Arun Matheswaran, one of Tamil cinema’s newly minted poets of stylised bloodletting, is back with another ode to the joys of visceral violence. Saani Kaayidham shares with the writer-director’s Rocky (2021) powerful performances, generalised gruesomeness and vigilante justice.
Also in the new movie, which is out on Amazon Prime Video, is the mesh of black-and-white and vivid colour sequences dunked in black, gold and crimson. This film too is divided into chapters with gnomic titles. An adorable girl child makes more sense than the adults in the room. The blood gushes forth to the sound of guts being squelched.
Police constable Ponni (Keerthy Suresh) is brutally shown her place in the caste hierarchy. After Ponni’s husband dares to dream of political power and refuses to clean toilets, the price is paid by his family.
With the help of her half brother Sangayya (Selvaraghavan), Ponni unleashes her inner avenging heroine. Travelling about in a Matador van, the deadly duo maim, burn and shoot their way out of a socially sanctioned order that shoves them to the bottom.
The Bandit Queen-style vengeance saga has the kill rate of the average slasherfest. The violence soon becomes an end unto itself, a sensorial experience to be consumed in a state halfway between horror and pleasure.
Matheswaran, working in lockstep with cinematographer Yamini Yagnamurthy, editor Nagooran Ramachandran and music composer Sam CS, lays out the eye-catching set pieces and piles on the tension. The stylised nihilism makes Saani Kaayidham appear more momentous than it eventually is.
It’s hard to remember, amidst all the gratuitous fun of watching villains get what they deserve, that the film is about the ways in which justice is perverted and denied for survivors of rape and caste discrimination.
Blindness and its counterpoint are twinned elements in the film. There is the suggestion that an eye for an eye leaves the world blind. But Matheswaran also wants us to see, rather gawk, at his ability to stretch out moments of agony and anger.
Without the wider social context from recent Tamil productions that explore the realities of caste through mainstream devices, Saani Kaayidham barely leaves the zone of the vigilante fantasy film. Within this zone lie serious filmmaking chops and fiery turns by a deglamorised Keerty Suresh and director Selvaraghavan, in his first full-length role. The ensemble cast is excellent too, piling on the venality with aplomb.