Nerkonda Paarvai Movie Review: Ajith's integration into this remake is to mixed results
A pretty faithful remake with underwhelming changes, the film looks to reshape perceptions about women
First things first. I am delighted that Pink got remade in Tamil; I am rapturous that someone with the star power of Ajith has participated in the project. This decision by the star ranks right up there alongside Rajinikanth doing films with Ranjith, for sheer courage, and good intentions. Often, films like Pink run the risk of preaching to the choir, but when a star of the stature of Ajith breaks away from expectations and does a film like this, it helps familiarise many sections to the message of such films. The hope, of course, is that it will stick. The participation of a star is a double-edged sword, however. It popularises the message, sure, but pandering to his presence often proves harmful for the potency of the message. Unfortunately, some of that has happened with Nerkonda Paarvai.
Director: H Vinoth
Cast: Shraddha Srinath, Abhirami, Andrea, Ajith Kumar
Among the key strengths of Pink is the air of suspense that pervades its universe (it’s impossible not to bring Pink into this conversation, given this film is a remake). This is aided by Amitabh Bachchan playing a lawyer with great fragility. The three women central to this story, at one point, even express doubt over whether he is the right man for their case. In Nerkonda Paarvai, these women are played by Shraddha Srinath, Andrea (reprising her part from the original), and Abhirami, but here, when they express uncertainty over the efficiency of Bharath Subramaniam (Ajith Kumar), you want to ask them to relax. H Vinoth tries to make Bharath vulnerable by adding depression and bipolar disorder to his character, but he makes the latter seem almost like a superpower—which, of course, has the opposite effect of making him vulnerable. A doctor even warns a group of bad guys that Bharath not taking his pills is more dangerous for them. The idea is great in a mass film, but not in a universe like this, where the focus needs to be strictly on the women. Bharath makes horizontal figures of dozens of vertical men, as a fountain gushes in the background (symbolism?). He then snarls at a powerful politician, “Bayamurutharavana bayamuruthardhu en pazhakkam.” And to think his clients, those three poor women, were worried about this guy?
If you take the ‘male saviour complex’ criticism of Pink seriously, getting a younger, more mass-y actor like Ajith to play the character—and throwing in an elaborate fight sequence with a background song that worships him—can only be said to make it worse. However, it must be noted that after the almost half-hearted, cursory attempt at mass-ifying him, H Vinoth does not get carried away and gets back to the real story. About the ‘male saviour’ complex, such characters typically take control and you could, to a certain extent, say this about Bharath. They also do a lot of talking on behalf of the women, and Bharath certainly does this too, but the key difference here is that talking on behalf of people is his job. He isn’t robbing them of agency, he’s enabling it. When he’s not in court, his silence is notable. He’s so quiet that he drives a hospital attendant crazy at one point. Even when Meera drops her hood to cover her face in shame, he doesn’t say a word. He simply lifts it and continues walking. These are powerful moments in the film.
Remakes are good opportunities to make improvements, but a couple of opportunities do get squandered here, I think. Much like in the original film, I wasn’t really sure about all the initial staring of Bharath here. Is that the film trying to make the needless point that not all men who stare are evil? In sentiment though, I agree that men can be allies too, and that insensitivity is a quality beyond gender. Man is of all shapes and sizes in Nerkonda Paarvai. He can be supportive, like Andrea’s friend (Kishen Das). He can be toxic and dangerous, like the characters played by Ashwin Rao and Arjun Chidambaram. He can be offensive by association, like Adhik. He can be a deluded, selfish person who engages in victim-blaming, like Famitha’s boyfriend. Or he can just seem plain perplexed at the complexity of it all, like Meera’s abnormally quiet father (Delhi Ganesh). He could perhaps be thought of as a posterboy of all good men who don’t speak up when necessary. I quite enjoyed this sheer variety of men in Nerkonda Paarvai. It shows you how wrong it is to throw people into simple, convenient boxes.
Both Nerkonda Paarvai and its original, Pink, are, however, a bit confusing in their seeming insistence that consent is black or white. Bharath shows an almost obsessive need to hear his client, Meera, tell him that she used the word, “No”. You could argue that the focus should be on giving consent, not in its denial. So what if she had not quite said no? It’s, after all, a time when intoxicated consent is under the microscope. So, it’s a bit uncomfortable when Bharath keeps yelling, “What did you say?” That said, it’s also important to note that these are baby steps. We must not forget that these are still times when old adages like, ‘A woman means yes when she says no’, are still in circulation. So, the message in Nerkonda Paarvai rings important. If Nerkonda Paarvai’s rationale is to first convince the world that the earth isn’t flat, before they can be told it isn’t a perfect sphere either, it’s hard to disagree.
I liked that they have retained Andrea in this film, and it tells you that H Vinoth cares about that small portion where she talks about north-eastern girls being subject to greater harassment. Such good-intentioned casting makes me feel a bit protective about this film. You can sense this intensity in Ajith's performance too. I also liked Shraddha Srinath as Meera, and thought she really brought out the frustration of her character well. I didn’t mind Abhirami as Famitha, and really liked how fatigued and worn out she looks in the film, a consequence of the perennial stress the women—all woman—are subjected to.
Any mixed feelings I have about Nerkonda Paarvai concern the inconsistency of its intensity. Any time the focus turns to Bharath, the intensity drops; our gaze gets diverted from the three women. The fight sequence, the generic flashback with Vidya Balan… these may have been thought mandatory, but they all contribute to dilution. While Piyush Mishra’s animated gestures in Pink didn’t come at the expense of seriousness, Rangaraj Pandey, who plays the character here, exaggerates the portrayal almost to comic effect. Some of the dialogue-writing is a bit strange too. Someone rhymes ‘cool’ and ‘fool’ for no evident reason. Where Amitabh Bachchan simply says, “Be careful”, Ajith says, “Yoschu nadakkanum; yoschitte nadakka koodadhu.” It seems far more laboured in comparison, and takes away from his quiet, intense demeanour.
Save for detours that cost a loss in potency, Nerkonda Paarvai is a pretty faithful film, dialogue for dialogue. Even small touches in Pink find their way here—like the seemingly polite inspector suddenly yelling at someone, like the corrupt lawyer laughing away Bharath’s speech as moralisation of the issue… Ultimately, the extent of one’s enjoyment of Nerkonda Paaarvai boils down to where you stand in between the utility of a star and the purity of the message. Even if I wasn’t blown away by those final stretches of Nerkonda Paarvai, I did feel a rush of warmth to see Meera and friends finally breaking into relieved smiles. Should this film change some of our people and cause these smiles to extend to a few other women in our society, I will happily make peace with the counter-effects of a star’s presence in it.