Hello readers, this is me talking about an Indian movie, something which I have been wanting to do for a very long time. Many of you reading my space regularly would have known that I have been meaning to introduce good content from my side of the world to an English-speaking audience, apart from my usual book reviews. In fact, I even have an ever growing list of movie recommendations that I will get to later. However, I recently watched this movie called “Gargi” and it touched me so profoundly that I had to share it with you all.
I know most of the English-speaking readership on this website might have never watched any Indian films, and if any, they were probably Bollywood films. India, however, is a land of various languages, cultures, religions, landforms and lifestyles. Many states in our country speak different languages and there are many movies made in many of those languages. Tamil, spoken in the southern-most state of India called Tamil Nadu, has its own movie industry called Kollywood. It is the 3rd largest movie industry in India, with hundreds of movies coming out of it every year, with some of them even grossing huge numbers.
“Gargi” is a Tamil-language movie starring actress Sai Pallavi, who is known as one of the finest performers in the industry. She is the only notable star in the movie, with the other characters played by relatively less known actors. The movie is directed by the first-time director Gautham Ramachandran with the script written by him as well, along with Hariharan Raju.
Gargi (Pallavi) is a teacher at a school who lives with her parents and little sister in a modest, lower middle-class household. The movie opens with her having a non-consequential day at school supervising exams and grading the papers of her students. From her conversations with her boyfriend, we get to know that they are on the cusp of being engaged, having received the consent of both their parents. This extremely normal day ends in a nightmare for Gargi, when she learns that her father is accused and has been arrested for the horrific gang-rape of a minor girl, which happened in the apartment where her father works as a security officer.
There starts Gargi’s journey of navigating the legal ramifications and personal tribulations of the charges, as she tries to prove her father’s innocence in court. She is assisted in her judiciary endeavor by an inexperienced lawyer, Indrans (Kaali Venkat) with both of them facing persecution from the media. The story moves forward in a combination of courtroom drama and investigative thriller format, with both Gargi and Indrans doing everything in their means to prove her father’s innocence, while trying to find who the real culprit might be. And believe me, the real culprit will be a complete shock.
For what might seem a very clichéd story and set-up, this movie stands out in the way it has handled an extremely sensitive topic. The director does not brutally try to force out emotions from his viewers — the heart wrenching and sensitive way the crime has been depicted will bring out an anguished empathy from even the most hardened of hearts. The movie stints on melodrama and stands firm on reality. We are immersed into the basic fabric of a typical South-Indian community containing people whom we come across in our daily lives. And we see the various shades of the crime through this fabric.
It is to be noted that, in India even today, sexual crimes, whether it be against women or children, are more often than not hidden by the families and/or the victims. The archaic notions of family honor and the fear of judiciary processes most often lead to many of these crimes going unreported. The story in a way offers a glimpse into the various facets of reactions and actions such a crime will generate in the different factions of people associated with the crime — the police, the press, the victim’s family, the accused and their family. We get a completely grounded and real view of what such a crime does to the victim and their family, how the press exploits such news in their greed for ratings, what kind of pressure it places on the police and judiciary system and what the media trial does to the accused before the crime is even proven. The movie offers a multi-dimensional viewpoint and this is the other main point where it completely stands out.
Gargi, however, is the pivotal point of the story. Her helplessness in the face of unfamiliar judiciary processes, her determination in doing the best for her father, her resilience against the condemnation she faces for doing so, the empathy she has for the victim as a woman but also the unwavering faith she has in her father’s innocence bounce off one another to make a gripping story that pulls the viewer into its world completely.
Pallavi has given a nuanced and subtle performance that totally encompasses the focal point of her character; she brings the character to life in front of us and you can’t help but be sucked into her world. She shows both vulnerability and inner strength as Gargi. It’s one of her best performances to date, and that is notable as she is well-known for her fine and effortlessly engaging performances. Venkat also gives a great performance; he has imparted his character with an inherent charm and a slight naiveté that makes Indrans endearing.
For all the outrage such a horrific crime elicits, it is too often forgotten within a few days, as some other burning issue becomes the next day’s breaking news. However, through his movie, Gautham has compelled his viewers to completely imbibe the true horror of such an event and contemplate its ramifications on the victim in a seemingly subtle manner. And with the film’s terrific climax, he succeeds in driving home his point — that every single one of us has a responsibility to make the world a better place.
Be sure to check this movie out in case it runs in theaters near you, or becomes available on streaming. Believe me, you will not regret the journey of this sensitively made, universally relevant story. This movie’s structure is close to the Western movie format and so will be a good movie to watch first, if you have never watched Indian movies.
“Gargi” gets 10 out of 10 stars.