36 Vayadhinile review: Jyothika makes her comeback with a film about women's empowerment

“How old are you?”
“I’m 36.”
“I’m sorry but the cut off for this job age is 35.”
“But I’m just 36…”

And just like that, Vasanthi Tamilselvan is rejected for a job in Ireland. She goes back to her dreary job as an employee in the government revenue department, pushing papers and files. At home, she’s a middle class housewife, looking after her husband, his parents and catering to her 13-year-old daughter, Mithila.

Tamilselvan’s decision to move to Ireland so that he and his daughter can have a better life means that Vasanthi needs a job there too, in order for them to be able to support themselves. However, he doesn’t care much for Vasanthi’s feelings, dreams or even her opinion on what is right for them as a family. To him and their daughter, she is in many ways an embarrassment – someone who’s incapable of anything intellectual and who doesn't know anything beyond buying vegetables and deciding every meal’s menu. Meanwhile Vasanthi realises age has become an impediment in her life and despite striving hard every day, it’s this number that decides her fate.

 36 Vayadhinile review: Jyothika makes her comeback with a film about womens empowerment

Screen grab from 36 Vayadhinile's trailer.

If you've seen Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish, you'll recognise many similarities in plot while watching 36 Vayadhinile. Both the protagonists - Shashi and Vasanthi - have unfulfilled dreams, are taken for granted and seen as an embarrassment by their families because they seem to lack finesse. There are also differences. Unlike Shashi of English Vinglish, Vasanthi has a job and speaks English. In college, she was quite the firebrand who fought and stood up for what is right.

36 Vayadhinile is a remake of the hit Malayalam film How Old Are You and is directed by Rosshan Andrrews, who directed the original. The core of this film, like Shinde’s English Vinglish, is women’s empowerment and how society reinforces gender stereotypes. How does a woman who ended up sacrificing her dreams and desires for the sake of her family find herself again? How does she earn her family’s respect?

At one point in 36 Vayadhinile, Vasanthi asks, “Who decides the expiry date of a woman’s dreams?”And it is this question that she herself tries to dismiss by taking charge of her life when her husband takes off to Ireland with their daughter.

Jyothika, who plays Vasanthi, returns to the big screen after a seven-year gap and she has eased into this role naturally. Having ruled Kollywood with her commercial blockbusters in her heyday, this movie and comeback role shows Jyothika as a mature actress who can carry a realistic film, sans glam, reliably on her shoulders.

There are many moments in this film when you applaud Jyothika for her subtle performance. For example, Vasanthi visits an old woman who is her friend — they met as regular travellers on a bus — because the latter is unwell. When the old woman thanks Vasanthi for visiting her and for reminding her she’s not alone in this world, Vasanthi’s eyes well up. She simply says goodbye, and in that restraint lies the scene's emotional power.

Andrrews has adapted the film to local Tamil sensibilities from Malayalam and in some ways, the original does outshine the Tamil remake, especially during the second half. Viji’s dialogues have added a lot of authenticity to the film and make the scenes (especially the scenes between Tamilselvan and his wife) more believable.

Andrrews’ film and Jyothika’s acting remind you that there can still be women-centric films in Tamil cinema. Also, focus on women’s issues doesn't mean a film has to be heavy. 36 Vayadhinile is feel-good, inspirational and gives you hope that women can still conquer all – including outdated clichés in cinema.

Updated Date: May 16, 2015 14:40:59 IST