Director: J. J. Fredrick
Cast: Jyotika, Parthieban, Bhagyaraj, Thiagarajan, Pratap Pothen
It is a welcome note that Tamil cinema has adapted to times and owing to the unimaginable pandemic, first-time director JJ Fredrick's Ponmagal Vandhal (The Golden Girl Has Arrived) was pushed straight onto a streaming platform, Amazon, without waiting for the cinemas to reopen.
In an interview, Fredrick said that small films like his would have to wait a long time for a theatrical release even after halls had begun functioning, because large, big-budget movies would get the first preference.
With Jyotika playing debutant lawyer, Venba, in Ooty (where the film is set), Ponmagal Vandhal is a crime thriller and legal drama rolled into one. In 2004, a series of child rapes and murders in the Nilgiris (where Ooty is located) lead the police to arrest whom they describe as a North Indian woman and shoot her, stating that she was a “psycho Killer”. Parents in Ooty and around are made to believe that she was the culprit, and a mass hysteria is generated.
Fifteen years later, Petition Pethuraj (Bhagyaraj) reopens the case and asks his daughter, Venba, to fight it out in court. Known for seeking legal redress for the most trivial of causes (including a fly in his glass of tea), Pethuraj is not taken seriously by the townsfolk. But they are angry that Venba should have taken up cudgels for a ruthless serial killer.
Fredrick, who also wrote the screenplay, divulges many details midway through the movie, leaving one twist to the very end. Although Jyotika is impressive as the lawyer fighting to set right a gross wrong and nab the guilty and is ably supported by Bhagyaraj and Pratap Pothen (who essays the judge), Ponmagal Vandhal (produced by Surya and Jyotika) has been inspired so much by Jolly LLB and Jolly LLB 2 (both in Hindi) that the Tamil film could have well been a remake.
The defence counsel, Rajarathinam (Partheiban), reminded me of Boman Irani in Jolly LLB and Annu Kapoor in Jolly LLB 2 – both defending the culprits. Jyotika seemed more like Warsi in Jolly LLB, who reopens a case by filing a public interest litigation. Many of the courtroom scenes in the Tamil work appear to have been lifted from the two Hindi titles, especially some of the arguments of the defence and judge's mannerisms. Even the fake encounter in the Jyotika-starrer comes, in a way, from Jolly LLB 2.
Unfortunately, there is very little novelty in Ponmagal Vandhal, except for the fact that Jyotika's Venba uses tears and emotions to convince the judge with very little hard evidence to prove her point! How would this stand in a court of law? It beats me.
Much of Tamil cinema is shoddily penned, and scriptwriters exhibit lethargy and take the easy way out by lifting scenes or ideas from other films – and not just Hindi but even foreign. Ponmagal Vandhal despite its bold attempt to bypass the theatre, fails to offer any plot originality.
Ponmagal Vandhal is streaming on Amazon Prime.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic)