P Virumaandi’s debut film is based on a real-life story about the difficulty in repatriating a deceased husband back to India. While the content is fascinating, unfortunately what should have been an emotional story centring around Aishwarya Rajesh’s character is instead hijacked by prolonged episodes of backstory and political messaging. As much as I love Vijay Sethupathi, this needed to be much less about his character and more about Ariyanachi as his wife, especially given Aishwarya’s fine performance throughout.
The film opens with Ranasingam (Vijay Sethupathi) absent from his village as he is working for an oil company in Dubai. His wife Ariyanachi (Aishwarya Rajesh) is looking after the family in his absence and is shown to be the perfect daughter, bringing water to the home, looking after Ranasingam’s parents and sister, and supervising the building of their new house. However, at their daughter’s ear-piercing ceremony, a messenger arrives to tell the family that Ranasingam has died in Dubai during a protest. The family are devastated but unaware that this is only the beginning of their heartache as they try to bring his body back to India.
The film then goes into the first of many flashbacks to explain how Ariyanachi and Ranasingam met when he was dowsing for water on her father’s farm. Ariyanachi’s initial scepticism is gradually worm away by Ranasingam’s amazing ability to find water, and also by his dedication to social issues and equal rights for all. Throughout, despite his propensity for protest and disregard for the local police, Ranasingam, still shows respect for the law and a belief in the political system that at times seems oddly naïve given the obvious corruption at all levels. However, Vijay Sethupathi is on top form here and his portrayal is of an easy going and happy man who knows when to take a stand, but who at heart wants only the best for his family.
Having established the relationship and given some indication of why the authorities may be inclined to believe the protest allegation despite evidence to the contrary, Virumaandi should have left it there and concentrated on Ariyanachi’s struggles to bring her husband’s body home. Instead, the film keeps flashing back to instances in Ranasingam’s life which really don’t add much more to the story. Rather, they detract from the emotional build-up that Aishwarya achieves with each of her scenes and end up mostly just dragging the pace of the film back. Given that the film has a run time of just under 3 hours, there is a lot of unnecessary back story here that could easily have been cut without affecting either the tone of the film or the impact of the story at all.
Thankfully Aishwarya Rajesh is excellent and hits every emotional note just right. Her frustration at her inability to get any answers in palpable and infuses every frame. Although her grief is more restrained, it’s still a poignant backdrop to the second half of the film and Aishwarya gives Ariyanachi plenty of dignity along with amazing resilience and a determination that feels very real. Although it seems perhaps too obvious, the moment where Virumaandi contrasts the return of Sridevi’s body with the interminable red tape and delays that meet Ariyanachi’s every attempt to repatriate her husband’s body does make an impact, more so because he doesn’t dwell on the disparity but moves quickly on to the next problem.
Some parts of the story are overly dramatic which doesn’t seem necessary given that the underlying tale is poignant enough to not need any further embellishment. Many of the flashback scenes refer to farmers rights, but these work much better when shown as part of Ariyanachi’s life in the village. Similarly, the social issues tackled by the film are most effective when part of the story, such as when Ariyanachi struggles to prove that she is indeed married to Ranasingam since the couple have no legal documents to show that the marriage took place. These scenes are where the film really comes to life, and Aishwarya Rajesh ensures that every scene is realistic and completely believable.
Although there are issues with the film’s length and the incessant flashbacks, overall this is one that deserves to be seen. The emotional storyline is carried well by Aishwarya Rajesh and the support cast, while the social issues are clearly important to highlight in these days of increasingly politicised issues around water rights and the increasingly large international workforce. I wish there had been more of a focus on Ariyanachi’s story, but there is still a lot to enjoy in Ka Pae Ranasingam. Well worth watching for Aishwarya Rajesh, Vijay Sethupathi and an introduction to the issues surrounding the death of workers overseas. 3 ½ stars.