Yesterday after watching Penguin, I raced against time to quickly hash up a blog post. Why? Well, I am trying to keep up with daily blogging and I did not want my late-night movie to ruin my momentum. Hence, the hastily written, half-backed post.
Today is an attempt to right the wrong.
The movies Ponmagal Vandhal and Penguin had some brilliant elements going for them. Some haunting moments, breathtaking backdrop, occasional perfect background scores, and most importantly brilliant central theme (or what I grasped to be the central theme), stellar cast, and some amazing acting. Unfortunately, both had severe logical flaws, flaws that were annoying and obvious. I would leave it to the critics to dissect the movie to the bones and shine a torchlight on all its flaws and genius.
What I wish to do here is to explore the theme (as I perceived it) and ponder over the possibilities the plot had. Let me do the easy bit first. The possibilities, the movies could have been infinitely better had there been a better script and firmer rooting. I believe toning down the melodrama and handling the subject matter more logically would have uplifted the movies by multiple folds.
The central theme in Ponmagal Vandhal would be the quest for justice and making a striking commentary on “media justice” and the influence of media in justice delivery. It is the story of survival and crime (child sexual assault, murder, corrupt investigation, and corruption). It is common knowledge that child sexual assault is a major problem in society. A 2017 BBC report was titled, India sexual abuse: ‘Four child victims every hour’ (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-42193533). This title is enough to drive home the point that child sexual assault is an undeniable problem. This movie is not just about sexual abuse but also about the abuse of power. It is about how the high and mighty, rich, and politically influential people can hoodwink the entire society and the judicial system while the poor and the marginalized are easily made into scapegoats and denied even basic dignity. It is the story of delayed justice. We often hear that justice delayed is justice denied, but this movie questions that notion. The justice although delayed brings about posthumous dignity to a woman who was victimized, traumatized, and hounded by society and later news agencies as well. I felt that this movie is asking the audience to question the media houses and their vested interest in sensationalizing news often at the cost of the lives of the poor, marginalized and defenseless people who live in the fringes of society.
Penguin is about a mother’s struggle after her child’s kidnapping and its aftermath. Penguin makes an important statement about the harmful impact of comparison on a child’s psychic, as well as crime in society (murder, organ harvesting, etc.). If you are an Indian kid, it is highly likely that you heard a parent/ teacher/influential adult tell you “learn from him/her”, “do like him/her”, “be like him/her”, etc. What happens when these comments are persistent and repeated over a lifetime? All of us would know at some level/ intensity, the bitterness of comparison. Comparison is like acid that erodes self-esteem and self-worth. If you do not understand what I am talking about, you would be an extremely lucky and extremely small segment of the population. In that case, you should count the lack of comparisons as a blessing and hopefully pass it on to others (i.e., don’t compare anyone). Penguin is also about the incompetence of a severely stressed police force- they are unable to do a thorough check for a child who was kidnapped during a school trip, unable to track down serial child disappearances, etc. Maybe a strong law and order maintenance and investigation requires better equipped and better-staffed police forces. Penguin also makes us wonder, is every face that smiles at you really your friend/ well-wisher?
Ponmagal Vandhal and Penguin are about never giving up hope (even when the whole world and entire institutions are against you). It is about perseverance and commitment to a cause/ purpose. It is about social evils and taking a stand against them. Both these movies had themes that deserved a better telling.
Thankfully, the movies were released on OTT platform and this might increase the viewership of these movies. Because viewers are necessary, then only we can have deeper conversations and investigations about social evils that are pushed to the sideline or brushed under the carpet.
Hopefully, the movies will be able to create the right buzz and fuel much-needed conversations and more importantly desperately needed actions and course correction from society at large. Fingers crossed.