Putham Pudhu Kaalai
Directors: Sudha Kongara, Gautham Menon, Suhasini Mani Ratnam, Rajiv Menon, Karthik Subbaraj
Cast: Jayaram, Kalidas Jayaram, Urvashi, Kalyani Priyadarshan, M.S. Bhaskar, Ritu Varma, Suhasini Mani Ratnam, Anu Hasan, Shruti Haasan, Andrea Jeremiah, Leela Samson, Sikkil Gurucharan, Bobby Simha, Muthu Kumar
It has been a while, a long while, since I saw a Tamil work that moved me. Amazon Prime Video’s first anthology in Tamil of five shorts was remarkable for its emotional quotient, laced with superb performances. Shot during the recent lockdown, the five movies have been helmed by different directors popular in South Indian cinema. While the first four segments are set in affluent households, the last underlines the grinding poverty suffered by the poorer classes after the lockdown was clamped.
The shorts explore broken relationships and reunions, not necessarily involving two lovers, as in Sudha Kongara’s Ilamai Idho Idho (Youth, Here We Come), or between two college sweethearts (who find themselves face to face with each other during the lockdown in Rajiv Menon’s Reunion), but also between a young woman and her estranged grandfather (Gautham Menon’s Avarum Naanum/Avalum Naanum or Him and Me/Her and Me) or among three sisters and their parents in Suhansini Mani Ratnam’s Coffee, Anyone? in which an elderly woman’s coma gets her two daughters rushing to her bedside with a third away in Mumbai, stubbornly refusing to forget and forgive her mother’s insensitive attitude. Karthik Subbaraj’s Miracle steers away from any serious exploration of ties between two brothers, who find themselves out of work and scouting for free food.
I have never been a particular fan of Gautham Menon, but his Avarum Naanum/ Avalum Naanum got me floored with his marvellously sensitive portrayal of a man’s relationship with his estranged granddaughter, who comes visiting him during the pandemic. Bhaskar playing the old man with a distinguished professional record as a physicist (“have worked with Kalam” he says) had not been talking to his daughter for years after she got married to a man who “killed” her huge talent as a classical singer. It has always been on his mind, hurting him and causing untold pain. And when his granddaughter, Kanna (Ritu Varma), comes over to stay with him, he gets a chance to talk things over with her in the hope of redemption. The two get on famously. Kanna is surprised to find that he is as adept at using modern gadgets as she herself is. What is more, during a knotty office meeting over the video, the man walks into the frame and offers a solution! Excellent performances by Bhaskar and Varma appear easy and really natural.
I quite liked the acting in Rajiv Menon’s Reunion – with renowned classical musician, Sikkil C. Gurucharan playing a young doctor, Vikram, and living with his mother (Leela Samson). In walks Sadhana ( Andrea Jeremiah), an old classmate. Sadhana becomes a part of their household after her two-wheeler breaks down. There are scares as when one of Vikram’s patients tests Covid positive and when Sadhana passes out after over snorting cocaine. The climax is just lovely with hope playing musical notes and rekindling not just Vikram’s passion for the art, but also a sense of romance.
Kongara’s Ilamai Idho Idho also ends on a high after two middleaged people get together at Rajiv Padmanabhan’s (Jayaram) house during the lockdown. Lakshmi Krishnan (Urvashi) and he were once inseparable (as shown during their younger days/ played out by Kalidas Jayaram and Kalyani Priyadarshan). Married to different people, they have been widowed and are presumably leading lonely lives when the Pandemic comes as a blessed relief. She tells her married son that she is going to Pondicherry for a retreat, and Rajiv packs off his domestic help for privacy. There are beautiful moments between the two – of how they squabble over a spoon left inside a refrigerator or a wet towel on the bed. Quite sweet and a touch of brilliant acting by Jayaram, but of course.
Suhasini Mani Ratnam’s Coffee, Anyone? Underlines the bonding among three sisters – Mani Ratnam as the eldest Valli, Anu Hasan as Saras and Shruti Haasan as Ramya. Valli has flown down from England to be with her comatose mother, Soundara Mahendran (Komalam Charuhasan) and father, Mahendran (Kathadi Ramamurthy). Ramya refuses to come down from Mumbai, still smarting from the insult her mother heaped on her. There is camaraderie at home and then there is angst when the father refuses to let his wife go back to the hospital, till Ramya becomes a focal point of a miracle.
The last segment by Karthik Subbaraj, is interestingly titled, Miracle with Bobby Simha and Sharath Ravi as two impoverished brothers living in a slum and hoping for, well a miracle. When they chance upon an abandoned car on a desolate ground, they ransack it in the hope of hidden money. They do not, but find their way into a supposedly empty house where they find sacks of currency notes. But the twist to the tale is amazing and is, in a way, an indictment of blind beliefs. Apt in the kind of horrid times the world is passing through. Happily, this is only one among the five that directly addresses the economic devastation caused by the lockdown, and the anger and frustration it leads to.
While the writing is quite incisive and the direction well up on the ladder, some of the performances outshine others. Anu Hasan is wonderfully expressive, and Bhaskar infuses into his richly spelt out character amazing depth as a man who has suffered long seeing his daughter ripped away from an almost divine talent. Jayaram steals the limelight as a bumbling middleaged man, ecstatic at being reunited with his love after decades.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic)