SYNOPSIS: A school girl in a village that doesn’t believe in women empowerment faces innumerable hurdles on the day of her final exam.
REVIEW: Ilai, a studious girl living in a village nestled in the foothills of a mountain, is in Class 10. Her father’s only wish is to get her educated. However, the villagers do not believe in a woman getting education. Even I her own family, Ilai’s mom constantly chides her for wasting time with studies, while her uncle lustfully eyes her and desires to marry her. And by joining forces with the zamindar, whose daughter is jealous of Ilai, he plots to stop the girl from attending her final exam. Can Ilai overcome all the hurdles that crop up on that fateful day and make it in time?
For most of its running time, Ilai plays out like a race-against-time thriller. Swathy Narayanan, who is made to do a lot of physical work to make us understand how challenging the goal is for Ilai, make us empathise with the plight of the girl. Similarly, Bineesh Raj holds some shots for the entire duration the girl takes for running from point A to point B to appreciate the distance between the school and her remote hillside hut, though, after a point, her constant running just becomes tiring for us, the viewers!
And Bineesh makes the odds steep — Ilai’s father is grievously injured and she has to stay at home and look after her baby brother, her other brother is unhelpful and walks out on her after throwing a tantrum, she doesn’t find a babysitter, she loses the key after locking up the baby inside the house, she has to deal with an uncaring tea-shop owner — a woman — who wants her to milk the cow, she is waylaid by the zamindar and his henchmen… So, there is constantly a will-she-won’t-she tension in-built in the narrative.
That said, the characterisation feels archaic. Characters are either painted in the blackest of black or in heavenly white. It doesn’t help that the dialogues, which instead of making us feel that the characters are speaking with each other, give the feeling of just being recited by the actors. But it the tone, resembling a public service announcement, which the director chooses to tell this tale that plays spoilsport. Coupled with the characterisation and lines, it gives the film the feel of a TV serial melodrama.