Saturday October 17, 2020

Putham Pudhu Kaalai (Movie review)

Posted by Karthik

Watch the movie on Prime Video: Putham Pudhu Kaalai (with English subtitles).

Putham Pudhu Kaalai offers the rare chance of watching four, what they used to call, A-Center Tamil films (and one B-Center Tamil film) – short films, of course. Tamil cinema has long moved to seeing ‘A-Center’ as a pejorative, even beyond the amount of money they rake in (or do not), owing to changed socio-political narratives.

The problems people face in the first four films are a stark contrast to the existential problems faced by the two small-time criminals in the fifth, and it is appropriate that the film released directly on OTT, as an ode to the film’s core target audience.

The review below has enough and more spoilers. So read after watching the film on Amazon Prime.

ILamai Idho Idho: Sudha Kongara

As far as narrative devices go, this film has a truly delightful idea. It is very, very easy to misunderstand that Jayaram and Urvashi were former lovers and are reuniting after having lost their respective spouses, later in life. But the central premise is that they are not former lovers. They simply happen to be two older people who found each other and want to spend time with each other.

Madhavan’s voice-over clearly establishes the device: “How they make us ‘feel’ is what is important – foolish, happy and young!”. This voice-over is layered on the scene when the older couple suddenly appear young, and that switch, without concentrating on the voice-over may have one assuming that these are former lovers reuniting, which it is not. That’s where the narrative device is so very inventive. Did Sudha choose this device to temper the audience’s reaction if the older couple of shown to be doing the things that the younger couple does? They, after all, don’t do anything out of the ordinary, but would the present-day audience snigger looking at an older couple behaving that way? Or, would it not make for an entertaining watch? Whatever the reason, this device is this anthology’s high-point.

However, the relationship’s arc, even within the short running time, is as superficial and hurried as a standard Maniratnam film. The relationship annoyances jump in abruptly making one wonder about the maturity of the ‘senior’ couple having gone through all this in life adequately, with the overview of how to deal with such things. But then, people are people, and age need not come in the way of exploring another person’s quirks all over again.

G. V. Prakash Kumar’s music is a pleasant distraction, though, in a short film, to also include ‘short’ songs, stretches the urgency of story-telling to an impatient level. The songs themselves are nice, with SPB’s son, Charan singing a new-age variant of MS Viswanathan’s Namma Ooru Singaari from Ninaithaale Inikkum in Manmadhan Naan Dhaana.

The film ends as a graceful video conference begins, indicating new beginnings – Putham Pudhu Kaalai!

Avarum Naanum – AvaLum Naanum: Gautham Vasudev Menon

This is a rather surprising turn from Gautham Vasudev Menon, possibly because he doesn’t have the luxury of time to deliberate on many of his usual directorial flourishes. M.S.Bhaskar probably has the best-written role among all the stories in this anthology, and is easily the best performer too, among all the actors in all five stories. His emotional heft and the way the story turns the perspective around from being against-him to for-him is a truly wonderful touch by Gautham.

As Bhaskar explains to his grand-daughter the cause of his rift with his daughter, he insists that the family she moved in to (including her husband) consists of ‘good people’, but leaves out articulating in greater detail what ‘good’ does not include from his point of view, letting us figure it out, with the surrounding context of music and the daughter’s choice.

The scene involving Bhaskar interrupting Ritu’s work call seems perfectly natural given his age, and the fact that he explains it as helping out a ‘boy from Tirunelveli, my town’.

Given the undercurrent of music in this film, Gautham’s choice of Govind Vasantha’s music, and that Bombay Jayashri song, in particular, is brilliant.

Gautham also references his own song from Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada for the film’s title, much like Rajeev Menon references his own song from Minsara Kanavu in his film, as a crucial plot device.

Coffee, Anyone?: Suhasini Maniratnam

If there was a space before ‘A-segment’ – a ‘0.A Segment’ film, this would be that film. Typical of a Maniratnam-Suhasini style, everything about this film seems overdone, overacted and overindulgent. Except for Kathadi Ramamurthy, of course.

