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December 02, 2022 06:29 pm | Updated 06:32 pm IST
Amala Paul in ‘The Teacher’
The Teacher is not easy to watch, films about sexual violence seldom are. What is unsettling is that the perpetrators are barely out of school, and the victim/survivor is a teacher they meet during an inter-school competition. Even more disturbing is their nonchalance about the assault, which they have recorded.
The film, directed by Vivek, pivots around Devika (Amala Paul), a Physical Education teacher in a government school who is drugged and raped. The film opens with a confused Devika ‘feeling’ the assault and checking herself for signs of something she cannot remember. One went in expecting the cyberbullying tropes and cliches. But therein lies the twist; Devika is a fighter, she refuses to ‘let it go’, as her husband (Hakkim Shajahan) suggests. She tracks down her attackers and ‘punishes’ them.
Her allies include her mother-in-law Patton Kalyani, a pan-chewing, beedi-puffing Communist party activist essayed brilliantly by Manju Pillai. Kalyani is appalled that her son cannot understand the severity of the crime and the trauma Devika has undergone. Manju Pillai could have been utilised more, but then it is Devika’s story.
Sujith, Devika’s husband, initially lashes out when she tells him of the sexual assault, even accusing her of causing it. There is, what feels like, redemption for the character who realises his mistake and wants to set things right, but the damage has been done to the relationship. Devika is unforgiving when he begs for a second chance. The climax denies him redemption when we realise that the ‘acceptance’ and ‘support’ were conditional to her getting an abortion.
The couple had been trying to get pregnant for a couple of years; after the rape, she learns she is pregnant. They don’t know if it was the result of the assault, hence the expectation that the pregnancy is terminated.
However, since the writers — PV Shajikumar and Vivek — are men, the story is essentially from the male perspective. There are also things Devika does which appear unnecessarily risky, like travelling with a person she suspects of being her rapist late in the night, let alone confronting him alone.
Despite all the explanatory threads, The Teacher sticks to a tight two hours. However, one can’t help but wonder why actors Nandu, Mala Parvathy, Dinesh Prabhakar and footballer/actor IM Vijayan all figure in the film in blink-and-miss roles! What little we see of these three actors’ work is very well executed, but why are they there? Chemban Vinod has a substantial role since it is a cameo, and Anumol has a bit more to do.
Amala Paul shows flashes of maturing as an actor, but the film, unfortunately, demands only versions of three emotions — anger, disgust, and grief — in a loop. It is disturbing that the characters believe they have no hope of justice, but take the law into their hands.
An aspect of the climax where Devika literally takes on her attackers is problematic. Chemban Vinod’s character says he is not interested in women; the inference drawn is that he is queer. So when he enters and closes the door to a room with one of the attackers inside, the suggestion is unsavoury especially when we hear the younger man shout for help. Having a queer character is great, but makers have to be sensitive about how they are portrayed.
The Teacher is currently running in theatres
cinema / reviews / Malayalam cinema
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