Nayanthara’s much-awaited Airaa begins on a rainy night in a remote town, striking the right note for a horror movie. Two cops are called in to assist in an SOS situation in an abandoned bungalow. After the prologue that often seems mandatory for movies these days, the film abandons the cops and goes on its way. Then comes the Nayanthara we’ve all gathered to see — she has a dramatic intro scene, a punch dialogue, an unsaid cussword, and a slow-motion walk. At this rather odd juncture, the film cuts to opening credits against the background of a Rube Goldberg machine. If we still don’t get the idea, there are enough references to the butterfly effect throughout the film.
The first half of Airaa is haphazard. There are two parallel tracks. One is in Pollachi, where Yamuna, played by Nayanthara, has escaped to. And the other in Chennai, where Amudhan (Kalaiarasan) is finding himself repeatedly at murder scenes. The two worlds take too long to connect — what with a fake ghost storyline within the real ghost storyline and all. For much of the first 90 minutes or so, the film can’t decide if it wants to scare us or tickle us.
Not all is bad with Airaa yet. The few scenes before the interval are so intricate, it almost seems as if they belong to a different film. The escalation of unexplained incidents and the expectation of bad things to come are incredibly held together by the crescendoing music. When the two worlds finally collide— Amudhan on a flight of stairs in Chennai segueing into the upside down view of Yamuna being led into the escalator in Pollachi — there is a sparkle of the filmmaker we don’t see enough of in this film.
Kulapulli Leela as Yamuna’s blind grandmother is real and adorable. Even as Yogi Babu’s role as the man-who-wants-to-but-can-never-have-Nayanthara is getting repetitive, he carves a place for himself in the film. Kalaiyarasan does a detached, yet acceptable job of what’s written for him.
The second half, though, is straight-up baffling. The film goes on to dump every misfortune a woman could possibly have on Bhavani—played by a Nayanthara wearing foundation that’s about 25 shades too dark for her. It is here that we see more of the Sarjun KM that we saw in Lakshmi, his recent short film about a woman’s desire that put him on the Internet generation’s radar.
Also shot in black-and-white, these sequences in Airaa touch upon issues of female foeticide, sexual violence, workplace harassment and discrimination based on skin colour — potentially a noble feat. But it does so with such hurry and melodrama, and that too so late into the story, that it hardly has an impact. We are restless to get to the point.
When it does get to the point, it’s pretty bland. At the singular moment that Bhavani’s life is about to change for the better, she gets killed. And now she is out to get revenge on those she believes are responsible.
If you were Bhavani and decided to get revenge, you’d have killed at least 50 people, all of whom have legitimately given you grief in the past. But Bhavani decides that she just wants to kill seven people, which includes Yamuna, who did something nasty because she was cranky, because patriarchy.
So, in essence, Airaa becomes Nayanthara versus Nayanthara. For much of its run-time, Airaa is focused on her as she goes from fear to horror, shock, sadness and resignation, looking straight and confidently at the camera. The film is so focused on Nayanthara that there is even a negotiation scene between Bhavani’s ghost and Yamuna, where both of them talk to each other like they’re discussing a business proposition. The ghost-busters silently sit around and watch.
But even twice as much Nayanthara is not enough to help this film. It has too many loose ends and giant leaps in logic. It spends too much time showing us fake ghosts for us to invest in the real ghost. The flashback is an over-cooked mash of melodrama. The transformation of a despondent victim into a merciless ghost is unconvincing. And the less said about the ending the better.