The fact that 'a film which was screened at several national and international film festivals is hitting theatres' gives one of two signals to the Indian mainstream audience-- The film is either groundbreaking to gain global recognition or a tad bit boring and artsy following the notion that films premiered at festivals are not commercially entertaining.
While grazing through the latter, Kuthiraivaal certainly falls under the former category as one of the rarest and quirkiest experiments in Tamil cinema.
Bankrolled by Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Productions along with Yaazhi Films, Kuthiraivaal is pitched as a psychedelic thriller dealing with the concept of magic realism with a local context. Written by G Rajesh, directed by the duo Manoj Leonel Jahson and Shyam Sunder, and featuring actor Kalaiyarasan and Anjali Patil, the film was screened at MAMI Festival, the International Film Festival of Kerala and became the first Indian film to premiere at Berlin Critics' Week 2021.
Without wasting any time, Kuthiraivaal presents itself as a brainteaser right from the first intriguing shot of a horse without a tail followed by the protagonist waking up with the horse tail.
The story revolves around Saravanan, or rather, Freud played by Kalaiyarasan who is on a quest to unravel the mystery behind his previous night's whacky dream and his new transformation. Each time he thinks about the tail, he squirms as if he is electrocuted when the tail kicks him.
Seeking answers for the meaning of his dream, he goes on a bizarre journey approaching an old woman and his one-time college professor who help him connect it with memories, math, eternity and sex.
The protagonist’s tale with a tail soon starts to unpack symbolism and political undertones layered in the film. It taps on the abstraction and surrealism in our lives, and questions the absurdity of our world. Kuthiraivaal takes you on a psychological trip dealing with multiple realities at multiple levels of consciousness, touching upon identity, global warming, existential crisis, references from Quran, Hinduism, actor MGR, Virgin Mary’s immaculate conception, capitalist predation, loneliness and referential mania.
The film talks about everything under the sun and in fact the moon and both together. While the film cleverly addresses a bunch of "issues", at some point it feels like you are stuffed with too much information at one go.
For instance, Kuthiraivaal is filled with philosophical lessons through the mirage of touching the sky from the mountain tops, dialogues that have profound impact when Irusayi or Vanavil played by Anjali Patil says she is searching for lost memories from reality in her dreams, the analogy of lungs, bones, and skin in human body with the sea, mountains and soil of the earth and metaphorical questions like "How can you own a house (Earth) when you are merely cohabiting with animals and insects?".
However, let alone thinking about or verbalizing a wild dream, the makers have gone a step further delving into the complexity of dreams to effectively picturize it, translating the very emotion from the writer’s head to the audience's mind. Every frame in the film is made to look perfectly imperfect.
Like any other Pa Ranjith production, this indulgent philosophical drama too has an underlying theme called social justice however in its own unique way by breaking a myth with another myth, dismantling the visual and the storytelling grammars of mainstream cinema. For instance, there are constant switches from past to present and reality to dream. What could have been easily denounced as an incoherent screenplay in a “usual” film, works as a quirky storytelling technique in this psychedelic drama.
Just like how Saravanan or rather Freud is trying to figure out his name and the lucid dream in the film, as an audience, we keep questioning what kind of a film is Kuthiraivaal? Can we really slot it under a category? There are moments that might make you feel uncomfortable and slightly out of place just like how the protagonist feels. However, just hang on and stay there for the dots will slowly connect and you will walk out of the roller coaster with a surreal experience. It is scary and a little weird but the experience is truly unbelievable and worth it.
The beauty of Kuthiraivaal is that it allows you to ask questions and interpret the film the way you want at your own pace. If you are willing to take the leap of faith to explore an experimental film that lets you elevate your sense of appreciation for art, Kuthiraivaal is for you.
My final thoughts? If you have been a teetotaller all your life, watching Kudhiraivaal might just give you a glimpse of what happens when alcoholics get high. I’m not sure though, just guessing because trust me, I’m a teetotaller too. Kuthiraivaal is running now in theatres.