Ponmagal Vandhal review: Jyotika-starrer is let down by muddled writing
Ponmagal Vandhal cast: Jyotika, R Parthiban, K Bhagyaraj, Thiagarajan, Pratap Pothen, Vidya Pradeep
Ponmagal Vandhal director: JJ Fredrick
Ponmagal Vandhal rating: Two stars
A long-forgotten case involving the heinous kidnap-murder of a bunch of little girls is re-opened, and skeletons, literally, come tumbling out. Dark secrets are revealed, honourable men are found to be complicit, and the truth sets a woman free.
There was a healthy pre-release buzz around Ponmagal Vandhal because of its A-list credentials: it is toplined by Jyotika and produced by Suriya. But it gathered much more traction because of the decision to open on a streaming platform, not waiting for theaters to open in these uncertain lockdown times, and it’s become one of the first new Indian films to go down the OTT way.
The theme of the film is worthy, too. Child sex abuse, usually brushed under the carpet, finds a way to be put out there in the film’s format, which combines the elements of a thriller with a courtroom drama. As feisty lawyer Venba (Jyotika) goes about unravelling the case of ‘Psycho Jyoti’, with the help of close associate ‘Petition’ Pethuraj (Bhagyaraj), she comes up against every kind of factor that conspires to keep such crimes under wraps: egotistic powerful men with a criminal bent, legal eagles and crooked cops who follow the money and not their conscience, and the repressed shame of the victim who has no idea of how to find the words to describe what happened to them.
Venba is the voice of those victims, and that is the only strength of Ponmagal Vandhal: Jyotika carries the film with her performance, but you wish she varied the mix of pain-sorrow-determination: after a point it becomes one-note. The supporting cast does its job, but the film is let down by muddled writing, flat aspect, and choosing to drown everything in loud sentiment. It works only in patches, as it goes about touching upon embedded misogyny and patriarchy (a character patronisingly calls Venba ‘ma’: good to call it out, even if it is done clunkily), regional bias (‘Psycho Jyoti’ is a ‘North Indian’) and so on.
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But the film fails its own subject by its insensitivity: training the camera on battered and bleeding little girls this way is more prurient than anything else. Wanting to make films about important issues is important, but the execution is even more important.