Ka Pae Ranasingam movie review: Aishwarya Rajesh, Vijay Sethupathi's film is incisive commentary on state apathy
Ka Pae Ranasingam reminds us that resistance is an exhausting endeavour; they will not kill you, they will simply wear you down.
castAishwarya Rajesh, Vijay Sethupathi, Rangaraj Pandey, Bhavani
If I had to pick a genre for the Vijay Sethupathi and Aishwarya Rajesh-starrer Ka Pae Ranasingam, I would choose dystopian. It is perfectly predictable, yet utterly gut-wrenching that a film which begins with the declaration that it is based on true events ends the way it does.
Ranasingam (Sethupathi) is a local ground water expert, community problem solver, lighthearted charmer, and a part-time revolutionary in rural Ramanathapuram. He believes in resistance, and brings people together to demand their rights. Ariyanaachi (Rajesh) falls in love with his ways, and they marry in a delightful subversion of the unfair Section 144 levied on their village.
As time goes on, and capitalism drowns out the determination of his comrades, Ranasingam goes to Dubai in search of work. Soon enough, Ariyanaachi is told that he is dead, and is dissuaded from demanding the return of his body. She rejects the idea, and decides to do whatever it takes to get him back. If and how she does forms the rest of the film.
What makes Ka Pae Ranasingam work is its incisive view of the world around it. It does not present the world as good vs evil, poor vs rich, powerless vs powerful. Instead it shows us the utter dysfunction of our systems in perfect natural lighting. While the administrative and the political system is the target of the primary criticism, it does not take kindly to the horrors of familial abuse either. In a way, writer and director Virumaandi mocks us all. We cannot blame the rot on anyone else, he appears to say.
At each step in Ariyanaachi’s journey, we see the uselessness of the government and how most people survive without ever interacting with it. Repeatedly, we see the people of the law treating citizens as if they are all suspects in some horrific crime, while the legal apparatus offers them no comfort.
At one point, an officer asks Ariyanaachi for documentary evidence that she is married to Ranasingam, as if without that paper, truth has no meaning. Yet, soon enough, another officer rejects all her papers saying, “Ration card doesn’t apply outside the state, and no one knows what Aadhaar card is useful for.” I would have clapped out loud and hooted for the sharpness of this writing, if only it were not also heart-breaking.
The film explores human emotions with such empathy, I could not keep a dry eye in some parts of it. Especially in the scene where Ariyanaachi, who has not yet shed a tear for her dead husband, sits on the floor having an imaginary conversation with him. The world might think she is mad, but the only way she knows to grieve is by letting her husband walk her out of it. Sneakily inserted too are some taboo-breaking ideas of feminism. Virumandi packs much of the first half with delights like these.
Deftly supporting this thoughtful writing are the cast — Sethupathy strolls through the film with the characteristic nonchalance and charm that he is now known for. It is Rajesh that the film belongs to. As a young lover, hard-working daughter-in-law, helpless widow, and a protestor pushed to the brink, we get to see all shades of the wonderful actor she is growing to be.
She never really turns in to an all-knowing revolutionary. Throughout the film, she stays the woman with a goal in mind and a well-behaved child in hand. This is what makes her relatable. This is also why we root for her, despite knowing how it is going to end.
Rangaraj Pandey, as the district collector, remains non-committal and wishy-washy. Bhavani as Maayi, Ranasingam’s sister is excellent too. The half-Telugu half-Tamil speaking defence minister who tweets selfies to help a helpless woman; the uncannily Narendra Modi-esque prime minister and his cunning methods are also craftily cast.
This is not to say that the film is perfect. At nearly three hours long, time passes as ridiculously slowly for us as it does for Ariyanaachi (Perhaps not an imperfection?). The two choreographed fight scenes stand icily in an otherwise barren and believable film.
Yet, releasing during the times of the acquittal in the Babri Masjid case and the horrors of the Hathra rape (and several others), Ka Pae Ranasingam is a poignant reminder of what it means to be the people of this country. It reminds us that resistance is an exhausting endeavour; they will not kill you, they will simply wear you down.
As someone seeking the slightest ray of hope in everything, Ka Pae Ranasingam gave me none. And that, perhaps, is the point.
Ka Pae Ranasingam is streaming on ZeePlex.
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