It’s an unusual way to describe a film, but I’d call Sillu Karupatti a great ‘year-ender film’. Even as you are struggling to come to terms with another year hurtling towards an end, Halitha Shameem’s second film is the equivalent of a pat on your shoulder, and someone saying, “There, there. As long as there’s love in the world, you will be fine.” It’s an anthology—of four films that work to various degrees of success. Halitha’s smart to have the best of the four films come at the very end. It has the effect of leaving you with a content smile. For those with a sweet tooth, I’d say the effect of walking out is somewhat akin to chewing on a Sillu Karupatti (palm jaggery).
All the four films — Pink Bag, Kaaka Kadi, Turtles, and Hey Ammu — are love stories. And till the last film, Hey Ammu, killed the pattern, the stories are of couples in ascending order of age. The first, Pink Bag, is about a curious relationship that forms between two adolescents—a wealthy girl, and a boy from the slums—when the latter takes to rummaging through the pink garbage bags left by the former’s household. In stories like these, you don’t question the practicality of the premise. I found the imagery of these slum children poring over mountains of garbage to be quite striking. There’s some commentary over the profligacy of the wealthy. One of the slum girls asks the teenage protagonist, Maanjaa, to look for some shampoo for her. “They won’t usually use it all.” The story is about a missing ring—a first world problem—and how Manjaa looks to return it. While you and I would simply walk to a person and hand over the lost object, I found it quite fascinating that the social differences mean that Maanjaa can’t do the same. These are kids who can’t differentiate between a hearing aid and an ear-pod.
Music by Pradeep Kumar, in this film and the others, paints the greys of the story in yellows and pinks—quite in tune with the purpose of these films. The dialogue is occasionally biting too, like when someone jokes that rich or poor, every person’s arm has an armpit. Yet, I didn’t find the film itself to be as effectively bittersweet as it wants to be. Enjoyment of such a film demands that you not mind a fair of romanticisation of the poor. The title of the film, Sillu Karupatti, is on account of the inherent ‘sweetness’ of all the four stories, including Pink Bag. Is there anything sweet about poverty though? Despite the occasional comment about their suffering, it’s a film that largely attempts to make you go ‘aww’ over the poor. It’s a bit like leaving a gift for a poor boy in the garbage bin, I suppose. It feels more like charity than gratitude, and any film that doesn’t tell you that poverty isn’t the least bit desirable—that it is a tragedy—does a disservice.
The second film, Kaaka Kadi, is about a different tragedy, testicular cancer, and is an unlikely love story that occurs through cab rides and conversations. The jokes are a bit hit and miss in this film—like that Tabu-taboo wordplay or the done-to-death cancer-Cancer sunsign joke. I quite enjoyed the performance of the lead actors, K Manikandan (who I remember really liking in Kaala too), and Nivedhithaa Sathish, but the romance itself, despite being quite progressive in how it views cancer, is fairly underwhelming. It’s a film that attempts to normalise topics that are usually considered to be uncomfortable. From cancer patients to semen samples to porn stars, the film isn’t easily shocked, and this is a quality I quite liked. Take the scene where the male lead is told he has cancer, for instance. There’s an admirable reluctance from the director to veer into melodrama. This is also a film that stands up for women, and hell, for even crows. This quality made me not mind this underwhelming romance so much.
The third of the films, Turtles, stands up for the elderly—a segment of people our ageist society is rarely sensitive to. It’s a love story—and I’m using this label with some unease because the relationship between the elderly widower, Navaneedhan (‘Krav Maga’ Sreeram), and the single elderly lady, Yashoda (Leela Samson), is more identifiable as a friendship. Again, I quite enjoyed the performances of the lead actors and thought they were quite effective in portraying old people who are not comfortable opening up their hearts at a moment’s notice. While the second film conveys distaste for a song that has seeped into pop culture (‘Evan di unna peththaan’), this one exposes a common joke-phrase, ‘Sangoodhara vayasula Sangeetha’, for its insensitivity. It’s a film with qualities that are key components of the lives of the old: Tenderness and tentativeness. You see this tentativeness in a key scene when a man kisses a shadow. For lack of stories about the elderly, for lack of sensitivity towards them in our films and society, I felt some fondness for Turtles—whose title, apart from referring to turtle conservation walks referenced in the story, also acts as a metaphor for the lead characters themselves.
The fourth and final film, Hey Ammu, is my most favourite of all. Again, the casting is on point, and the film especially serves as a fantastic reminder of what Samuthirakani can do in good films. I quite liked Sunaina too, and wonder why we don’t see more of her. This film is about marital strife, caused chiefly by the man who has forgotten that his wife and the mother of his children, is first, her own person. I throughly enjoyed how grounded the film is, and how observant it is of the eroding effects of monotony. It also helps that the dialogues are strongest in this film, and are flavoured by a lot of situational and dry humour—like when Dhanapal goes on a rant against men who show interest in his wife, Amuthini, or like when she dubs their cursory sex life ‘thookamaatharai sex’. It’s a film that shows much insight into the life of a homemaker, including the monotony and drudgery of it all. Notice the detail in that scene where Amuthini asks Dhanapal to pause for a moment and listen to the mindnumbing repetition of the sounds made by a leaking tap and a ticking clock.
In a sense, you could think of Hey Ammu as the anti-thesis of a Black Mirror episode. Given that the usual temptation is to focus on the dehumanising effect of machines, I found it quite refreshing that this story does the opposite. It also helps that it has all the best qualities of the other films: the groundedness of the first, the hope of the second, the sensitivity of the third. I also found it quite enjoyable that characters from these four films make fleeting appearances in the others. I liked particularly that they don’t affect one another in any noticeable way.
At a time when it’s increasingly becoming difficult not to be cynical, an anthology like Sillu Karupatti, that shows a lot of love not just for humans, but for turtles and crows too, comes as a much-needed breather—even if it keeps veering into schmaltzy territory. As the cancer patient in the second film undergoing chemotheraphy summarises, “Odambu poora kasappu, idhula nee mattum inippu.”