Rebel Movie Review: This intense political film never cuts deep

Rebel Movie Review: This intense political film never cuts deep

Rebel has a powerful story at its heart, which could be impactful for years to come, but it never reaches its full potential throughout its runtime
Rebel(2.5 / 5)

The first time Kathir (GV Prakash) and his friends head to Chittur in Palakkad to pursue their bachelor’s degree, it is a moment to rejoice. On the other hand, we are shown how their parents have toiled hard in Munnar for several hours to send them off. Once they land, the Tamil students are shifted to a dilapidated hostel that barely has any light or shelter. These students, who come from an oppressed community, not only face an horrible first day at college, but they also face harassment because of their language. They are ragged, beaten and insulted for their identity, something they take pride in. Rebel has a powerful story at its heart, which could be impactful for years to come, but it never reaches its full potential throughout its runtime.

Director: Nikesh RS

Cast: GV Prakash, Mamitha Baiju, Karunaas, Adhitya Baskar, Kalloori Vinoth, Venkitesh VP and Shalu Rahim
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Director Nikesh does not hold back from showcasing the brutality inherent in the story. Some scenes are viscerally disturbing to the extent that it could make some flinch away from the screen. Since the story is based on a few real-life incidents which happened in the ‘80s, you cannot help but wonder how much of the brutality actually happened, when we are shown these scenes repeatedly.

Mamitha Baiju plays Sara, a privileged upper-class woman, and in case we miss the fact that she is the female lead, it is hammered into our brain with the camera's lingering focus on her face, eyes, and lips, with multiple slow-motion shots. She is Kathir’s ‘thevadhai’, an angel safeguarding him from what could have been a disastrous first day in class and his only source of happiness. Sara reminds one of Jyothi from Pariyerum Perumal. Both Sara and Jyothi remain blissfully ignorant to the brutalities of the oppression faced by the male protagonists. Although Jyothi remains unchanged till the end, Sara takes a hard left towards the second half where she tries to understand his struggle to an extent. However, her newfound understanding feels rushed and forced.

Some of the most beautiful scenes in the film are accompanied by the soul-stirring melodies of Ilaiyaraaja. From Kathir's rendition of 'Senthazham Poovil' to Sara's recording of 'En Vaanile', each scene is elevated by the evocative power of the veteran composer's music. Such lighthearted moments are contrasted with poignant scenes depicting oppression, like when various heads of political factions ban Kathir from placing his party's flag in any area.

There is a refreshing genuineness to Karunaas' portrayal of Professor Udhayakumar. His character has climbed the ranks after enduring the same harassment his students face. He consistently lifts them up when they stumble, offering guidance and protection. The character is significant in making us understand the importance of 'picking the right battles', especially when you are at a disadvantage on multiple levels. While student election portions were captured as authentic as possible, the several run-of-the-mill moments and sloppy writing disrupted the overall experience. Adhitya Baskar, an actor with tremendous potential on screen, has been underutilized and his character was stuck to a template. This problem pervades several other characters as well. Even the villains, with their intense eyes and hatred for Tamilians, are written with one-dimensional strokes. Despite a promising story, Rebel unfortunately leans to the side that it feared and strived not to. This issue with the writing removes our emotional connectivity with the characters, so when we see them get in trouble, we don't feel any empathy towards them.

Releasing close on the heels of the parliamentary elections, it is too hard to not ignore the political undertones in the film. For example, the red and black flag that GV Prakash raises. The music for the film, which has been composed by GV Prakash himself, has a mix of Tamil and Malayalam songs that adds a personal touch to the narrative, while the background score too effectively enhances pivotal mass scenes. However, these mass scenes soon go over the top, showcasing Kathir as a demi-god, saviour and the only hope for their community’s redemption against the cruelty meted out to them. Sometimes you wonder if this rebel is a supporter of a cause or just another hero.

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