Munnel (Sand, 2023) Movie Review: “You don’t need that anymore, do you?” asks the soldier, who looks at the old woman who carries a stretcher that belongs to her son. She walks ahead and answers, “What if I need them?”. A silent jiffy emerges right after it.
The heat that funnels a grain of sand stays intact no matter what shakes the ether, just as how Rudran (Sivakumar Lingeswaran), a former Sri Lankan Tamil militant from detention, returns home after bail was granted. The basis of the arrest scoops deep into the political grounds of an extensive war among the civilians where most of the victims have fallen into the accused pit. Rudran is left with a wounded leg that has become a stained reminiscence of the circumstances that tripped him from the comfort of an innocuous living. The journey that started from an ambush of suffocation takes another flight upon the salty reality once Rudran starts finding his long-lost lover, Vaani.
Rudran is a documented living instance of a militant who has seen the vilest of the biosphere, where each turmoil pops up methodically and deepens without remorse after each course. Director Visakesa Chandrasekaran, who returns to feature films after the success of his former movie Paangshu (Earth), clutches the narrative to the present and shifts most of his emphasis into the past through conveyed memories, while using sand as an allegorical representation to carry the quandaries. The court scene where Rudran’s lawyer suddenly pauses amidst the medical examination report results takes a second of life away within the instant to address the potency of the miseries that have shaped Rudran to his current state. PTSD has been part and parcel of the coping contrivance of reiterating Rudran’s damaged structure, flexing well with the prejudice that continues to tear Rudran apart.
Sentimental substances are subtracted from obvious slants, where the audience would have to assemble the hidden alleyways referenced beautifully through the gaze and character studies compressed within the characters. The love chain that has succumbed to Rudran’s life cycle has been adding to his anatomy, which has developed as part of his biological cells to respire among the anguishes. Rudran’s point-by-point recollection of listening to Vaani’s singing voice in their schooling era chips in as his driving force that has elevated his spirit to overawe the dark days of the war.
Love doesn’t move far from the circle, as Rudran’s mother, Sellamma, has her own agenda to guard her son—a religious soothsayer on the left side of the board and a responsible mother on the entire board. Actress Kamala Sri Mohan Kumar never ceases to impress through her enactment that showcases her remark and advice on her son’s desires with clarity and profusion of uprightness, signing the Mom of the Year certificate with grace. The immense secureness that has sheltered her grief is seen after a group of oppressive members bulges into her house to injure her son, where Sellamma immediately threatens them with a full forced curse. Depression has structured her against the tide of darkness after losing three family members due to the backlash of the cold-blooded war.
Munnel, which won the Special Jury Award at Rotterdam Film Festival and the second-best film at Bengaluru Film Festival this year, fills the yacht of optimism from a copious amount of references to religion and rituals from the Tamil Eelam community in Sri Lanka. Director Visakesa justifies the knowledge of religious supremacy as a protective tool to uphold desires and will powers in order to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Sellamma’s ritualistic prayers to listen to the Goddess as a middle woman for revelations, Rudran’s pilgrimage to Lord Ayyappa’s temple, and the candle night humming prayer for the country set the tone of witnessing a divine source of forgoing the past as a submerging pain among the souls of the victims.
The screenplay of sensing silence in all the characters in the film mindlessly manufactures a vast range of tyranny in different forms, whether it’s from a daughter who is entombed within her family’s protective plans or from a father who wants to swing his presence away from a family that is being watched for all the wrong reasons. The oppression of the war soldiers towards the Sri Lankan Tamils continues to wreck the community even after the war has ended, posting a note that danger lingers even at the doorstep of their houses due to vengeance that grows wildly like a hormone-filled sapling.
Rishi Selvam has captured the reckonings of the current Eelam viscosity through a heaty, arid environment that doesn’t minimize the exquisiteness of Sri Lankan rural landscapes, similar to the rural backgrounds of the villages in Assam, India. The single tree shot in the middle of a green field, along with the enchanting sea waves that camouflage according to the nature of the plight, gets an additional nod to incredulity which concurrently sends a signal to focus right into the film’s climax.
The sand comforts, blisters, bashes, and later pacifies the victims who trace the pathway of endurance. Munnel (Sand) prompts us to understand the literal inference that every victim has desires and strong willpower to sustain life to encounter love through all the light and dark memories. Beyond trauma and fortitude, Rudran’s inner love fueled him to become a survivor along the shores of suffering. However, the sand grain comes with a price only a mother knows how to pay.