Debutant writer-director Bineesh Raj has taken up a film about women’s education. With his film ‘Ilai’ set in the year 1991, in a underdeveloped village which does not even have proper roads, he has tried to convey the struggles of women from rural background in getting access to education against all odds.
While Raj’s intentions are laudable, how far he has transformed his noble intentions as a entertaining/engaging film on the silver screen is something that needs to be analysed.
Ilai (Swathy Narayanan) lives in an underdeveloped village Thirunelli with her family. Almost all the people in that village including Ilai’s mother are against women getting education as they think girl children are supposed to take care of household chores. However Ilai continues her education with the support and affection of her father who convinced that girl’s needs to be educated for a better future.
On the day when Ilai has to take up her last exam in the Tenth Standard State Board Examinations, her father becomes critical and he is taken to hospital. Ilai has to take care of a kid in her house and do all the household works before going to that day’s exam.
The rest of the film answers whether Ilai writes the exam and also what happens to the future of her education.
‘Ilai’ is definitely a film with a heart and we can give thumbs up for that factor alone. The director has followed a realistic approach in his narration and that is quite apt for a story like this. But when things get too realistic we get a feeling that the lack of ideas for scenes is the reason behind this much of realism and detailing.
After the first twenty minutes taken for the introduction of characters and the setting we get engrossed with the screens when Ilai stars facing the real struggle on the fateful day. Ilai’s desperation to go to the exam on that day is transformed to the audience thanks to highly realistic and relatable portrayal keeping in mind that the story happens in the early 1990s.
This long sequence is impactful till the interval block. But this continues for a long time even in the second half and that’s when we get the feeling that the writer-director does not have anything else to say in the film.
With such a heart touching theme and realistic approach, ‘Ilai’ would have been a much better feature film if the writer-director had added more good scenes and ideas in the script. For instance he could have allocated more scenes for the father-daughter affection being the backbone of the girl’s education, instead of reducing them as montages of a song. He could have depicted the caste hierarchy that would have been definitely prevalent in such rural areas during that period.
We are not saying these are necessary but we are just saying that what has been dealt in the film is not enough to be dragged as a feature film with two hours running length and that is the main drawback of ‘Ilai’.
The placement of songs and the sub ploti involving a stereotyped Pannaiyar and his daughteras negative character do not make any impact and they end up as forced additions to the script.
One big positive aspect of ‘Ilai’ is that the performance of Swathy Narayanan who has played the lead character. This is her first Tamil film and it won’t over statement to say that she has lived the character of a adolescent girl child who is struggling between her educational ambitions and family commitments.
Apart from Swathy,Ashwin Shiva as her cute little brother has given a praiseworthy performance while Dr.King Mohan as Ilai’s father has done a neat job. All other actors have give amateurish performances and one gets a feeling of watching a TV soap rather than a feature film.
Vishnu.V.Dhinakaran has done a commendable job as his songs are pleasing to the ears and re-rerecording is apt for such an emotional film. SanthoshAnchal’s cinematography mostly depending on natural lights, transforms us to the landscape of the film. Editor Tuo Joseph could have cut short many overstretching scenes and helped in trimming the film. Velumani’s dialogues are apt for the film.
Special kudos to director Bineesh Raj’s VFX work as he has managed to pull of the entire film without giving making the VFX part obvious at any part of the film. We are surprised to see that most part of the film has been shot in green mat and the locations were added as background in VFX only when they are show during the end credits. Such a brilliant work in that regard deserves credit.
Verdict: Despite all its shortcomings, ‘Ilai’ is a film needs to be lauded for its noble theme, realistic approach and the impactful portrayal of a rural girl’s struggle to get education.