Kuthiraivaal is a surreal film that blurs the lines between dream, reality, myth and narrative
Kuthiraivaal is a debut venture by Shyam Sundar and Manoj Jahson, and has nothing to do with your typical Tamil movie with its song and dance sequences and fight scenes. It’s a surreal film in which the filmmakers blur the lines between dream, reality, myth and narrative.
Saravanan (portrayed by Kalaiyarasan) wakes up one morning to find he has a ponytail. So he begins his quest to figure out why. He is anxious and paranoid and constantly twitches and is the only one who can see and feel the tail. He also begins to call himself Freud and embarks on a quest to find out why he has a ponytail. He visits an old lady who is a clairvoyant who predicts futures based on dreams, then meets a former teacher and TV charlatan. Each of them offers her a different insight, including that the ponytail is a sex symbol.
The narrative meanders with little logic and we encounter a strange assortment of characters including an earless girl named Van Gogh and a horse without a tail. Saravanan appears to work as a bank teller and he has a psychotic episode at work which gets him fired.
Later in the film, we take a trip down Saravanan/Freud’s past and uncover a childhood trauma that involves the death of a little girl who is later transformed into a goddess. And, as if there weren’t enough unrelated storylines, there’s a dead neighbor who committed suicide by drawing 200 vials of his own blood and who walks around the neighborhood talking only to Saravanan/Freud. In addition, there is an investigator who tries to understand the neighbor’s death and solves the mystery by quoting Lacan and his mirror stage theory.
The film is richly allusive. Saravanan’s awakening through bodily transformation echoes Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The scene where Saravanan visits his old math teacher and finds him in a room covered in math equations on the walls and floor is reminiscent of a beautiful spirit. The girl with the cut ear and named Van Gogh is an obvious allusion. And then there is Freud and his Dreams interpretation and a generous sprinkling of Lacan.
As viewers, we are drawn to these various allusions as a way of making sense of and interpreting the film, and we don’t end up anywhere. Like Saravanan trying to make sense of his horsetail, we try to make sense of what we’re looking at and find ourselves at interpretative dead ends. Along the way, we realize that the progress of the interpretation is more interesting than its conclusions.
The camerawork in the film is exquisite as we weave seamlessly between different worlds. The film is above all a strange journey for the spectator who comes out of it more perplexed. At the same time, as an English teacher trained in all these psychological theories of narrative interpretation, I can’t help but think that a few filmmakers had a lot of fun throwing snippets of what they learned at college or had read making a movie that ultimately pokes fun at our desire for cerebral interpretations of narratives.
The film is currently streaming on Netflix.