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Ayali Review: This series with honest ideas and earnest performances needed consistent writing- Cinema express

Ayali Review: This series with honest ideas and earnest performances needed consistent writing 

It raises questions on pertinent topics, but suffers from uneven storytelling

Published: 27th January 2023
Ayali review

Fear and power are two common elements that dominate any belief system. And these ultimately fuel years of traditional practices including the regressive ones. ZEE5’s latest web series Ayali relies upon this idea to mount its plot- the denial of girls' education and freedom in Veerappannai village. In the opening scene we see a young girl enjoying the breeze on her face as the pallu of her half-saree floats in the air. As she walks chin up, her moment of happiness is cut short by her mother who lands a tight slap and asks her to walk with her eyes on the ground. The reason? Well, girls should 'act like girls!' 

Cast: Abi Nakshatra, Anumol, Madhan, Linga, Singampuli, and others

Streamer: ZEE5

Director: Muthu Kumar

Ayali begins with a graphic novel-type visual narrative that tells the tale of a young couple who eloped from Veerappannai leading to the wrath of the local deity Ayali on the people. As a result, villagers together decide to get all the girls married off once they hit puberty. Years roll by and this regressive decision leads to complete absence of female students in the local school post grade nine. We are now introduced to the protagonist, young teen Thamizh, who has eyes on becoming a doctor. Ayali follows this pursuit of hers to reach her goal. But she has to brave all the odds, starting from hiding her menarche from the villagers. 

The series has some honest and brutal depictions of how the extremes of patriarchy and misogyny work. There are throwaway lines of how a family’s respect lies in the body of a woman, and that she becomes a property of honour and a child-begetting machine once she hits her menses. Amid these serious messages, there is also a pleasantly surprising and welcoming track between Thamizh and her mother (Anumol), who becomes the girl’s closest confidant. In return, the daughter becomes a window to the outside world for her mother. Quite literally, as the daughter lets her mother take the window bus seat in a scene, symbolising their equation. 

Ayali, in many quiet instances, makes a silent commentary on the curse bestowed upon village women. In one particular scene, when the teacher mocks a girl who wouldn’t turn up to school in the future (thanks to superstitions), the half class of boys laugh, whereas the girl students remain wordless and sober. This might be a fleeting moment, but the series makes an important commentary here. Ayali also uses its multi-character arc to establish the constant growth of its protagonist Thamizh, juxtaposing the downhill journey of patriarchal society. Ayali's cast, especially Anumol and Abi Nakshatra, shine in their characters as the mother and daughter.

However, all this is said and done, Ayali lacks a consistent storytelling. Ayali’s antagonists are over-the-top caricatures. They stick to all the usual tropes of a villain just to reiterate the core message. This repetitive pattern only creates a sense of detachment and a bitter aftertaste. A little subtleness could have gone a long way to tell this tale that every other woman can relate to. 

The series also suffers from the need to end on a banger note, and its predictable plot is rushed to tie all the loose ends, barring the very last scene. The final stretch turns out to be a preachy and cliched marathon of monologues on genders. Though some dialogues evoke sense, they do not hit hard enough. 

Ayali is technically strong, but a little more depth and consistency in writing could have made it more engrossing. The series succumbs to relying on dialogues to move the story ahead at most of its crucial junctures. A  lot of vital characters change shades overnight, and stick out like a sore thumb in the narrative. What's beautiful about Ayali is how it ends. In the conclusion, we don’t really get to see Thamizh or what she has been up to. Instead we are shown how Veerappannai has changed over the years from the point of view of one of the antagonists. This is a satisfying end as we see an illiberal man succumbing to the unavoidable reality of a liberal surrounding. 

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