Saudi VellakkaSaudi Vellakka, directed by Tharun Moorthy, attempts to capture the sluggish pace of judicial proceedings in India, using aggrandizing slow-motion framing at every odd juncture of the screenplay. What is perhaps an essential take on the nature of the crime, punitive punishment, and time-barred justice is let down ironically by its own exceedingly deadened tempo.

Ayesha Rawther (Devi Varma), addressed by everyone as Umma, is an old, world-weary woman who always seems to stand at odds with her much more powerful neighbor. Things come to a head over a petty argument about littering. She is accidentally hit on the head by children playing cricket on her neighbor’s terrace, she, in her heightened state of ire, uses a coconut frond to hit the guilty child on the head, causing him to lose a tooth and some blood. The situation aggravates, with Ayesha’s neighbor insisting that the child’s parents file a complaint and from there on out, it is a painful two-hour detail on a scramble to get bail for Ayesha and the subsequent procedures to obtain justice at court over a prolonged period of 13 years.

The tragedy of the situation in itself is compelling, forcing us to look at the damage it creates in the life of someone involved in a heat-of-the-moment crime and the unexpected impact it has on their family. It makes us question who the victim really is. However, the over-dramatized writing emphasizes the tragedy in bold letters, underlines it in red ink, and pastes it across our screens in every frame, making it for an overall agonizing watch. The background score does not help this cause either.

It is very little we know about the characters themselves. We know that the original victims of the story have moved on and are not affected by the case that they have filed and conveniently forgotten. So why is it important for the movie to open on them? The way the story is presented to us is inconsistent. Are we looking at a flash of memories? Who is narrating this sequence of events? Why are all the secondary characters framed on the poster when 90% of the film focuses on Ayesha?

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The 13-year wait at courtrooms for Ayesha takes a toll on her personality. She appears increasingly indifferent to the outcome while still remaining penitent for her actions. But that is the limit of our knowledge of her. What is the person like, and how has a decade’s worth of engagement with the court really impacted her personality and everyday life? What does Ayesha think of her son, Sathar, taking off with no notice when she is the one who has to show up at court for an unknown time period? Her silence is an indication of her acceptance of the situation, but what does she really feel?

I wish the film had taken itself a little less seriously when it tells us the story of how Sathar or Naseema paint themselves as the true victims of this situation. Kutrram Kadithal (2015) explores a similar arc – with teacher-inflicted physical violence forming the crux of the story. While the seriousness of the plot in this story demands the treatment adopted by the writers and directors of that movie, I feel that Saudi Vellakka takes up a similar tone for something much less serious.

Nevertheless, the film still has its moments. I enjoyed the conversation between the old woman and the young man who does not seem to remember her attacking him and the initial disagreement between Ayesha and Radhakrishan is immersive and conveys the sense of anger that they have towards each other – portraying in a jiffy the outline of these characters.

While subtitles limit the understanding of humor in this plot, I found the subtitler’s unwitting choice to shorten the name Naseema to ‘Nazi’ amusing, prompting me to introspect on the western-centric turn of my mind and whether other people would notice it as much as I had. If only the runtime were cut down by 20-30 minutes and if only the writing didn’t get too preachy, it would have been a fairly enjoyable piece on how we need to rethink our judicial systems and moral compasses while meditating on what it means to be human, on our tendencies to hate with ease and cause hurt without thought.

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Saudi Vellakka Trailer:

Saudi Vellakka (2022) Links: IMDb, Wikipedia
Saudi Vellakka (2022) Cast: Vaibhav Gohil, Sminu Sijo, Vincy Aloshious

Where to watch Saudi Vellakka

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