“To be liberated, woman must feel free to be herself, not in rivalry to man but in the context of her own capacity and her personality.” – Indira Gandhi

Trying my very best here not to spoil Iraivi for you, at least Karthik Subbaraj doesn’t want me to. Suffice it to say Iraivi is a movie about women unsure about their evolution and men too sure, on a path to obscurity. It’s not the kind of  movie about women that holds a placard screaming, “See, liberated women here!”; rather one that follows them inside a protracted metamorphosis that is often smothered by the patriarchal cocoons they are held in.
They say a good story draws an arch that delivers character(s) to a point of no-return; but they are all transformed inside. Directors who cling to the safety of this simple tenet pull in decent digits at the box office, then take a dive down shallow weekly top rankings. Iraivi does an almost neat little circle that returns its women to the same spot, re-wired and awakened; their men, reduced to mere tools in the process. Iraivi should hold steady until a list is made for this year’s best. Too early to hail Iraivi as one for the ages, though.

The premise on which Iraivi works is the age-old debate about Sita’s அக்னி பரிக்ஷை  and (more importantly) would Rama have put himself up for a trial-by-fire to defend his honour. Iravi invokes the ghost of Kannagi to eviscerate its men. It challenges with the question of a more contemporary Kannagi, ‘சதி’ Leelavathi (Kalpana), who  questions her Kovalan (Ramesh Aravind), “எவன் கிட்டயாவது நான் போய்ப் படுத்துட்டு வந்தா நீ என்ன சேத்துப்பியா?”

Iraivi starts with a homage to three writers, K Balachandar, Balu Mahendra and Sujatha. I must confess, I did not read the text that accompanied their images. It seemed a random line-up until later in the film when it dawns upon you how the body of work from these gentlemen has helped define the women of Iraivi.

For a movie that ends with a gratifying whack, the treatment is a case of fluctuating script mostly held with steady hands, but staggering and distracted at times. Iraivi consumes some sweet time setting up the characters; almost to a point of losing us on the plot front. The mid-point and the second half puts our interest back on track, the pace quickens and Karthik Subbaraj’s script plays tricks with your theories. A film with an intelligent ‘Nee dhaan naaa dhusta’ also accommodates a completely non-essential ‘Kadhal Kappal’ or a trivial ‘Solla thudikidhu manasu’. It is hard, at times, to watch his direction of actors hurried in an uncharacteristic Karthik Subbaraj way. References are a Karthik staple, so he pulls a few, some pass by smoothly, but few (Karunakaran) turn awkward.

Illayaraja features frequently by way of songs playing along the backdrop. Not sure if it was intended as sweet irony that S J Surya is uttering, “Raja Raja-dhaan, illa?”, considering his recent ‘Isai’, which was perceived as a critique of Illayaraja’s ego.

How Karthik delivers an early climax and spends a good 20-30 minutes after that is a great testimonial to his screenwriting prowess. The center-stage clearly belongs to S J Surya and Anjali, who probably come across as better performers (maybe) ’cause they are pushed outside their comfort zones. S J Surya without his patented antics is a delightful watch.

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