This article won’t compare Matheswaran’s poetic first film to his bloody second. Arun Matheswaran has left his stamp on the audience with two films that are extremely violent, gritty dramas with straightforward, well-worn plots. With regard to its modest budget and creative use of its simplicity to extract the maximum amount of power from its premise, Rocky coasted on that concept.
Despite having a significantly larger budget than Saani Kaayidham, the film’s tone and realistic narrative are still present. It centres on a lower caste police officer (Keerthy Suresh) whose spouse clashes with higher caste workers in the factory where they all work. With their egos wounded, they use a police constable as bait by planning to have her join them in one of their outhouses, where they rape her while setting fire to the home she shares with her husband and daughter. Unbeknownst to his daughter, the husband had been beaten within an inch of his life and was therefore halfway to death while she slept. Our protagonist, together with her half brother (Selvaraghavan), takes matters into her own hands because the law is also simple enough to bend to the desires of the offenders. This results in a messy, brutal, and gory vengeance drama.
It would be simple to accuse Saani Kaayidham of being exploitative, and Matheswaran occasionally luxuriating in the brutality and violence would be sufficient evidence. However, he chose to focus on Keerthy Suresh’s haunted face, keeping the camera steady as she loses it and transforms into a vengeful force of nature, the anger almost taking over her as seen by her hitting her hands or mimicking the actions of cutting the limbs of one The second crucial scene takes place inside the van after she has poured acid on one of the criminals, who is already partially insane from the injuries she has caused. She then starts repeatedly giving him strong punches to the face. When she pauses to gather her breath, the camera briefly focuses on her face, and we see a sardonic smile. Matheswaran demonstrated how the ability to use violence might arouse feelings of bloodlust, a basic emotion that was only partially constrained by the justification of using violence.
However, the genre itself encourages violence to be a part of its fabric. This vicious western revenge story is based in Tamil Nadu’s coastal villages. The two siblings’ righteous vengeance-bearing actions, which all take place in enclosed confines, stand in stark contrast to the open views and chases through the lush greenery. One in a van, one inside a remote guest house, and one in an empty movie theatre. The stark contrast between the sites’ spaciousness emphasises the contradiction between their natural beauty and the violence that takes place in secret. A strong undercurrent of casteist violence and a focused critique of misogyny are present throughout the entire film. Saani Kaayidham is Matheswaran’s second film, and unlike his debut, this one features far more significant social critique.
The movie’s writing, however, is its major weakness. The movie does take a while to begin, especially considering its length of two hours and 18 minutes. Even though the underdeveloped nature of the main adversaries may have been deliberate, Selvaraghavan’s character is at best paper-thin. Selva himself, who is utterly fantastic in this character and nails it, makes up for that. He brings to life the brother’s commitment to the role with a sense of reluctance and anxiety at seeing his sister follow a path of vengeance, concerned for her mental health but unable to stop supporting her. Because he is powerless to help his niece and brother-in-law, it also serves as atonement for his own character. A blind child, the son of one of the criminals, is the subject of a side story that unintentionally involves the siblings. While it might be designed as a parody of a similar circumstance in Rocky, when the character of Rocky is forced to care for a child for the whole of the film, this plot thread is less successful and only seems superfluous.
Yamini Yagnamurthy’s exquisite cinematography and some brilliantly rendered handheld camera work perfectly support Saani Kaayidham. Saani Kaayidham is flawless technically, and some of the action scenes show that Matheswaran is channelling his inner Tarantino. Particularly in The Matador Murders, Saani Kaayidham manages to be shockingly darkly hilarious at times, whether Selva uses a loaded gun to scare off would-be attackers or Keerthy Suresh’s character decides to ram her attackers with a vehicle while it is in reverse. The way the set-piece is put together is amazing, and it contains both suspense and a surprising amount of humour to balance out the melancholy that permeates the entire film. But Saani Kaayidham’s lack of character development or attempts to make them a little more compelling than their typical structure would suggest prevents it from becoming a classic in its category. The protagonists are all vengeful, while the adversaries are all evil, some insidious and ludicrous. However, as I already stated, only Suresh’s character is given any depth, and even then, those aspects seem to have been chosen more for acting or direction than as a part of the narrative. While not perfect, Matheswaran’s sophomore effort is unquestionably a gory accomplishment. He may be on his way to creating a retribution trilogy in the style of Park Chan Wook’s iconic work.
Arun Matheswaran wrote and directed the Indian crime drama film Saani Kaayidham.