Critic’s Rating : 4.0 / 5
Gargi Movie Review : A superb Sai Pallavi anchors this tense drama on sexual abuse
With such a set-up, Gautham Ramachandran establishes how we usually register such news reports. We hear, we worry about our own for that moment and then move on with our lives. But what if we become part of such reports? How does that change our lives?
We soon find out as Gargi learns that her 60-year-old father Brammananda (RS Sivaji), who works as a security guard, is also one of the accused in the gang rape about which she had heard earlier. She believes there must have been some mistake, but the cops are confident that he is one of the rapists. She reaches out to Banu Prakash (Jayaprakash), a family friend who is a top lawyer, and he, too, assures that cops might have got it wrong, and he’d get her father out in court.
But the next morning, hell breaks loose as the identify of her father is revealed by the media. Soon, Gargi’s family becomes ostracised, with the public and the media baying for her father’s blood. Even Banu Prakash withdraws from the case. Now, her only hope is to team up with his inexperienced junior Indrans Kaliyaperumal (Kaali Venkat), who also has stammering, and find a way to prove her dad’s innocence.
A superbly shot, hard-hitting drama that unfolds more like a tense thriller, Gautham Ramachandran’s Gargi is an essential film in this #MeToo age. The writing is layered, capturing the complexities involved in crimes that involve sexual abuse. Even though it is with Gargi that we travel, Gautham doesn’t stop with just showing the problems that his protagonist’s family faces because of what could be a hasty arrest by the police. He also shows us the problems faced by the cops, the trauma that the survivor and her family undergo, and even the compulsions that drive journalists to sensationalise such crimes. The treatment is nuanced, and even though the material offers scope to turn this film into a high-pitched moralistic tale or a whodunit, both Gautham and co-writer Hariharan Raju refrain from going for cheap genre thrills; it is the emotional fallout that is always the focus.
The minor flashbacks that involve a young Gargi and her teacher who abuses her initially seem unnecessary character details, but in the end, we realise how those incidents have helped her see her father and why she is so convinced of his innocence, even though as a woman and a survivor herself, she should be trusting the minor accusing her father. The final twist, if you could call it that, initially feels too difficult to buy, but then, we realise that it is often difficult to accept the fact that the perpetrator could be someone whom you might have hardly thought capable of committing such a ghastly crime.
But the way in which Aishwarya Lekshmi’s character, a journalist, is written feels like it was included as an afterthought. And her conversation with Gargi’s sister in the epilogue is spoonfeeding that seems so out of tone in a film that is confident in expecting its audience to take home the message from the story it tells.
The tactile quality of Sraiyanti and Premkrishna Akkatu’s visuals add to the feeling of realism, while Govind Vasantha’s eerie score gives the effect of a horror movie, which feels right given the nature of the crime and the situation in which Gargi and her family find themselves in.
The casting feels perfect. The supporting cast, which includes Saravanan, as the father of the survivor, who is consumed by both grief and horror, Kavithalaya Krishnan, as an overbearing public prosecutor, Livingston, who plays a security guard in the same apartment as Brammananda, newcomer Capt Pratap, who adds a touch of humanity to what could have been a typical cop character, shine in the few scenes that they get. RS Sivaji’s frail physique and earnest face help us buy into his hapless situation. The filmmakers must also be commended for casting a trans person in a significant character, and Dr S Sudha is refreshingly real as the no-nonsense judge. When the public prosecutor makes an u sparing remark on her gender, her stinging reply becomes a whistle-worthy moment: “I know the arrogance of man and pain of woman, so I’m the best person to judge this case.” The real casting masterstroke involves Kaali Venkat, who we have seen so far largely in minor supporting roles. The actor rises up to the challenge and brings out the vulnerability, grit and affability of this underdog character.
But the film belongs to Sai Pallavi, who is superb as a young woman who is determined to fight back even with the entire world against her. The actress displays the multitude of emotions Gargi undergoes over the course of the film without any false note in her performance. Behind the slender appearance, she makes us see the nerves of steel that Gargi possesses and makes us root for the character at every step of her struggle.