Taramani: A film that holds a mirror up to men

The anonymous narrator of Taramani—the director essentially playing god and breaking the fourth wall regularly—has an important role in the film. He regularly steps in with wisecracks and takedowns. It’s like our own version of ‘Ozzy Man Reviews’, only much more understated and more deep. At the very beginning, I wondered if it was getting a tad too elaborate, as he begins commenting on everything from a cricket match to fishing in SriLankan waters to the possibility that some women’s prayers may be causing rain. He goes on to introduce you to Althea Johnson (Andrea), the female lead and a single mother, who’s supposedly earning 80,000 every month. He dryly observes that regardless of how much money you make, you can’t avoid your bike tyre getting punctured.

A while later, it  became evident why this narrator is so important for the otherwise-sombre Taramani. The jokes, jabs bring in some much-needed mirth. It creates light in a film about darkness, specifically the darkness of men. In one scene, policemen are shown pocketing a thief’s money, and the narrator delightfully quips, “Thirudan namma kitta edupaan. Police kaaran namma kittayum, thirudan kittayum edupaan. Doctors namma kittayum, thirudan kittayum, policekaaran kittayum edupaanga.”

Cast: Andrea, Vasanth Ravi, Anjali
Director: Ram
Storyline: Most men are sexist, evil bastards

But the film isn’t about theft. Well, it is, of a different kind, of women’s freedom, of their agency. The male lead, Prabhunath (Vasanth Ravi) is a poster boy of your average Indian chauvinistic male. It’s a Ram film, so he is served with a general dose of facial hair, and topped with dollops of self-righteousness and self-pity. “I hail from Cooum, the village, and just like the river, I have been polluted by the city,” he says. Given the misery he piles up on Althea though, I’d say he’s polluted enough… by his ignorance. From when the poor Althea begins showing romantic interest in him, he begins to do, as Ram puts it, that which many men do: spying on her social media activity, feeling insecure about his significantly lesser social media connections, making critical observations about her dressing, presuming to decide what is safe for her, and above all, taking on the task of “bodyguarding”.

Taramani is a compilation of the many vile things men unleash on woman every day. Prabhu’s insecurity and mistrust makes Althea’s life hell. A policeman promises to look into a case unofficially if the victim, a woman, doesn’t reject his sexual advances. A corporate boss asks Althea if she will go to a hill-station with him. A HR manager fires her and then quietly adds that he is happy to help her with anything, as long as she’s willing to make ‘concessions’. A group of drunk men outside a bar try to solicit her. Althea is surrounded by hell-hounds masquerading as men. She is hurt, and to heal, she needs to cut herself off these men. Perhaps fittingly, the name, Althea, is derived from the Greek work, althos, that means ‘to heal’. The only man she expresses respect for is her colleague’s husband, who’s secure in his love for her that he doesn’t care that she gets up and close with man as she’s dancing salsa. It’s this trust she craves, that by extension, Ram, I suppose, is saying all women crave.

The conservative Prabhunath’s original choice for girlfriend is Saroja (Anjali), who, according to him, is nothing like the other working women he has some contempt for. With great admiration, he says that Saroja is probably the only woman in that neighbourhood to wear a saree, to wear a salwar with dupatta, to wear skirts that don’t rise above the knees. To his consternation though, when she leaves India, the length of her clothes begin to reduce. He demands to know why, and she says, “The men here aren’t like Indian men.” It’s another vicious attack on the conservative, domineering Indian man. You wonder how horrid life must be for a progressive woman when surrounded by such men.

Yuvan Shankar Raja’s breezy, lively music breathes much air into the air-tight, claustrophobic atmosphere in Taramani. The film isn’t a riveting story by any means. It plays on more as a series of interesting incidents, mostly concerning the oppression of women, mostly concerning the cleansing of this man from Cooum. In a sense, you could say that it’s his experiences in the city that truly purge him. Ultimately, it’s well-deserving of its A-certificate. It’s an adult film, all right, but for all the right reasons.

This review was written for The New Indian Express.  All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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