Aan Devathai: An interesting premise that deserved more nuanced treatment

The title — Aan Devathai — makes it clear beyond doubt where the film’s and the filmmaker’s loyalties lie. It’s squarely with the man, an angel of a man apparently. The problem is, this man, Elango (Samuthirakani), is not blemishless. And this story of a marriage that runs into trouble on account of the clash of two philosophies, is all the weaker for the bias towards him.

Elango puts children before money; Jessie asks how they plan to raise them well without money. Elango believes that a conservative lifestyle is the way to go; Jessie believes that there’s nothing wrong in seeking improvement. The story’s fascinating, but it neeeded to be written by someone who could resist the temptation to vilify the career-oriented woman. Even if a dialogue here and a dialogue there attempts to mildly problematise Samuthirakani’s character, you always get the feeling the film’s a fan of his agenda.

Take, for instance, that interesting scene that happens at a party hosted by Jessie’s office. Elango slaps one of her colleagues for perfectly acceptable reasons, but Jessie slaps him back because she disagrees with the way Elango attempted to resolve the situation. There’s a good case to be made for the way she reacts, but the film is eager to paint her as the insensitive, careless aggressor. In the next scene, she’s telling Elango, “Veliya po. Soaththukku singi adippa!” and it rings so false. Elango walks out with their daughter at night, with barely any money on hand. Jessie sees that he’s left all the cards behind, and lets him walk out with their daughter. It’s ridiculous that she doesn’t try to stop him. And of course, the reason he’s walking out with the daughter and not the son is because when it’s a girl, it’s just more poignant, you see.

Aan Devathai
Director: Thamira
Cast: Samuthirakani, Kavin, Sujatha Naidu

Jessie’s written simply as a horrible parent. She locks in her boy, asks him to watch TV, makes him desist from playing. Hell, if hungry, she asks him to make a sandwich for himself. I wish the film had also focussed on the things she does right. She has a point, for instance, when she tells Elango that children will hate them in the future, if subjected to substandard education, or raised in mediocre conditions. If she were humanised more, Aan Devathai could have become the fascinating struggle between two opposing ways of living, but instead, it comes through as the cliched story of a man who knocks sense into his wife’s head. It could have become a fascinating fight against gender stereotypes, but instead it comes across as a film that’s forthem. When you have Samuthirakani in these films, there is usually no shortage of messages. The theatre begins to feel like a classroom. No surprise then that Aan Devathai begins with Elango addressing a bunch of children on what ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ means. He may as well be addressing us directly.

To be fair though, Aan Devathai is no Appa. It does hint at the ego issue Elango has, and his obsession with living life a certain way. But he needed to be problematised further. He’s a man who’s not beyond having his daughter sleep in shady motels, in having her be stranded outside police stations, if only so he can assuage his ego. The Pursuit of Happyness influence (there’s an inspiration card at the beginning of the film) barely holds water either, as the premise is wholly different. There, a man has nowhere to go with his child. Here, a man chooses to put his child through distress to win an argument.

It’s notable that the two angels in Elango’s life are both Muslims. One, played by Radharavi, is a benevolent man who gives him shelter, while the other, the owner of a restaurant that’s plugged repeatedly in the film, gives him a job. I quite enjoyed the whole video game analogy, and the constant suggestion that the challenge of poverty and suffering is a game you have to win by defeating god. But it’s milked a bit too much. It’s not, however, as big a problem as the film’s demonisation of practices, instead of those who practise it wrong. Bank loans aren’t the problem; people who make horrible financial decisions are. Food delivery isn’t the issue; people who over-rely on them are. Nursery schools aren’t the problem; parents who make no time for children are. These nuances are lost on this film which is eager to take on easy battles. And in any case, for a film that’s so self-righteous, it’s still not above making a joke about a dark woman and how her reluctance to go in the sun makes no sense. Go figure.

This review 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.

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