Saani Kaayidham begins with a warning for ‘extreme violence’. It advises the viewer to proceed at their discretion, and also states that the makers do not intend to glorify violence. It’s a warning that one should take seriously. (Here is an additional trigger warning for sexual violence as well.) Saani Kaayidham is violent, but not gory. Thankfully, we don’t see the acts in their entirety. Arun Matheshwaran shows admirable restraint in handling violence, choosing to show the faces behind it — their perversities, their privilege-fuelled arrogance, and later, rage. Pure, unfiltered rage.
Saani Kaayidham belongs to the same universe as Arun’s debut film Rocky — in style, emotion, and aesthetic. In fact, SK could be the second instalment of Arun’s revenge series. The film unfolds in chapters. The key moments of the story are presented like a puzzle — the sequences are juxtaposed similarly. (Edited by Nagooran) The film revisits them to add pieces and make us see the larger story. Since it is a period film, it becomes easier to erase modern complications and present a simpler landscape and narrative. However, SK is not as indulgent or as flashy as Rocky. The cinematography is more rooted but with equal visual flair. SK’s usage of handheld shots and close-ups bode well for its story (Cinematography is by Yamini Yagnamurthy). Sam CS’s minimalist score also embellishes the film’s fury well.
However, casting Keerthy Suresh and Selvaraghavan in this localised interpretation of Kill Bill is a stroke of genius. Usually tagged as the demure girl-next-door, Keerthy Suresh excels in this never-seen-before avatar. After Mahanati, Keerthy finally gets a role that showcases the actor in her in Saani Kaayidham. She finds a beautiful balance between louder moments of rage with the quieter moments of grief. And boy, can she punch! Selvaraghavan plays the perfect foil to Keerthy, as her older step-brother Sangaiyah. They form an unlikely duo, but a formidable one. (There’s a chuckle-worthy moment involving the yesteryear classic brother-sister anthem ‘Malarnthum Malaradha’) Their performances form the strongest link of Saani Kaayidham.
It is a sign of the craft and the performances that Saani Kaayidham holds our attention, despite a familiar premise. With Rocky and Saani Kaayidham, Arun has clearly shown his hold over the medium and his distinct sense of style. Even though the journey becomes familiar, The director gives us a few gushes of adrenaline with the action.
Violence, in such cases, is also sexual violence. It doesn’t matter whether you are a policewoman, the road to legal justice is long, lonely, and filled with hurdles. There’s also a great moment where Ponni rightly calls out a sexist slur, one that is still unfortunately popular. But you still end up craving more emotional nuance and surprise.
Saani Kaayidham is a solid revenge drama that achieves its humble aspirations. But there is unexplored potential to do more and you wish the film had taken that chance. Nevertheless, it makes Arun Maatheshwaran a name to look out for.
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