My first encounter with Malayalam cinema was with Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. This film swept me off my feet! It is a film which I could not even imagine a story about! This made me wonder how the Malayalis had a strong grasp of the craft of story-telling and filmmaking. You would find almost every day, a news article about a chain-snatching incident in your local dailies. But to make a film from that particular instance and deeply dissect and analyse human behaviour is no mean feat! Thondimuthalum... does exactly that and with the finesse of a Visu and Mari Selvaraj put together.
When I watched #home a few days back I was full of the very same awe and wonderment. This time I was more amazed by how this whole film was more of a mood than a story about conflict (generally how films are made). No, strike that. I think this movie is fantastic because it doesn't make us realize that there is indeed a conflict at the heart of the story. Only that the conflict is more evenly spread. This, therefore, is a coming-of-age film. A heartwarming and eyes-moistening story of growth, resilience, values and most importantly, of "estra-ordinary" love. It is really difficult to summarize the plot in one line. It is a story of how a father and his son come together. It is also a story about how we live in a very small world. It is also a story about how we judge too easily and life teaches us lessons to stop being judgmental. It is also a love story (on the surface between Antony and Priya (played by a phenomenal Deepa Thomas), on the subtext level... you'll figure it out). It is also a story about love - that is unconditional and enduring. Well, I can go on. But before I get carried away let's understand the plot. Don't worry, no spoilers.
The story traces the growth of Pappa (a fantastically adorable Indrans as Oliver Twist) and his son, Antony (Sreenath Basi lives the character of a once-successful-filmmaker-struggling-to-avoid-being-a-has-been). The director wastes no time in getting to the plot with the customary character introduction of the central characters viz., the mother (Manju Pillai as Kuttiyamma is so natural that I saw my own mother at times!), the younger brother, Charles (Naslen is so natural as the typical younger sibling who gets away with his mischiefs and tantrums), the grandfather (Kainakary Thankaraj as Appachan throws in some really enlightening advice which naturally falls into deaf ears) and the fish (this fish is the reason the family comes together). As Antony comes back home to finish his script for his next venture, the film picks up. Antony's writer's block and the simmering frustration due to the looming deadline, Oliver's unending curiosity that leads to friction between him and his son, Kuttiyamma's silent sighs on missing Antony's good-night kisses, Appachan understanding Oliver's sadness are all the moments where you feel touched and moved. Even the fights that happen between Priya and Antony are realistic, devoid of drama and exaggeration. There are no violin-wailing pathos songs when they break up or dancing-semi-naked-on-the-alps or dancing-around-the-trees when they get together as well.
The friction between the father-son duo and the resultant sulking of the father is something that is a recurring phenomenon. Oliver is curious about how the smartphone works at the same time nervous when his son or someone asks him to do something on the smartphone. He finds the technology baffling and confusing. Part of the sulking is also due to shame - the kind you feel when you don't know the answer to a problem that the teacher asks you to solve on the board in front of the rest of the class. In each of these moments, we feel like we are sitting on a time bomb where the son would say or do something very hurtful to his father. It does happen. But the anger only explodes towards the interval block. This interval block is a fine example of the flourishes that are deployed in the film without being too noticeable yet noteworthy enough to put a smile on our faces. Another example of such a flourish occurs towards the end where during a family lunch the debt-ridden Antony gets up in the middle to wade-off the bank employees to save his face (come on, don't tell me you didn't see this coming in the review. A filmmaker with no debts? Which world are you in bruh?). The whole sequence is so smooth and sans any drama that you are almost disappointed that there's no melodrama.
#home is an example of a perfect home with all the imperfect people. By this, I don't mean the cliched and stereotyped upper-middle-class homes that you find in many run-of-the-mill commercial flicks. It is a very real home where you would find the socket laden with pen marks (of different colours of ink!) because one is used to keep the socket open so that they can plug in and charge their mobile phones. It is that home where the mother responds to a lazy son's sleepy call to switch off his fan (she climbs up the stairs groaning and grumbling in pain) and then frivolously gives him a thrashing for confiscating all the cups and saucers because she's left searching for one to have her cuppa! It is that home where the father tells his sons to switch off the smartphones when it rains because the lightning can make the phone explode. This home couldn't get more real!
Despite all this rooted storytelling, this film is not just about that. It is also a commentary on life as it is today and part documentary of the same. What is really interesting is that how you can actually see each of these parts play on the screen. Despite being in a joint family, the members come together only when a calamity (well, a calamity of sorts) happens. Even then the get-together is only superficial as is evident from how Oliver sullenly observes that he is always on his phone and laptop.
Let's look at the commentary part. Through the character of Dr Franklin (Vijay Babu eases into the role), the film breaks the stigma around mental health. The message about smartphone addiction also comes across in exposition over montages. But it doesn't feel thrust because of the context in which happens. The exposition is an important milestone in the growth of one of the characters and expands the horizon of another.
There are a lot of messages in the story that are shown and not told. I think the "socially conscious and responsible filmmakers" should take notes from this gem of a film that delivers a masterclass on how anything can be shown and not told.
We take our parents for granted - A montage shot where Oliver is seen to be washing Antony's car. Charles looks at his father and rushes down, only to ask him to wash his two-wheeler as well.
We underestimate our parents as they grow older - Charles ridicules his father when he asks him to install Facebook and WhatsApp on his new smartphone.
It takes only a little bit of love to teach anything to anybody - The way Oliver learns the nuances of using the smartphone from Dr Franklin
When you watch the above three sequences, you feel the emotion and do not roll your eyes at the messaginess of the film.
The twist at the end can feel a bit dramatic to some but I think that was the only way where Antony could redeem himself and Oliver could believe in himself. When Oliver finally feels that he too is no ordinary person, he feels not from a place where he was longing for recognition. He feels that way because his son finally believes in him.
As much as the acting compliments the screenplay, the editing and the background score enhance this film and take it to another level of surreality. The editing has a very unusual rhythm. For instance, there is a small tiff between Priya and Antony over a phone call. When Oliver asks him if everything is alright, the scene cuts to Priya's house where Antony is talking to her father Joseph Lopez (a subtle yet strong performance by Srikant Murali). In the first few moments of this scene, I thought it was a flashback. But when the cribbing and bickering pick up in the car journey things fell in place.
The background score is just the right amount in this film. Not more, not less. It is interesting to see the songs being only montages and not cutting to some foreign locations. A caveat here: I'm not against dance numbers are foreign-location-serenading. As long as they don't cut into the emotion of the film, I'm fine. But of late such songs in movies are, to borrow Baradwaj Rangan's words, "redundant (at best) and intrusive (at worst)".
Just like the background score, the cinematography feels like a waltz and a lullaby at the same time. It feels like a mother's lap and a backyard where you can be yourself, unfiltered. The camera work is seamless and real that it only feels like you are in the house and not an audience. My favourite shots are the ones that introduce Antony to us and the ones that introduce Oliver Twist.
A huge shout-out to the sub-titlers of this film. With my rudimentary understanding of the language, I believe my Malayali friends would agree (if they have watched the film with subtitles, of course) when I say that the heart of the film was effectively translated into the subtitles as well. This is no mean feat. This really shows the effort that has gone into making the film appealing to the world audience of Amazon Prime without being so just in the general sense.
To sum up, #home is part commentary, part documentary and part film. But most importantly, it is a beautiful portrait of a home and the people that make it a beautiful one.