Cast: Jyothika, Hareesh Peradi, Satyan
Move over supermen, and hero worship. Time now for superwomen and heroine worship. Director Gowthamraj's latest adventure, Raatchasi (Demoness), is set in a small Tamil Nadu town, essentially inside a Government school, where a new headmistress (wonder why they call her headmaster), Geeta Rani, walks in and takes charge, nay turns into a superwoman. And the script merrily helps Jyotika to essay this Geeta, who as we learn a little later was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Indian Army who had taken leave to serve in the school.
Much like some South Indian stars who have defied age by jumping into superwomen roles, Jyotika does that, and does that to a T. What stumbles and suffers in the process is authenticity; there is very little which appears plausible or believable. Take, for instance, the scene where Geeta is locked inside a room with several burly men determined to finish her. But she is not the one to be vanquished, and I did not see even a trace of fear on her face. Call it guts or foolhardiness or a gift from the director.
There is more of this coming with Geeta taking head on one obstacle after another – planted on her path by the cunning Rama Lingam (Hareesh Peradi), a local big shot who runs a private school, a large part of whose success stems from the shoddy way the Government institution is run – a group of irresponsible teachers liberally contributing to this tragic mess. Hardly qualified to be in any teaching position, they are more interested in their pay packets rather than guiding children to progress and prosper.
Geeta changes all this with what seems like a magic wand waved, though, with an iron hand. Soon, the school begins to sparkle, the teachers are forced on their toes and the students shine both academically and in sports. And Geeta becomes a demi-god with the storyline pushing this with gay abandon.
Highly predictable, Gowthamraj's work ruins a highly pressing problem in India today: the state of Government schools that woefully lack even basic facilities, with a highly incompetent teaching staff adding to this. Some of the institutions do not have even a building.
But, the director is so obsessed with placing a halo around his heroine's head and catapulting her to superstardom that he misses the task he had set out to achieve in the first place.
In fact, much of Tamil cinema suffers from this malaise. It has superb themes, but their execution is often eclipsed by stars bent on being larger than the storylines. The script is tailored to pander to their heroics, tailored to lift them to unrealistic heights. In Raatchasi, Gowthamraj is simply in awe of his superwoman, and, worse, he makes no effort to hide it. And Jyotika ends up as a one-woman army out to redress all that is wrong with our education system!
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)