How dearly I have missed the directorial work of Nalan Kumarasamy. Is there another filmmaker who’s so at ease generating laugh-out-loud humour from complex, sensitive situations, and who is able to achieve this without ever trivialising the central issues of the film? The man is a rare talent.
In his segment in Kutty Story titled Aadal, Paadal, the song and dance is not of the literal variety. It's metaphorical and occurs between a husband and wife (played wonderfully by Vijay Sethupathi and Aditi Balan), whose years of togetherness have dented the 'fun' in their relationship. This is the word Sethupathi’s character uses to explain away his transgression.
Despite the emotional weight of this subject, Nalan proceeds to draw all types of humour from the film. There are jokes of the dialogue variety, like when Aditi's character responds to her husband saying, "Un kaiya kaalaa nenachikaren", with "Adhaan kaal irukke".
There's humour in the body language, especially of Vijay Sethupathi’s: watch him adjust his shirt as though he were a posterboy for model husband behaviour and then quietly, mischievously ask a woman what she's wearing.
The best of all is the situational humour that arises from his wife playing mind games on him. Even the choice of a name 'Kamakshi Sundaram' results in a joke. The success of this film is how while it’s making you laugh, it makes all these quiet, sharp points about the double standards in relationships, about how a husband and wife react differently to the same problem, about how women are viewed as property. To put it simply, our cinema could do with more Nalan.
Much like Nalan’s film, the others too can be said to deal with the troubles that romantic love runs into. Gautham Menon’s film, Edhirpaara Muththam, is a film I enjoyed too, and is one that talks about the thin line that sometimes differentiates a platonic and a romantic relationship.
The word 'platonic', in fact, is referenced several times in his film, once by the friend of Aadhi (Gautham Menon), Prabhakar (Robo Shankar), who quips, "Blood theriyum, tonic theriyum, adhenna platonic?"
I enjoyed his presence in this film, even if his humour doesn’t always land. Importantly, the presence of such a comedian seems to help localise the scenes in a way that benefits the contrasting sensibilities of a filmmaker like Gautham Menon. It reminded me of how useful a comedian like Vivek was in Minnale, performing a similar ‘grounding’ role.
There’s a bit of homage being paid to the enduring Ilaiyaaraja classic, 'Valayosai'. For one, there’s a scene of the couple in a bus, and with Priya (Amala Paul who I really liked here) humming this song. There’s a small callback to the visual of this song, when the younger Aadhi (Vinoth Kishan) asks Priya to cover her eyes with a dupatta, and then proceeds to kiss her. The circumstances, of course, are different in this film.
Priya and Aadhi are friends in a platonic relationship, something Prabhakar scoffs at and doesn't think can exist. Aadhi, however, genuinely believes this. Without giving away too much, let me just say that despite Priya's argument at the end, the film does seem to inadvertently support Prabhakar's stand. Both Aadhi and I will continue to disagree with Prabhakar - and the film - about this.
This is a space that Gautham comfortably thrives in. Watch him capture those little awkward glances between Aadhi and Priya, the small shifts in their body language as they get comfortable in each other’s presence after a long separation. Watch the evident camaraderie between Aadhi and friends at the dinner table, as they sit exchanging old stories.
Watch Aadhi sportingly take in - and almost savour - all the good-natured teasing from his friends. Watch that quiet, vulnerable moment - the moment that results in the title of this film - as Priya stutters between embracing her pent-up feelings and letting them slide, in the face of Aadhi's lack of romantic interest.
This is a film whose real value lies in how it shows that should Gautham Menon, who has dabbled a lot in a certain type of romance over the years, choose to explore variations in this space, there’s plenty of room in which to express himself.
Venkat Prabhu’s short film, Logham, has the fascinating premise of gamers falling in love inside a make-believe universe. Spielberg's Ready Player One comes to mind. There are some fascinating stretches in this film, as Venkat looks to explore how the gaming world can create possibilities that are not possible for many, given the limitations of the real world.
However, this is a film that could have benefitted perhaps with a lead actor who's able to radiate more conviction and charisma. Some of the dialogue-writing is a bit bland too. When Adam falls in love, he goes, "I love you di. I miss you di. En di enna torture panra?!"
It reeks of cliché. That pun on the woman lead’s name, Eve, when the man asks her to show her some 'Eve erakkam' is inspired, but there needed to be so much more of that in this film.
The events that occur within the video game universe in this film too are disappointingly generic. The missions they go through, the coins they collect, the treasures they store… all of these elements needed to be united by a more gripping purpose, one that aligns with their real-world objectives. Perhaps if the gaming universe were more imaginative, the shifts between the real and the gaming world may have seemed more interesting.
The story too ends at a point that raises more questions than it provides answers, but that’s the nature of short films, I suppose. The real problem is that for a film with such a fun and yet, deep premise, the film offers neither the satisfying depth of an emotional film nor the rousing fun of a video-game film.
The towering disappointment of this anthology, one that threatens to bring down the other films with it, is director Vijay's Avanum Naanum. The film is a sneaky appeal against abortion, and this, of course, isn't new to the filmmaker who brought us a foetus-ghost (in Sai Pallavi's Diya) meant to create feelings of guilt in women who have ever considered or will consider abortions.
In Avanum Naanum, Megha Akash once again (after Oru Pakka Kathai) plays a young woman forced to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. Here, she plays a silly girl who realises she could be pregnant, only after a friend notes that the count of her sanitary pads hasn't gone down in sometime. The situation of Megha's character in this film screams for an abortion.
The pregnancy is unplanned; her boyfriend is nowhere to be seen; she is ill-prepared to run her life, let alone manage another; she hasn’t completed her education; her parents cannot provide a support system, and she says they may kill themselves if they knew about this… And yet, writer-director Vijay conspires to write an accidental death into this manipulative story, so the girl can feel emotionally pressurised into having the child.
The film also propagates the lie that abortion is illegal, and that the gynecologist who helps could potentially get suspended (note that the pregnancy in this film is barely eight weeks old). It's also a film that feels contrived from start to finish.
Be it the caricature of a hotel receptionist, or the horrible prank played on the heroine in a hotel room, or the decision-making of her heroine's friend… I could go on and on. Thankfully, the film doesn’t, as it’s a short film. Such are the benefits of an anthology.
Directors: Gautham Menon, Vijay, Venkat Prabhu, Nalan Kumarasamy
Cast: Gautham Menon, Amala Paul, Vinoth Kishan, Amitash Pradhan, Megha Akash, Varun, Vijay Sethupathi, Aditi Balan