The self-righteousness of Vijay’s Diya and the overtness of its sermonising is extraordinarily off-putting. There’s little respite from it throughout the film, and the preaching begins as early as when the title credits begin rolling. The song, Karuve, that plays in the background is a lament from singer Chitra. Surgical equipments are demonised, and lines like “Unai vidhaithadhu yaaro, unai sidhaithadhu yaaro… (Who planted you? Who destroyed you?)” make it quite clear where director Vijay’s allegiance lies. His Diya isn’t just a plea against abortion; it’s a crafty design to paint elective abortions as murder. It’s a story contrived to make people feel guilty about terminating pregnancies.
Cast: Sai Pallavi, Naga Shourya, RJ Balaji
I suppose the idea of a foetus-ghost was always coming though, given that we have steadily exhausted the various people who can be made ghosts for the purposes of our interminable list of revenge horror films. Generally, it’s been a character reserved for women. We have had the occasional man play ghost — most recently in Raghava Lawrence’s Shivalinga, and the rare child too, like in the 2015 horror film, Strawberry, made by this director’s namesake. But having an aborted foetus turning ghost is quite something. Perhaps not too far away in the distant, dark future, we will probably have embryos and zygotes turning ghosts too.
Morally, philosophically, ethically, the topic of when a foetus gets the right to life is still a big point of contention. While many reasonably argue that the unequivocal point is birth, director Vijay will have none of it. Diya is his attempt to show that foetuses are babies. It’s a placard film for those shouting themselves hoarse that abortion is murder, and this is never more clear than in the big scene when the two families of the young couple, Thulasi (Sai Pallavi) and Krishna (Naga Shourya), get together to terminate the girl’s pregnancy. “Kalachirlaama? (Shall we abort?)” asks one of the parents. The background music is the equivalent of ‘gasp’. Another one responds, “Kalachirlaam. Adhaan sari. (Let’s abort. That’s the right solution.)” The music, the staging of this scene, paints them to be heartless connivers. Director Vijay even has Thulasi going from one person to another — like in those old films — imploring them to decide otherwise. That’s when the villification of all these pro-abortion characters is truly complete.
Even if you can take a step back from all the propaganda — and it’s not easy at all — you’ll find that it’s far from being an inventive horror film. It’s not for want of effort from Sai Pallavi though who quite sells the mentally disturbed Thulasi, who’s haunted — literally as the film progresses — by the baby she wasn’t allowed to have. So affected is Thulasi that she sits drawing portraits of her baby, imagining what she would look like had she not been ‘killed’. This psychological angle, I dare say, could have been far more effective, instead of the usual horror treatment Diya gets. How does Thulasi’s refusal to move on from her abortion afffect her marriage? How does it slowly result in her descent into insanity? But that, sadly, is not Diya.
The first kill is quite creative, but after that, it’s all fairly commonplace. There’s an effort to bring in an investigative angle to the murders, but given the inspector, Raghavan (RJ Balaji), is conceived as a humour vent, it only serves to annoy. In a pamphlet film like Diya — built on notions of tragedy — there’s no place for such fabricated comedy. In any case, multiple repetitions of ‘Raghavan instinct’ hardly qualifies as comedy anyway. The best humour of the film is perhaps unintended, as it generally is in horror films these days. A character stands at a construction site, and Thulasi realises he’s in imminent danger. Before she can warn him though, a massive container drops on him from nowhere. It’s the stuff cartoons are made of. I had a hearty laugh.
Even after the film gets over, director Vijay doesn’t allow you any respite. He wants to further hammer in his pro-life stance, and throws up stats of elective abortions, and seeks refuge in that overused emotional argument: “What if those foetuses had grown up to be Abdul Kalams and Indira Gandhis?” I am tempted to retort, “What if they had grown to be mass murderers instead?” Given all the horror films we get, I quite look forward to one about the vengeful ghost of a baby who’s had by ill-equipped parents lacking the financial resources to do justice to parenthood. That could be a story worth telling in our society.
This column was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.