Farhana Movie Review (2023)

Nelson Venkatesan

Nelson Venkatesan's 'Farhana' gives Aishwarya Rajesh a fine chance to shine in the midst of a middling thriller

Farhana Movie Review

Farhana Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Dream Warrior Pictures
Director : Nelson Venkatesan
Music Director : Justin Prabhakaran

With Oru Naal Koothu, Nelson Venkatesan showed us he could do drama. The film was a sobering look at modern-day marriage. His next film, the very entertaining Monster, was a total U-turn: it was a live-action cartoon about a man who battles a rat. With Farhana, the director proves that he really does not want to be slotted in any genre-box: broadly speaking, this is a thriller. But after a clumsily staged opening stretch (which exaggerates a certain kind of "danger" that awaits free-spirited women), we land in a drama very much like Satyajit Ray's Mahanagar. A middle-class woman (Farhana, played by Aishwarya Rajesh) takes up a job to ease the financial pressure on her family. In both films, the father-in-law disapproves, and in both films, the job is rather unconventional. In the 1960s, when women were meant to be homemakers, Ray's heroine stepped out and became a door-to-door saleswoman. In Farhana's case, the job is at a call centre, where she sex-chats with men. The hitch is that she is a devout Muslim.

The film does a fine job of bringing to life a patriarchal family that talks in a Hindi-Tamil mix, where Farhana is not allowed to have a phone and has to use a landline with the constant reminder that everyone around can hear her words. Nelson focuses on his heroine's face, her expressive eyes – and Aishwarya gives us everything from timidity to disgust to fear to controlled rage. Even when she's caught in  a stretch that makes her seem like a detective in an action movie, we never lose sight of the conservative Farhana she was and will always be. Jithan Ramesh plays her understanding husband with a lot of goodness and grace. He may not be very happy that his wife has to support the family, but he doesn't feel emasculated either. Once the decision has been made, he supports her fully. He works in the failing family footwear store, and on Farhana's first day of work, he gets her new pair of footwear. He attended the job interview with her, and saw the fancy footwear everyone else was wearing. He does not want his wife to be found lacking in at least that department, the department that is his specialty.

The plotting is very convenient – from the way Farhana gets a contact who gets her a job, and how she impresses her boss on her very first day at work. The way Farhana "unknowingly" finds herself in the sex-chat centre is unconvincing (wouldn't someone tell her what the job is?), as are scenes like the one where the cops land up at her home and shame her in front of everyone. To make things palatable for audiences, a coworker (very nicely played by Anumol) is used to keep underlining the fact that Farhana cannot digest this kind of job. But Nelson is much better at writing characters, and the film really blooms when Farhana begins  talking to a lonely man with the kind of poetic streak you'd find in a Mysskin movie. (You probably know the special guest star who plays this part.) Farhana and her husband talk only about practical things affecting the family, and for the first time, she finds a friend who liberates the trapped soul inside her. She is able to speak out her inner thoughts.

To keep Farhana "pure" in our eyes, we never see (or hear) the other men she talks to – and very refreshingly, these men are not painted as creeps but simply as people with needs they cannot express verbally to others. Around the midway mark, the film turns into a version of Fatal Attraction, with the spurned woman being replaced by a spurned man. Farhana now faces a psycho-stalker, and while Justin Prabhakaran's super-fun techno score keeps amping up the scenes, the plot itself takes too long to move. It inches ahead, and except for a tense pre-interval stretch, we never get to that nail-biting zone that we expect from a thriller. There's too much talk, and the psycho-stalker does not come across as a menacing figure at all. But again, the bits of character writing are good, like the scene in the metro where Farhana is comforted by other women – we sense a sisterhood. And Aishwarya Rajesh keeps makes us invest fully in her character, a woman who is almost "punished" for doing something against her religion. Flaws and all, I look forward to the genre Nelson Venkatesan takes up next.


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Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.