A middle-aged man and woman surreptitiously decide to meet one another, a granddaughter is forced to stay with her estranged grandfather, two daughters visit their ailing mother and discover the wonder of belief and deep affection, a woman due to unwanted circumstances has to spend few days with her childhood friend and his mother under the same roof and finally, two criminals learn to accept their fate. These five tales dealing with attachment, reconciliation, reciprocation, family values and hope form the compendium of short films in Putham Pudhu Kaalai (The Brand New Dawn), filmed during the COVID-19 lockdown. The compilation is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
The anthology kicks off with Sudha Kongara’s Ilamai Idho Idho (Youth, Here We Come), a tender account of mutual affection between a widower, Rajiv Padmanabhan (Jayaram), and a widow, Lakshmi Krishnan (Oorvashi). The latter visits Rajiv’s house by lying to her son that she going to a retreat for Yoga. As Lakshmi rings the doorbell and waits for Rajiv to open the door, she scrutinizes herself anxiously on the mobile screen. Rajiv opens the door with a smile even as he tries to conceal his nervousness. Lakshmi smiles back and a moment of awkwardness follows before she steps inside. As she crosses the threshold (literally and metaphorically), the director takes us to a world where the aged couple is still young at heart and more than capable of romance. However, what was supposed to be just a two day long rendezvous now turns into twenty-one long days of acclimatization due to the enforced lockdown. Here, the plot draws a similarity with the short film Will You Be My Quarantine?, which was a part of the Netflix anthology series, Home Stories, also shot during the lockdown. Fluid camera movements, some slick editing and an upbeat soundtrack, all create moments of vibrant, romantic energy that subtly shapes the couple’s perceptions and expectations from their newly found adoration for each other. The performance by the actors, both in their middle and younger versions (Kalidas Jayaram and Kalyani Priyadarshan), are equally convincing and highly relatable. But on a deeper analysis, the narrative can be broken down simply as two middle-aged individuals meeting, rekindling their old flames, facing the mandatory conflict till the customary happy ending. In that sense, there is nothing new or fresh in the tale, which could also have done with smarter and more perceptive dialogue writing.
The next offering is Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Avarum Naanum – Avalum Naanum (Him and Me, Her and Me) where a young girl, Kanna (Ritu Varma), has to stay with her alienated grandfather (MS Baskar), her ‘Thaatha’, during the lockdown. Inevitably the two estranged people start to bond with each other as Kanna discovers that the nuclear scientist is not some dated fuddy-duddy old man but an individual who has adapted himself to using WhatsApp, knows how to repair a portable router, and most importantly, learnt how to cope with his loneliness. The story is beautifully framed by veteran cinematographer PC Sreeram and well-cut by editor Anthony without resorting to flashy gimmickry keeping in mind the emotional quotient in the story. However, the aesthetics and approach by the director strictly adheres to that popularised in daily soaps and while the tale has its few heart-warming and poignant moments, Menon has done better in the past.
The third entry is, sadly, also the weakest – Suhasini Maniratnam’s Coffee Anyone?. It is an overtly verbose and melodramatic chronicle of two daughters, Valli (Suhasini Maniratnam) and Saras (Anu Hasan), who visit their seriously ailing and aging mother (Komalam Charuhasan). She is suffering from a ‘locked-in’ syndrome and is being taken care of by their father (Kathadi Ramamurthy). The youngest daughter (Shruti Haasan), suffering from inconsistent characterization, has been cast aside by the mother because she dared to pursue her dream and make her career in the music world in Mumbai. She makes her presence in the family through a video call, distant yet connected. These five characters forms the the sphere of the narrative and all they do is talk and then talk some more to move the story forward. Rather than tell us visually, the backstories as well the key expository moments in the story are all revealed through extensive dialogue. In fact, after the film finishes, it makes us ponder that what if instead of a short film, the script was developed into a podcast or a radio play would we have missed the essence of the story? I think not.
With the only way now to go being upwards, Rajiv Menon’s Reunion brings a breath of fresh air to a story that deals with the plight of a young woman, Sadhana (Andrea Jeremiah), who encounters her schoolfriend, whom she hasn’t met for a long period, Vikram (Gurucharan C), and due to the pandemic, has to spend a few days in his house along with his elderly mother, Bhairavi (Leela Samson). Their reunion rekindles their bygone affection for a each other with a renewed perspective. The characters in the film are endowed with a modern outlook, which helps in Menon giving us a contemporary tale of compassion, endearment and discernment. When Vikram and Bhairavi discover that Sadhana is addicted to cocaine, they are never harsh or judgemental, rather, they are sympathetic. However, the director in his attempt to make Sadhana appear hip and fashionable does end up in objectifying her in places. The plot points, too, had scope for the filmmaker to do more but nevertheless, it is engaging enough and provides one of the better viewing experiences in the anthology.
Happily, things finally pick up with the perfect end to the anthology, Karthik Subbaraj’s Miracle. It is not only unique in its concept but also a brave and bold exercise in breaking boundaries and exploring newer styles of storytelling. The film revolves around two small-time crooks, Devan (Bobby Simha) and Rocky (Sharath Ravi), a ‘Guruji’ (Ezhil Arasan Babaraj) and a frustrated and depressed man, Michael (K Muthu Kumar), whose job profile is best left for the viewers to discover. The film, creatively, ticks all the right boxes to make for a wonderful desi neo-noir that combines some unexpected humor with the gloom. Along with his cinematographer, Shreyaas Krishna, Subbaraj makes brilliant use of wide-angled lenses to give us a sense of the wandering states of Devan and Rocky’s minds. The pace of the film is relaxed and it unhurriedly engages the viewers through the unfolding of its plot with a solid twist at the end. And it is exactly this quality and style that sets it apart from the rest of the films showcased in the group.
All in all, Putham Pudhu Kaalai is a rather mixed bag highlighted by its final offering.
Tamil, Anthology, Drama, Thriller, Color