Vedikettu movie review: When a man stalks a woman…
Vedikettu’s anti-caste messaging is ruined by an ill-conceived finale on inter-caste equations, noise, clichés and the all-pervasive misogyny it tries to mask with a late twist.
Cast: Bibin George, Vishnu Unnikrishnan, Aiswarya Anilkumar
Director: Bibin George, Vishnu Unnikrishnan
The blast of antagonism towards women in Vedikettu flies off the screen like a gale force. It is omnipresent in the film, its intensity heralded by an early scene featuring an elderly woman in a public fight – she threatens to make false allegations of sexual assault against men, loudly suggests that she might foist a fake POCSO case on a man, and is unmindful of the presence of numerous witnesses as she confidently declares that she can do as she pleases since anything a woman says is believed these days. Her long rant is packaged in a veneer of comedy, a package so transparent that its very serious aims cannot be in doubt.
This scene in Vedikettu emerges from a feeling of victimisation that a section of men have been wallowing in for decades in response to the gains made by women’s movements; marginal gains that incels, MRAs and their ilk view as gigantic, even as they insist that feminism – a global movement for gender equality – is a misandrist ideology out to destroy men.
Vedikettu is simultaneously born from this sense of male victimisation and designed to cater to it. Its centre-piece though is its condemnation of casteism. At first, this aspect of Vedikettu makes it notable because it is rare for Indian cinema other than Tamil and Marathi to openly confront caste. The film, however, trips on its own immaturity in the climax. Vedikettu’s anti-caste messaging is ruined by an ill-conceived finale on inter-caste equations, in addition to noise, clichés and the all-pervasive misogyny it tries to mask with a late twist in the tale.
Bibin George and Vishnu Unnikrishnan, the writer-directors of Vedikettu, star as antagonists here in a war between two villages in Ernakulam district, one inhabited by Dalits and the other by a dominant caste. Bibin and Vishnu play Chithu and Shibukuttan who were once friends but have been torn apart by the hostility between their respective communities. A compelling scene illustrating the extent of deep-seated chauvinism in the region depicts a clash between the two groups in which the local police side with Shibukuttan’s people – once the privileged lot have left, the police ask the Dalits to clean their toilets without quite spelling it out as a quid pro quo.
Overt caste-related commentary and imagery are a constant in Vedikettu: Shibukuttan makes it clear that his friendship with Chithu was destroyed by the casteism in the latter’s community, the camera focuses on statues of social reformers, a government worker is shown practising untouchability. But Vedikettu’s courage and open-mindedness on this front are vitiated by its animosity towards women and disdain evident right from the beginning, and diluted by the script’s tendency to jump from one theme to the next to the next in a bid to dole out lessons without sewing these elements smoothly together. The last straw is the ending.
(No spoilers in this paragraph, but proceed with caution) Revealing details would amount to giving away spoilers, so all I can say in vague terms is that the closing features members of the upper caste saving a Dalit character from a terrible tragedy, thus extinguishing the latter’s virulent rage and with that, one gathers, the war between the two villages. Can there be a more unthinking resolution of a caste conflict than one that implies an equivalence between the anger of the oppressed and the oppressor? The upper-caste individuals responsible for that single act of kindness were probably not at the forefront of the oppression anyway. The ones who needed to calm down, the ones who required reforming were not the Dalits, but the upper castes who had been persecuting them, yet that’s not the point conveyed by this poorly thought out, mixed-up scenario, inspired – as news clippings on screen inform us – by an actual incident.
Parallel to caste as a source of tension in the script is the resentment towards women simmering throughout Vedikettu, and a normalisation of male conduct that endangers women in the real world. Chithu unrelentingly stalks a woman (Aiswarya Anilkumar). His well-wishers ask him why he persists in his pursuit of her when she shows no sign of reciprocating his interest, they even consider his behaviour foolish and, as one character puts it, outdated (yeah, apparently there was a time when it was not wrong to be a predatory pest), but none of them see it for what it is: dangerous and condemnable. Instead, when they realise he will not give up, they close ranks to support him, view his peskiness as a sign of devotion, and even encourage him to abduct her. The dramatic turn that the script later takes will perhaps be held up as a defence against this criticism – but please note: that turn does not alter the fact that Chithu’s stalking had the backing of his community.
From their first collaboration as writers on Amar Akbar Anthony (2015), it has been clear that Bibin and Vishnu wish to address social concerns in their works albeit in an unapologetically commercial framework. Equally clear are their own subconscious prejudices that have been a recurring problem in their filmography. Amar Akbar Anthony (2015) revolved around child rape but inexorably trivialised women. Kattappanayile Rithwik Roshan was a critique of colourism in India, but was hampered by the irony in the writers’ own admiration for light complexions. And so it continues… Vedikettu is Bibin and Vishnu’s debut as directors.
In a film that demands exaggeration from its cast, the only performance of note is Vishnu’s, for one reason alone: his assertive body language aided by intelligent camerawork in Vedikettu succeeds in building up Shibukuttan as a rock of a man belying the actor’s naturally slight frame.
The story is set in island villages in Ernakulam district, which makes the location a happy hunting ground for cinematographer Ratheesh Ram. No amount of pretty pictures can drown out the self-contradictions, innate regressiveness and din in Vedikettu though. Oh, the din!
A steady stream of commercial Malayalam cinema in recent decades has been populated by rival groups of men roaming the state, assaulting each other, screaming and shouting while they are at it. The stream is large enough to be anointed a genre. Vedikettu is one such deafening example. Characters do not speak like normal human beings in such films. From start to finish, they stretch out each word as it passes their tonsils, snarling and spitting it out at an excruciating volume. The physical fatigue at the end of the viewing experience is very real.
Mid-way through Vedikettu, a young man shows a prospective bride the film reviews he posts online. The video clip we see has him making a stupid pseudo-intellectual remark. The woman asks how he can live with himself when he’s always abusing people. He admits he once had ambitions of being a film actor but was unable to make it and is now teaching the industry a lesson for rejecting him. She says she gets it: he is venting his frustration through these reviews.
The conversation has zero link to the rest of Vedikettu, so the only logical conclusion to be drawn is that it is the makers’ pre-emptive denunciation of the bad reviews they expected to receive for the film. Curious, since their works have so far been reasonably positively received despite their confused politics. Is it then that they realise Vedikettu does not deserve critical acclaim? Well, self-awareness is a good thing.
Rating: 0.5 (out of 5 stars)
Vedikettu is in theatres
Anna M.M. Vetticad is an award-winning journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. She specialises in the intersection of cinema with feminist and other socio-political concerns. Twitter: @annavetticad, Instagram: @annammvetticad, Facebook: AnnaMMVetticadOfficial
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