‘Ponmagal Vandhal’ Is a Powerful Albeit Slightly Melodramatic Courtroom Drama With a Stellar Cast
Ponmagal Vandhal (The Golden Girl has Arrived) is a courtroom drama that takes place in Ooty. Jyothika plays the lead in the film alongside various other veteran actors playing important roles.
Director: J. J. Fredrick
Cast: Jyothika, K. Bhagyaraj, R. Parthiban, Thiagarajan, Pratap Pothen
Runtime: 120 minutes
Courtroom dramas are no stranger to Tamil cinema, especially with some of its earliest movies, such as 1959’s Nalla Theerpu, steeped in the genre. In recent years, the genre has gained popularity as the preferred medium for filmmakers in Kollywood to make message-driven films. However, they tend to cast an extremely popular actor as the main lawyer and expect the audience to lap up the film; preachy men are not new to the industry. Ponmagal Vandhal is a clear and powerful exception.
The film is produced by Actors Jyothika (who also plays its main character) and Suriya, often touted as the power couple of Kollywood. Under their home production banner 2D Entertainment, it is truly commendable how the pair drives to create good cinema that explores the various societal issues in India, through women-centric, message-driven films such as Magalir Mattum and 36 Vayathinile.
The couple continues this tradition with courtroom procedural Ponmagal Vandhal. The film was released on 29 May on Amazon Prime due to the COVID-19 situation. Through gripping performances and dialogue, the film’s primary message is clear: even delayed justice is no justice for childhood sexual abuse victims, and that keeping silent due to fear of effects on societal standing allows perpetrators to be glorified and to grow in numbers.
Ponmagal Vandhal opens with graphic visuals of children’s dead bodies being dug up in Ooty, India in 2004. It is then established that a “psycho” woman by the name of Jothi is responsible for kidnapping and killing these children. 15 years later, a fresh lawyer, Venba (Jyothika), reopens the case of Jothi. She takes to the court as Jothi’s defense lawyer to debunk previously established facts of the case by presenting new evidence in this drawn-out courtroom procedural.
The film does not disappoint in keeping its pace intense from the get-go, with its initial 15 minutes of the film already promising plot twists and Eureka-moment links. There are many loose ends purposely left dangling just so that it can come together in the last 20 minutes, overall making for a fairly gripping and wholesome watch.
The issue with many procedural films is the assumption that the audience will get distracted enough to forget the tiny details, which leads some filmmakers to leave certain details unresolved. However, that is not the case here with every last detail tied up into a pretty little bow.
At the center of Ponmagal Vandhal, we have the golden girl herself, Jyothika. Similar to her recent films, she takes on the familiar role of delivering messages free of mainstream gaudiness. Jyothika’s performance is strong and steadfast – with her expressions stoic or soft as appropriately needed.
I do wish, however, that her courtroom scenes had more variation. While her resolve and determination to bring the truth to light shines through with her portrayal of a strong lawyer, her actual argumentative expression is stagnant. While necessary in its context, she constantly dons a look of triumph and arrogance when arguing with the prosecutor that quickly becomes repetitive.
Another major win for the film is the casting of all its supporting characters, consisting of a who’s who of yesteryear’s icons from the 1980s and 1990s. Seeing them all together in the same frame is truly a joy, especially with their experienced performance helping to carry the film along.
Parthiban’s portrayal of a prosecutor is as brilliant as you would expect it to be – with his unapologetic cockiness and huge screen presence. Thiagarajan’s megalomaniac villain character successfully incites hatred amongst viewers even though his character has little scope. Bhagyaraj’s doting father role is heartwarming and sincere, sharing an outstanding chemistry with Jyothika.
What supplements the strong performances in keeping the film gripping is its pace and editing. 120 minutes is generally considered short for a Tamil film, leading to an intense pace demanding peak attention from the audience. Additionally, the editing and narration style is done in a way that makes an already interesting premise even more engaging. As the film relies heavily on flashback storytelling and recounts, the freeze-frame style is very effective in transporting viewers back in time.
The dialogues are smart, witty and argumentative – as lawyers often are. Their constant one-upping is difficult to write but is done very well here. When it comes to the painful retelling of sexual abuse, the dialogues are earnest and stirring, easily eliciting a highly emotional response from the audience. Impressively, it is all kept simple enough to ensure nothing is lost in translation for the non-Tamil speaking audience relying on subtitles, especially since the film is available online.
The main letdown of Ponmagal Vandhal is its consistent slips into melodrama. As the film’s dialogue is more than capable of leaving a great impact on the audience, the overwhelming and repeated tears, coupled with sentimental music, was definitely overkill. During the courtroom proceedings, the actual technicalities appear to take a back seat to make room for tearful appeals. Some emotional restraint would have gone a long way for the credibility of those scenes – tears don’t win cases, evidence and arguments do.
Expecting a Twelve Angry Men type courtroom drama would be unrealistic since it will not sell to the larger demographic of Tamil cinema. Still, Ponmagal Vandhal is a wonderful attempt to sell a social message without becoming a sellout – as has happened with previous outings of films within this premise.
Catch Ponmagal Vandhal on Amazon Prime here or watch the trailer below.
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