minor quibbles, Saani Kaayidham certainly works—provided, you ought to be a fan of dark films and revenge dramas.
(Saani Kaayidham streams on Amazon Prime Video)