Probably in an attempt to avoid the melodrama that could seep into as a story about three sisters and an ageing mother, Suhasini goes on the other extreme trying to force natural conversations and situations, which all ends up looking severely overwrought.

The direction is equally exaggerated and outdated – the way the sisters start speaking to doctors for a second opinion, theatrically crisscrossing each other in a balcony and the way they suddenly break into a Latino/Spanish song and dance (possibly the kind of audience reaction that Sudha wanted to avoid, by choosing a younger couple to do the ‘youthful performances’) are some of the examples.

Shruti Haasan’s character, and cameo, was a pleasant surprise, and perhaps deserved better treatment, given she has the most interesting background story among the three sisters.

Among all the story outcomes, this one has the most positive and uplifting ending – it clearly indicates a better future as the ailing mother gets better, with a wonderfully surreal indication of things to come, during the midnight birthday wishes call the previous night.

Reunion: Rajiv Menon

In Rajeev Menon’s short, Andrea could have been Shruti Haasan of the previous film, though they are struggling in different cities, in different backgrounds.

The most interesting aspect of this film is the way the narrative treats a drug addict, with zero judgement or scorn, and with incredible empathy. That the older Leela Samson does not think poorly of the addict is a beautiful approach that extends to her son too.

Watching Sikkil Gurucharan as a ‘hero’ was quite surprising, though he pulls it off with enough confidence. Even though his sudden outburst of singing at a crucial scene seems like a melodramatic contrivance, as a doctor, he perhaps understands that distracting the emotionally distraught (also caused by the drugs) person is a better way of dealing with the situation. The scene ends predictably enough but helps to contextualize the film’s ending in a nice way, that the end doesn’t come across as forced.

This film also probably has the best location (house) among all films in the anthology, and that’s a considerable achievement given the beautiful houses the first four films showcase.

Much like the other films (particularly ILamai Idho Idho and Avarum Naanum – AvaLum Naanum), this film too uses real photos from the actors’ lives (Jayaram’s wife in the first film, as per the photo, is his wife in real-life – Parvathy), though, unlike the other films, the last photo used to establish the ending has also been ‘Photoshopped’ using real photos from the actors’ past.

Miracle: Karthik Subbaraj

Of the five films in this anthology, this is perhaps the most fun, though this is the one film that addresses the seriousness of the lockdown in terms of the impact.

(Bobby) Simha (credited without the Bobby!) tells his partner Sharath Ravi that they have only 17 Rupees left, and that works as a stark contrast to the well-heeled people of the other four films for whom the lockdown is a mere inconvenience.

Even if the Guruji’s ‘Believe in Miracles’ sermon jars with the unusual mix of English and Tamil, and even the repeated use of ‘Miracles’ instead of ‘Adhisayam’ that is more likely to be used by a Guruji preaching to Tamilians, the way the Guruji’s character has been used later in the film showcases Karthik’s thoughtful approach to the script.

The twist in the end, where the fortunes are swapped, is a wonderful touch, though the contrivances Karthik adopts to get to that point are not. Consider the amount of focus on the spare tyre—the equivalent of Vaaname Ellai’s ‘trunk petti’ that constables Charlie and Kavithalaya Krishnan carry and try to give back to someone else—it was too obvious what the idea was.

For instance, the spare tyre is being carelessly rolled on the road as Simha and Sharath lookout for more places to loot. When they come across a ‘software company’ (which it is not, and that’s a really good misdirection that works beautifully in the end), and decide to pick a few laptops from the place, they enter the house. When they do, where would they keep the spare tyre? In the house’s parking lot/outside the door, or take it inside the house? Taking it inside the house seems like a forced script choice because of what eventually happens due of the tyre, but it is also a choice that exposes the importance of the tyre quite unnecessarily.

Thankfully, Karthik’s actual twist, and our discovery, is not the device of the tyre, but about the person who benefits from it in the end. That Karthik also stages the film with his usual panache and swagger (and the mandatory Ilayaraja song ‘usage’) really helps.

Despite all the quibbles, the five films are so handsomely mounted that the anthology can be an effortless watch at least for the way it is put together.

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