19(1)(a) Movie Review: Vijay Sethupathi shines in a stale yet interesting take on personal freedom

19(1)a falls under this very specific stream of inertly political cinema undone by mediocre writing and mounting.

Updated on Aug 04, 2022 06:13 AM IST  |  92.8K
19(1)(a) Movie Review
19(1)(a) Movie Review: Vijay Sethupathi shines in a stale yet interesting take on personal freedom

Title: 19(1)(a)

Star cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Nithya Menen, Indrajith Sukumaran.

Director: Indhu V.S 

Rating: 2.5/5

Streaming Platform: Disney Plus Hotstar.

Review by Arjun Menon

Some ideas are better off being left on paper. This is the feeling that was lurking in the back of my head while watching Debutant Indhu V’S politically charged drama build around the memory piece-like structure of a rebel writer and his last finished novel. The film actually works as a redemption piece for a reclusive central figure, a detached girl running a printing shop and living with her unemployed dad, who is wayward and lazy in his ways, an aftermath of the suicide of his wife long back. It’s the shallowness of its characters that makes it a routine fare despite the little flourishes of any timely political retort being propagated through the star power in the midst.

There are some films that work better as literary pieces as compared to visual stories, owing to the staleness of execution. 19(1)a falls under this very specific stream of inertly political cinema undone by mediocre writing and mounting. The film, as the title suggests is about the mandates of liberal expression in a society, eaten up being a scary sense of hooliganism and senseless violence in the name of religion and identity politics. The central premise is charged by the chance encounter between Gauri (Vijay Sethupathi), the promising writer/activist figure, and a nameless print shop owner (Nithya Menen), involving the exchange of his manuscript and a promise that remains unfulfilled, right through the run time of the film.

We get a series of extended cameos from actors like Indrajith, Deepak Parambol, Indrans, and Bhaghath, all incidental witnesses to the life and works of the revolutionary writer Gauri, each left to make their own takes on his life and philosophy. The filmmaking is not glossy and Indhu is not tempted to amp up the drama, and there is a lowkey, sparse approach to the camera that follows these characters going about their mundane, unexciting lives. The dialogues are pretty novice, for a film that aspires to head butt with heavy-weight commentary; on the current state of religious and ethnic fascism - targeted at the Hindutva mob, attacking our writers and artists, with decreasing tolerance towards a critique of any kind or form.

The ideas are coherent, relevant, and fearless in their conception, however, often times cheeky lines delivered with poker-faced optimism and casual throwaway punch lines do take away the sheen of the core concepts being called out, further punctuated by arbitrary line readings. There is a promise written all over the film with few of the structural choices in the screenplay (like the way the screenplay splices the day in the life of Gauri before the inciting incident is well thought off in its assembly. Indhu’s conviction in making the story revolve around Nithya Menen’s elusive character arc, does work for its honest approach. However, the film is constructed around the aura of Gauri and Vijay Sethupathi underplays the revolutionary figure at the center with the nuanced detachment that clouds his intentions and ideological concerns at first glance. The performance hits all the subtle beats of his inner journey and somewhat helps us to get emotionally tangled with the narrative.

Nithya Menen too shines light on the past trauma and domicile nature of her past with low key part that feels texturally different from her previous outings, on the surface and within. She gets the redemption arc along with her father and this forms the narrative culmination of her journey. Govind Vasantha seems totally at odds with Indhu V S in terms of his rendering of the original score. The score is pretty loud for a film that thrives on a sense of abstraction and economy in its payoffs. The film is a tonally consistent, off-beat version of the chest-thumping films advocating the need for a reform in our basic tenets of democracy and its implication in an increasingly hostile view towards voices that dare to call out spades as spades. The only thing that lingers on is the feeling of wasted potential on screen and off screen, for a topic to our detriment, that never loses its relevance.

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Check out the film's trailer below: 

Credits: Pinkvilla

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