Releasing on: SonyLiv
Direction and cinematography: Deepak
Cast: Rohini, Shraddha Srinath, Tamizh, Azhagam Perumal, Shanmugharaja, G Selva, Subhadra Robert and Rajeev Anand among others
Music: Ramesh Tamilmani
Editor: Philomin Raj
Story and screenplay: Muthuvel and Chanakya
Rating: 3.5 stars
Debut director Deepak’s film ‘Witness’ is a hard-hitting, gripping drama that looks to shine the light on the sad plight of manual scavengers in the country and the cruel caste politics that is at play in this society that is determined to deny them their right to a life of dignity as promised under Article 21 of the Indian constitution.
The story begins with a single mother (Rohini), a sweeper in the city’s corporation, heading off to work at night. As she boards the bus to work, she gives instructions to her 20-year-old son (Tamizh) , a bright young lad who is an accomplished swimmer and a student who is on the verge of completing his college education.
The son, a dedicated student who is determined to provide relief to his mother who has been labouring all her life to bring him up, is eagerly awaiting the completion of his degree so that he can get a job and give his mother a life of rest and peace.
The next morning as she returns home from work, she is surprised to find that her son has not returned home after dropping her at the bus stand.
Soon, news arrives that her son is at a government hospital. She rushes there only to know that her son is already dead and that the cops have already sent the body for post mortem.
The cops, who don’t even have the decency to get the body identified first by a relative before sending it to post mortem, are in a hurry to close the case. They claim that the boy, in an inebriated state, attempted to clean a septic tank in a high rise apartment and in the process drowned in it.
The mother is not convinced. She says her son is a college student and that he does not have the habit of consuming alcohol. She also points out that there is no way her son would have agreed to be a scavenger.
The cops stick to their guns and threaten the poor mother and those with her, who they realise are helpless, poor people with no one to stand up for them.
Just when the cops think that they can bully the mother into receiving her son’s body and close the case, the mother decides to fight. What happens then is what ‘Witness’ is all about.
Deepak’s film is a wake up call to legislators, cops, lawyers, the judiciary and the society in general on the need to urgently effect measures to stop this despicable practice of manual scavenging.
It shows the difficult circumstances that drive individuals into becoming manual scavengers and highlights the fact that those belonging to only a section of society are cornered into becoming manual scavengers.
The film also creates an awareness about their despicable working conditions. It tells how they are made to work without even the most basic of safety equipment and showcases the callous attitude of the government authorities who, instead of making a sincere attempt to stop the practice of manual scavenging, only look to pass on the buck onto somebody else when a death occurs.
The film also fearlessly shows how despite laws against manual scavenging having been effected, not a single person responsible for the death of manual scavengers has been punished until now, thanks to a corrupt judicial system.
The film has some fantastic performances to offer. Rohini, as the mother, stands out. She delivers a brilliant performance that moves you. Her performance is so good that you actually begin to visualise yourself in her situation.
In particular, there are two scenes in which she is exceptional. The first one is when she travels to work in the bus thinking about all that her son has just told her. Her eyes are welling up with tears while she has a small smile on her lips. There is pride in her face — the kind that one gets to see in mothers who are proud of their sons who have done exceptionally well.
The other is when she confronts her supervisor, who exceeds all limits of decency and verbally abuses her. You actually can’t help but clap when she slaps him for his excesses. Fantastic is just a small word to describe her performance in these scenes.
Shraddha Srinath, as a snobbish, independent, young architect who doesn’t mind taking on the whole world for what she thinks is right, delivers a neat performance.
Tamizh, who plays the son, is just perfect for the role. Cheerful, playful and full of innocence, he fits the character to the T. A neat performance from an upcoming actor.
The film’s cinematography might not be classy but it does what is needed and lends credibility to the plot. Music is apt and the editing keeps the film neat and slim.
On the whole, ‘Witness’, which has just released on SonyLiv is an engaging, gripping watch that is definitely worth your time.