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Film Review
Gargi: A Solo fight for Innocence

The Tamil-language film ‘Gargi’, directed by Gautham Ramachandran, mixes elements of a whodunit and a courtroom drama to serve us a hard-hitting story that continually plays hide-and-seek with our mind and all of its many judgments and preconceptions. Dr Ramandeep Mahal reviews the film.

Somehow, I believe directors from South India make more female centric movies and films with social relevance. This is perhaps why, the Tamil-language film ‘Gargi’, directed by Gautham Ramachandran, does not come as a surprise. The cries of a woman in agony, the battle against her assailant, and the hopeless spasms of her body are all disturbing pictures that one has seen many times in films. Such a tableau is often caught with a voyeuristic eye, although it is also on occasion used to emphasize the heinousness of a crime against a helpless victim. This point of view doesn’t leave much room for interpretation by the viewer and offers a moralistic and judgmental point-of-view. ‘Gargi’ does not fall in any of these categories. The movie mixes elements of a whodunit and a courtroom drama to serve us a hard-hitting story that continually plays hide-and-seek with our mind and all of its many judgments and preconceptions. Abuse of children and sexual assault, controversial subjects at the best of times, are handled with care and sensitivity, and this is clear in both the writing and the way the movie is made. The message that the film is attempting to convey is not an easy one! Trust me.

The 2022 Indian legal drama movie stars Sai Pallavi and Kaali Venkat, both well-known stars and actors of the Tamil film firmament. This is undoubtedly Sai Pallavi’s greatest performance to date; watch her smile as someone pulls her leg in the opening moments, and then see her anger as she searches for her father from pillar to post. Gargi works as a schoolteacher, her mother (Rajalakshmi P) sells homemade rice batter, and her sister Aksarah (Prajuna Sarah) is a young adolescent. Her father Bhramanand (R.S Shivaji) works as a security guard in an apartment building. The content and lively Gargi is engaged to Pazhani but she is not a run-of-the-mill woman who accepts male subjugation without protest. So, she is offended when her beau talks about dowry and is at odds with the expectations that her lover Pazhani’s family appear to be imposing on her lower middle-class family. In the initial frames of the film itself, Gargi comes across as a thinking, mature, sensitive young woman, aware of her gender’s vulnerabilities and yet giving short glimpses of a modern feminist.

When the news of the rape of a minor is broadcast on the Television, Gargi reacts like most of us do. Shock, outrage and anger against perpetrators as well as our system that does not ensure safety of women and then like most of us, she goes back to her routine life, tutoring the local children followed by a romantic moment. But in this case still waters run deep. Her bravado and indifference are only skin deep. The issue of molestation and rape are an indispensable part of her psyche. The director slowly peels back the layers, and we are given a glimpse of her childhood when she escaped molestation by her tutor, who is caught off guard in his unsavory intent by the arrival of her father. Now we can understand why she is concerned about her adolescent sister, who has yet to arrive home. The stage is now set for what happens next.

The next event is that Bhramanand does not return home. Gargi learns that the police have detained him in connection with a rape investigation. Although she believes the authorities must have made an error in their identification of him, it cannot be denied that he is one of the men arrested for sexual assaulted of a minor. He is seen crouched in the police station, with his face hidden. He is still wearing his uniform as a security guard. Her father’s best friend and lawyer, Bhanu Prakash (Jayaprakash), assures her that the authorities may have made a mistake and that he will represent her father in court. However, when the media cacophony and blame-game become loud, he chickens out. In desperation, Gargi accepts the help and assistance of Indrans (Kaali Venkat) an ostensibly incompetent lawyer who defends Brahmanand when the world and the legal system are against him. Gargi’s agony, her desperation, her helplessness, her uncertainty and faith in the innocence of the father she hero-worships come across strongly as Sai Pallavi emotes as though her life depends upon it. Aishwarya Lekshmi, Kavithalaya Krishnan, and Livingston (in a more substantial appearance) are all excellent of course but cannot hold a candle to Sai.

One of the scenes that really caught my attention was when the victim’s father describing the trauma of his child remarks that his catatonic daughter does not see him as a ‘father’ but as a stranger she fears and distrusts. The last scene, when Gargi is confronted with the truth about her father, is perhaps the most heart wrenching. A shattered but courageous Gargi steps out of the court to gather together the remnants of her dignity and accept this monstrous unpalatable truth of her life.  

I would personally rate this movie 8.5 out of 10. My recommendation: Go for it!

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Dr. Ramandeep Mahal is an Assistant Professor of English in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Maharishi Markandeshwar Mullana, Ambala. She received her Doctorate degree from Maharishi Markandeshwar Mullana Ambala in 2018. Her research interests include Anglo-American Literature, Indian Writing in English, African Literature. She is the author of more than twenty research papers.