Keni movie review: Jaya Prada and R Parthiban cannot help this chaotic film

If ever a film suffered from identity crisis, it has to be Keni. For the first hour, the director is confused what his film is all about. Is it terrorism? Is it about corruption? Is it about water scarcity? The film jumps from one narrative to another and the links joining them are tenuous at best.
By Priyanka Sundar | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2019 06:56 PM IST

Keni
Director:
MA Nishad
Cast:
Jaya Prada, Revathy, Anu Haasan, R Parthiban, Nasser, Rekha
Star rating:
1.5/5

Keni is ostensibly about water scarcity. A small village, Puliyanmalai, in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district is in the clutches of a man-made drought. As corrupt ministers try to take advantage of the situation by relocating the villagers and starting an industrial development project in the area, the only hope of people is Jaya Prada’s Indira. She owns a piece of land which has a well on it. The only problem: the well is on Kerala side of the border. How Indira manages to help the villagers is put forth in three different narratives -- each the perspective of three different journalists who had a lead on her or her husband.

In a one paragraph gist, it seems like a straightforward narrative. The film is anything but.

The film begins with the focus on corruption and Indira’s huband, Hariharan. A geologist who holds the director’s post in a government office in Alapuzha, he refuses to turn a blind eye to corruption and is implicated in a trumped up sexual harassment case. Just as he is dealing with this, his friend Aravindan is investigated for being a Maoist and he is also implicated in the case. During the investigation, he dies leaving the land to his wife.

Cut to Riaz and his wife Rasina. The loving couple’s life is turned upside down when Riaz gets arrested under UEPA act for terrorism. Both the cases are taken over by the same lawyer who decides to introduce the wives of accused to each other. We are almost nearing the interval of the film and are yet to realize that the film is about Indira and water scarcity.

If ever a film suffered from identity crisis, it has to be Keni. For the first hour, the director is confused what his film is all about. Is it terrorism? Is it about corruption? Is it about water scarcity? The film jumps from one narrative to another and the links joining them are tenuous at best.

The concept of three journalists investigating one woman’s life and putting forth different facets is a great idea. The writing, however, fails to support the idea.

Secondly, there are so many characters that chaos is the obvious result. We jump from Hariharan and Indira to Hariharan and Aravindan to Indira and Riaz and his wife Rasina. Then there is the lawyer and a corrupt police officer. The characters are introduced with due importance in the beginning only to lose relevance soon after.

Case in point is Rasina. She has no relevance in the larger scheme of things but is introduced, it seems, to complicate the plot.

Once we get to Puliyanmalai, we meet Shaktivel (R Parthiban), Sugandi (Anu Haasan), her son, and IAS officer Aruna (Revathy) who narrates part of the story. We also come across the villains and the three journalists.

Even the narrative style is different as Indira travels from Alapuzha to Puliyanmalai. The stark contrast in the style is distracting and a hurdle. For instance, wouldn’t it have been better for the police officer to narrate Indira’s life in Alapuzha and focus more on protest launched by Indira?

The part set in Alapuzha is too stretched. For example, an entire song is shot in a bus and the mood is contemplative. Indira and Rasina reminisce about their respective husbands and while it makes for a nice shot but doesn’t fit in the grander scheme of film.

The commentary on current affairs, especially this bit about aadhaar card being necessary if one needs to admit people to the hospital is timely but a force fit in the film.

Towards the end we see Nasser as lawyer Sathyamurthi who defends Indira, and Rekha as the judge who hears the case of Indira vs State. The case is simple and dealt as such by the lawyer and the smart judge. The climax is not a tense argument, but more of a speech about unity that is unapologetically preachy.

Author tweets @Priyanka_S_MCC
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