Bakasuran Movie Review: Mohan G’s latest film trains its furious, problematic gaze on women
The film identifies the right problems, offers superficial solutions, vilifies the wrong things, and exposes its own skewed perceptions
The title, Bakasuran, is aglow in red flames, and the background music is simply a demonic scream. Director Mohan G is angry again, and this time, he is pissed off about young women and mobile phones. All the rage is channelled through the anti-hero, Bheemarasu (Selvaraghavan, who seems to be playing a continuation of his character from a much better film, Saani Kaayidham). Bheema is out for blood right from the get-go. The director’s name flashes when Bheemarasu brings down a rock on a man’s head. There’s no aesthetic value to this shot, and neither are you privy to the reason behind the head-bludgeoning.
Director: Mohan G
Cast: Selvaraghavan, Natty, Radha Ravi, Tharakshi
In fact, for much of the first half, as Bheema goes about causing fatalities, we get gratuitous violence; we feel the filmmaker smacking his lips in delight, as Bheema, for instance, slits the throat of a woman held upside-down. The misogyny is palpable, and given that the flashback (which attempts to justify Bheema’s actions) comes in much later, all you are left with is a man brutalising a woman, enjoying it, and walking away with her sunglasses soaked in blood. Oh, and in between, Bheema cracks a joke that’s meant to valourise ‘maanam’—which as we know by now, is a potent tool to keep women in check. He implies that when offered a choice between ‘maanam’ and ‘uyir’, women must choose the former. Picture this man—the father to a daughter—saying that should she ever have to choose between ‘maanam’ and ‘uyir’, he would much rather that she died. Imagine the darkness of such a person’s heart.
The saving grace during these portions is that Selvaraghavan is completely at home playing a twisted man. He breathes menace, seems unpredictable, and is clearly great at dark humour. I’ve also always enjoyed watching actor Natty, and Bakasuran, for a while, seems interestingly structured on the idea of parallel narratives. While Natty’s Major Arul is digging into a case of connected murders, Selva’s Bheema is unleashing brutality. When do their paths converge? Yet, the film overuses this technique to the point of making us feel unsettled—and not in a good way. Major Arul says a line or two and his scene is over. Quickly, we move to Bheema saying a line or two, and we return to Arul once again—and on and on it goes. Also, it doesn’t help that Arul’s methods aren’t exactly ingenious, and Bheema’s crimes too feel repetitive and easily accomplished. He is able to isolate his victims and whip them about till he gets bored. In between, while he’s toying with yet another victim of his, the whole scene is shot in slow-motion. And so, throughout the duel, we get shots of water droplets flying about, the man’s facial flesh quivering after a punch… Is it a weak attempt at craft innovation? Is it a way to savour the attacks longer?
Somehow, in between showing and supposedly caring about how women are exploited, the film itself manages to exploit them. For one, it sneaks in a dull, dull item number, with Mansoor Ali Khan dancing about with a bunch of women. The film’s excuse is that Arul is watching such a song being shot. We see the film’s quieter exploitation when we pay attention to its gaze on the victims. This is especially the case with how the whole Bheema’s daughter story is presented to us. Someone calls her, ‘Kaamathu kaari’. Someone else describes her body and suggests that she has eaten ‘badam’ and ‘mundhiri’. It’s all rather crass, and the film shows no real understanding of how to sensitively present a woman being exploited.
In order to add some intrigue into this bloated, run-of-the-mill revenge story, Mahabharata references are brought in. Apparently, there’s a method to the killings, with parallels drawn to the many demons killed by Mahabharata’s Bheema. It's interesting when we are brought glimpses of Bheema’s life as a village artist. But hardly before any insight into Bheema’s personality and his art can be gleaned, the film turns its focus on the repetitive, exploitative details of the victim-girl-flashback™. Somewhere in between, the film sneaks in its disgust for abortions.
Bakasuran identifies problems and presents silly, superficial solutions. It sees that mobile phones can cause trouble, and its solution is to vilify the whole technology. It sees that young adults can explore their sexuality, and its solution is to disallow privacy. It hopes to strike fear into the hearts of our already insecure parents and urge them to pursue constant surveillance. The film doesn’t understand that the problem is also repressive upbringing; it doesn’t get that the problem is also that youngsters are shamed and humiliated for the slightest, most natural explorations of their sexuality. Isn’t that why Bheema’s daughter feels so disgusted that she shared a kiss? Isn’t that why she feels so scared of talking to her family? Pray, tell me… is the solution then to shut such young adults inside a box, or to foster trust and help them see that they will never be judged—only gently guided? But all of this might just be too much nuance to expect from a film whose portrayal of a bad woman centres on her wearing sleeveless outfits, sporting short hair, and speaking loudly.