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Gargi film review: In the opening sequence of Gargi, we get a scene where the film’s title character, played by Sai Pallavi, is in the staff room at school with her colleagues. You are watching a news report about a gang rape of a minor. When a colleague tells her that the apartment shown on TV seems to be one near her, she just shrugs. At this point, her thoughts revolve around her marriage, the demands that her boyfriend Pazhani’s family seems to be making of their middle-class family. But in the next scene we see that the news of the rape has got through to her because we get a flashback to an episode in her own life. We see this further as she comes home and worries about her teenage sister who hasn’t returned home yet. But then she moves on to her class and a little romantic moment.

With such a facility, Gautham Ramachandran sets out how we normally register such news reports. We hear we worry about our own for the moment and then move on with our lives. But what if we become part of such reports? How does this change our lives?

We soon find out when Gargi learns that her 60-year-old father, Brammananda (RS Sivaji), who works as a security guard, is also one of the accused of the gang rape she previously heard about. She thinks there must be a mistake, but the cops are sure he’s one of the rapists. She turns to Banu Prakash (Jayaprakash), a family friend who is a top lawyer, and he too assures that the police may have been wrong and he would bring her father to justice.

But all hell breaks loose the next morning when her father’s identity is revealed by the media. Soon, Gargi’s family is ostracized, and the public and media are clamoring for her father’s blood. Even Banu Prakash is withdrawing from the case. Now her only hope is to team up with his inexperienced junior Indrans Kaliyaperumal (Kaali Venkat), who also suffers from a stutter, and find a way to prove her father’s innocence.

A superbly shot, hard-hitting drama that unfolds more like a suspense thriller, Gautham Ramachandran’s Gargi is a must-see film in this #MeToo era. The writing is layered and captures the complexities of crimes involving sexual abuse. Even as we travel with Gargi, Gautham doesn’t stop at just showing the troubles faced by his protagonist’s family due to a possibly hasty arrest by the police. He also shows us the problems facing the police, the trauma suffered by the survivor and her family, and even the compulsion that drives journalists to sensationalize such crimes. The treatment is nuanced, and while the material offers scope to turn this film into a strident moralistic tale or crime thriller, both Gautham and co-writer Hariharan Raju eschew cheap genre thrills; it’s the emotional fallout that’s always the focus.

The flashbacks involving a young Gargi and her abusive teacher seem like unnecessary extra character details at first, but in the end we realize how these incidents helped her see her father and why she still does it that way convinced of his innocence As a woman and a survivor herself, she should trust the minor who is accusing her father. The final twist, if you can call it that, feels a bit hard-bought at first, but then we find that it’s often difficult to accept the fact that the perpetrator could be someone you hardly thought capable of cruel crime.

But the way Aishwarya Lekshmi’s character, a journalist, is written feels like an afterthought. And her conversation with Gargi’s sister in the epilogue is a spoon-feeding one that seems so out of place in a film that’s confident its audience will take home the message of the story being told.

The tactile quality of Sraiyaanti and Premkrishna Akkatu’s visuals and Shafique Mohamed Ali’s skillful editing add to the sense of realism, while Govind Vasantha’s eerie score conveys the effect of a horror film that feels right given the nature of the crime and the situation Gargi finds himself in feels and her family find themselves in it.

The cast feels perfect. The supporting cast, including Saravanan as the survivor’s father, who is consumed by both grief and horror, Kavithalaya Krishnan as an overbearing prosecutor, Livingston, who plays a security guard in the same apartment as Brammananda, newcomer Capt Pratap, who lives up to what a typical cop -Character could have been, adds a touch of humanity, shine in the few scenes they get. RS Sivaji’s frail physique and serious face help us empathize with his unfortunate situation. The filmmakers also have to be commended for casting a trans person into a significant character, and Dr. S. Sudha is refreshingly genuine as a factual judge. When the prosecutor makes a parsimonious remark about her gender, her scathing reply turns into a whistling moment: “I know the man’s arrogance and the woman’s pain, so I’m the best person to judge this case.” The real casting feat concerns Kaali Venkat, who we’ve mostly seen in supporting roles so far. The actor rises to the challenge, bringing out the vulnerability, determination and kindness of this underdog character.

But the film is owned by Sai Pallavi, who is an amazing young woman who is determined to stand up to her even with the whole world. The actress shows the variety of emotions that Gargi goes through in the course of the film without any wrong note in her performance. Behind the sleek physique, she lets us see the nerves of steel that Gargi possesses, letting us root at every step of her fight for the character.

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