Kaazh Movie Review: An unfussy and realistic look at immigrant experiences

Kaazh Movie Review: An unfussy and realistic look at immigrant experiences

The film is in no hurry to establish Melbourne as a character; without reverting to melodrama or romanticisation of the city, it shows life unfolding itself in the suburbs down under, seeped in an air of melancholy
Kaazh(3 / 5)

NRI drama qualifies as a genre unto itself. While some films about NRIs glamourise the immigrant experience, others offer a more grounded and realistic perspective. First-time director Mohanraj VJ’s Kaazh belongs to the latter category. It is an unfussy drama that revolves around a group of Indians struggling to come to terms with living in Australia. It focuses on the everyday experiences of its characters, thus creating a sense of authenticity from the get-go. The film has noted late singer and actor Malaysia Vasudevan's son Yugendran playing the lead. Yugendran and the newcomers add to the film's slice-of-life feel.

Director: Mohanraj VJ

Cast: Yugendran Vasudevan, Siddarth Anbarasu, Mimi Leonard, Nithya Balasubramanian, Feroz Basha, Ashwin Viswanathan

Mohanraj is in no hurry to establish Melbourne as a character in the film. Yes, the film does show Melbourne's most easily identifiable cultural scene: the Heavenly Queen Temple with its drums, gongs, and dragon dance. However, it never showcases a picture-perfect postcard view of Melbourne. Rather, it shows life unfolding itself in the suburbs of a city, seeped in an air of melancholy.

The story revolves mainly around three characters: Siddharth Anbarasu’s Pulendiran, Yugendran Vasudevan’s Seenu, and Mimi Leonard's Poornima. Pulendiran has a visa-related complication and is racing against time to make enough money to afford an application for a job in Australia, that grants him access to become a permanent resident. He does odd jobs so that he can arrange the funding just in time. On the other hand, Seenu has to have a proper roof over his head and move out of his makeshift house with his wife, Poornima. These are low-key plot points for a drama, but thankfully, the film recognises its limitations. The film delves into character development with a slow-burn approach, establishing the motivations and challenges of the protagonists, while leaving a good part of the first half slightly uneventful. However, the uneventfulness in Kaazh is not a dealbreaker because the film has an easily relatable plot and embraces its modest ambitions.

There are no excessively sentimental family dynamics or, for lack of a better phrase, “an extra serving of paasam.” This work largely in favour of Kaazh. The background music is very minimal, making the film recognise the power of a moment and letting it speak for itself. Therefore, even a small moment, such as one character betraying another, stands out for its sheer rootedness, relatability, and realism.

Speaking of realism, the film shuns the occasional incidents of racial and cultural tensions between Indians and Australians down under, such as violence against Indian students back in the late 2000s. However, it seldom loses its quality of being close to real life. Mohanraj cleverly weaves a universal and surprisingly effective casteism angle into the screenplay. The film builds well towards the moral crossroads of that casteist character, with seemingly casual workplace conversations foreshadowing a more significant internal conflict. However, when a similar conflict occurs, the same cleverness does not apply to the presentation of another character’s arc. The film initially presents a compelling portrait of that passive individual, but a pivotal moment strains believability as their actions take a drastic turn. The makers later introduce a psychological angle to try and provide the character with a greater deal of credence, but it comes across as an afterthought with a contrivance. The film also overstays its welcome, although, by the time the climax kicks in, the drama works enough to make you want to spend just a little bit longer with the characters and their respective journeys.

Warts and all, Kaazh explores caste and the immigrant experience in a way that leaves a lasting impression, reminding the audience of the shared challenges of navigating a new place.

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