Ponmagal Vandaal is a deeply disturbing thriller at its core but is dressed up by fancy lighting and over the top performances to comfort the audience who might be overwhelmed by the idea of a bunch of children being raped and murdered and a woman being accused of these heinous crimes. Jyothika enters the picture as a defence advocate for a woman who was accused of these child murders 15 years ago. The woman was killed in an encounter and Jyotika, who has trained to be an advocate for several years, chooses to reopen the case of child murders and decides to bring justice to the wrongly accused woman, Jothi.
Ponmagal Vandaal is an answer to the section of the society that blames women/girls for provocating men or making themselves vulnerable by crossing certain lines drawn by the society. However, it does not use a speech to convey its point about women/girls being unjustly accused for rape, instead it builds a screenplay which exactly mirrors this argument. A woman is accused of murders of the children and after a hard fought battle, it is revealed that the actual perpetrators were men or boys. People falsely accusing the woman for the crimes in the movie directly reflects people in our society holding a girl/victim responsibile for the crime committed against her. It is an interesting way of making social commentary and the writer JJ Fredrick needs to be applauded for that. However, apart from this idea there is nothing else that quite works in the film. The writing of characters is minimal. People are just there in the film, without contributing anything to the story. Jyothika’s Vemba is an interesting character with secrets of her own that drive her to find justice and these secrets are revealed as we go ahead but none of these twists work as intended.
What keeps you engaged is the writing which is surely superficial on character level but purely as a screenplay, it oscillates between conflicts that keep sprouting up every time you think Vemba is onto something strong. Each conflict in the screenplay keeps pushing Vemba to surrender and precisely this trick wants you to go on with Vemba and see her through this rollercoaster ride. The direction is bizzare at places. The film never understands what it wants to be. The direction comes across as desparate to appease to all kinds of audience, as the treatment goes from being gritty to complete melodrama at the drop of a hat. This tonal inconsistency makes it difficult to maintain emotional investment in the story. The problem with melodrama is that it trivializes the hideousness of the crime. Playing to the gallery robs the agonisingly real trauma of the characters. It becomes an act.
Ponmagal Vandaal is one of the major films to release directly on an OTT platform, Amazon Prime during the lockdown. The timing of this film’s release and it’s choice of distribution could be looked at as an inception of a new way of consuming cinema in India. Jyothika is a fairly significant star and with Surya’s backing as a producer this would have been a safe theatrical release if things were normal but opting for a direct OTT release makes this viewing experience even more Interesting, purley from the distribution perspective. For the result of this film will dictate the distribution of the films made in future, which will further go on to affect the way films are made and especially stories like Ponmagal Vandaal are told. This film was made for a theatrical release and expectedly has a mushy treatment despite the content being extremely distrubing. It is understood that one would not want to risk the chances of a film by providing a visceral experience and possibly putting off the majority theater audience. Going forward, the choice of treatment for a specific story might directly be affected by the channel of distribution it opts for. If we are looking at a future dominant by OTT, one could certainly expect a spike in risk taking and that is bound to produce some great cinema.
Jyotika is one fine actor who hardly gets a script that matches her skill as an actor. Ponmagal Vandaal is no different. Yet another shabbily written film let’s down a sincere performance by Jyotika. Ponmagal Vandaal takes an interesting story idea and coats it with a layer of worn out cliches. The hope is, with the advent of Online platforms which provide more creative freedom to the filmmakers, the paranoia of audience rejecting a film outright, will die out and stories like this one, will get the treatment they deserve.