Victim Anthology Series Review: Pa Ranjith shines the brightest in an otherwise dull anthology
Victim - Who is Next? aims to be an exploration of how it is our perspectives that determine the victim in a situation. However, not every exploration works in this rather sedate anthology
SonyLIV’s anthology, Victim, directed by Pa Ranjith, Venkat Prabhu, Chimbu Deven and M Rajesh, aims to be an exploration of how perspectives in a situation define the identity of a victim. In even half-decent anthologies, you usually spot a running theme and some directorial touches getting repeated across films. However, this filmmaker bunch is so eclectic that their shorts feel like standalone shorts and not really part of a whole. In keeping with this anthology, here’s discussing each short separately.
Directors: Pa Ranjith, Rajesh, Chimbu Deven, Venkat Prabhu
Cast: Guru Somasundaram, Priya Bhavani Shankar, Amala Paul, Nasser
The only filmmaker to come out of Victim unscathed is Pa Ranjith, who uses the short-film format to experiment with writing and filmmaking choices. His Dhammam is a real-time narrative about the nature of oppression, and how a moment of defiance can result in a bloodbath.
It all begins with the beautiful shot of a young girl, Kema (Poorvadharini), as she climbs on top of a bust of Buddha. She’s trying to fly, and her father Guna (Guru Somasundaram) doesn’t like what he’s seeing. “Saami illa nu sonnavara saami nu solriye pa,” she bites back. This school-going girl has a mind of her own and will not be tamed by the cautionary words of her cautious father. Later, when she, once again, doesn’t pay heed to Guna’s words and pushes Sekar (Kalaiyarasan), it creates a furore.
The narrative builds to a crescendo and is an edge-of-the-seat thriller, whilst also being a compelling psychological drama. It is exhilarating to see how any inherent goodness we may possess can be so easily snuffed out by casteist pride. This is best seen in the roles played by Harikrishnan (who’s terrific) and Lizzie Antony, as they grapple between justice, morals, and clan loyalty.
DoP Thamizh A Azhagan’s visual artistry really elevates this short, with great use of aerial shots and wide angles. Towards the end, as we see the bust of Buddha being a mute observer of everything, and we see once again that compassion trumps it all…
Rajesh’s short featuring Priya Bhavani Shankar and Natty aka Nataraja Subramaniam is easily the most disappointing in this anthology. While the director’s attempt to try a new genre seems to warrant some acknowledgement, the end product is rather awry.
Borrowing heavily from the cheap horror template, Rajesh tries to weave a story about… wait for it… mental health. The reveal is shoddy and manipulative, and does no justice to Natty and Priya, who exhibit their flair for comic timing. Some of the one-liners by Natty works, and Priya Bhavani Shankar does a fair job of playing a scared woman on the run, who also has to be funny at times.
This short never takes off and leaves us with a sour aftertaste despite the competency of the cast. Rajesh becomes a victim of ‘experimentation’, and Mirrage suggests that the filmmaker’s thought process needs a shake-up.
KOTTAI PAAKU VATHALUM, MOTTI MAADI SITHARUM
Chimbu Deven made a decent hyper-link film in Kasada Thabara, in which he brought together multiple narratives while retaining his unique touch. Here too, we see glimpses of the director’s potential. There’s no in-between with these director’s attempts; they are either good or bad. His short in Victim too feels rather divisive. It is fun to see Nasser let his hair down as the time-travelling Sithar who has answers to all the questions in the cosmos. Here, he is pitted against a reticent Thambi Ramaiah, who plays a journalist trying to get an exclusive from this ascetic. While the premise is promising, Chimbu Deven takes aim at low-hanging fruits, and manages to hit only a few. The conversations are bland and barring momentary sparks of brilliance, it is largely a contrived take on the Dharumi-Shiva scene from Thiruvilaiyadal.
Chimbu Deven places all his chips in the multiple-climax bag, somewhat reminiscent of his own Oru Kanniyum Moondru Kalavaanigalum. While it is mildly interesting to see him play around with perspectives, it still feels like a rather roundabout way to ask the question of who the victim is.
One mainstream Tamil filmmaker who seems to be enjoying his stint in the shorter format in the digital space is Venkat Prabhu. It may not always work, but Venkat Prabhu is still trying to do things he might not in his commercial films.
In Confession, we see Amala Paul once again cast as the ‘bold’ woman. Venkat Prabhu and DoP Sakthi Saravanan capture her as she goes about her daily routines. We hear her urinate. We see her unhook her bra. We see her pour herself a glass of wine. We see her unwind. We see her ‘ungainly’ stretch and yawn. We see her roll a joint. We see her order food. We see her shooing off her paramour. Soon after, we see her trying to initiate an intimate phone conversation with her UK-based husband. We see and hear a lot of things, and it is refreshing to see it all normalised… but then...
A sniper-wielding assassin in the form of a genial Prasanna comes in from nowhere, and we get the mish-mashing of genres that Venkat Prabhu is known for. However, with this development comes the vilification of the bold girl. There are liberal doses of dark humour, and an assassin with the semblance of a ‘conscience’, but all this doesn’t translate well because of the morally ambiguous nature of the intent.
Venkat Prabhu gets the assignment right, and the players too, but something still feels amiss. Perhaps he played to the gallery? When an extended phone call between Prasanna and Amala finally comes to a close, the ending is right up VP’s alley. However, the same can’t be said about the epilogue that seems over-eager for a twist. and it is a rather tame finish to what promised to be a bold short.
It will be interesting to see where Pa Ranjith will go next, and for M Rajesh, it can only be upwards. Chimbudeven and Venkat Prabhu play with the format, albeit to contrasting results, but still show sparks of learning and unlearning.
It’s tempting to use the title for a review punchline, given that this anthology largely doesn’t work, but let’s not go for the low-hanging fruit for this review. Let’s just call Victim a drab anthology that needed more finesse, focus, and most importantly, better stories.