Updated: Nov 2, 2020
I had been having a difficult time to indulge or (as I would like to call it) engage with content the last month. I did find time to watch interviews of directors and actors, I never got time to watch their craft. Reading about Christopher Nolan's latest Tenet performing poorly (or well, depending on the reports) made me only long for the cinema watching experience further. Therefore, naturally, when I watched Putham Pudhu Kaalai today, I was all in. This post is going to be a lot about how I felt while watching it and therefore, a word of caution, this might be longer and more candid than usual.
Putham Pudhu Kaalai, an anthology of shorts from well-acclaimed (financially and critically) directors, viz. Sudha Kongara, Suhasini Maniratnam, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Rajiv Menon and Karthik Subbaraj is interesting due to so many reasons. For starters, barring Karthik Subbaraj, who started his directorial career with short films, all other directors are known for their feature films and this is a first for most of them. Obviously, this comes after Gautham's Karthik Dial Seitha Yenn, but that film was a very obvious and an audience-anticipated spin-off of shorts. So even for him, this film is a new venture.
Let's get to each of these shorts now. The first in line is Ilamai Idho Idho, by Sudha Kongara. It is a very interesting film for so many reasons. One, the central issue is touchy and at times even considered a taboo topic. The cast of the film has is a hand-picked one and one can't complain about their performance. There are moments in this film that makes you go "Aww..." and also some that make you roll your eyes. Hell, there is even a duet sequence! The peppy number doesn't stick, (possibly due to the lack of promotion for the songs in the films) but the choreography brings a smile across the phase and the ending kind of brings in the closure. During the duet, there is a shot where the camera pans the lead pair and a closet/wall comes in between. I would have loved it if the other lead pair of Jayaram and Urvashi had continued the dance from the other side. This short is not just a love story with only sweetness. It is a tribute of sorts to Alaipayuthe, which plays at the beginning and also during the duet. The couple fights over stuff that any couple would while living together. The ending, though, was a cliched and very generic. I expected more boldness in the ending. But all said and done, this definitely kicks off the anthology for a bright start.
Avarum Naanum/Avalum Naanum: This short by Gautham Vasudev Menon explores what he explores the best. Relationship. Yet, this is not a romantic short. It is much deeper and closer home. The film is about a grandfather (MS Bhaskar in prolific form) and his granddaughter (Ritu Varma of Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithal fame). The film starts off with an awkwardness that is too familiar that you feel it. The conversation of Ritu Verma with her sister once inside the house are WhatsApp chats. There is wonder, surprise, and even a slight hint of hatred (I would rather call it judgment) in the beginning too. PC Sreeram shows why he is a master of cinematography in this short. The two perspectives at the arrival of Ritu at MS Bhaskar's house is just brilliant. Typical Menon touches. The background score is an absolute treat here and would definitely make you cry when the grandfather and the granddaughter travel back in time. The conflict, however, is not very clear and leaves you thinking, "So much for this?"
The ending again is very generic and "safe". But to be fair, not much can be experimented when it comes to ending such a story.
Coffee, anyone?: This short by Suhasini Maniratnam is dominated by the Kamal Hassan family. Suhasini is the writer, director, producer (along with Maniratnam) and the lead actor in the film. She is the niece of Kamal Hassan. So is Anu Hassan. We have Sruthi Hassan, his daughter and Komalam Charuhasan (wife of Charuhasan, Kamal's brother). However, it is Kathadi Ramamoorthy who steals the show. His performance as a doting and a dutiful, optimistic and a hopelessly-in-love with his ailing wife is an absolute treat to watch. The dialogues, reminiscent of a typical Maniratnam film offer nothing more than his usual touches. The core of the story is late conception/late motherhood which gives one a feeling of reading a Ramanichandran novel. The most interesting aspect of the film is the presence of a Spanish song in it. Interestingly, it is written by Suhasini. However, other than that this is a typical KB era film that would have been a swashbuckling hit with all its melodrama. This is a speed breaker for an anthology that takes off well.
Reunion: This short is by Rajiv Menon. A word about the director here. He is known for his ad films and considers himself primarily an ad filmmaker and a cinematographer. He is one of the go-to cinematographers for Maniratnam. To put things into perspective, think of the riot scene in Bombay, the scene where Prakash Raj speaks from the top of a building to Mohanlal on the ground in Iruvar. These are some of his shots that would immediately come to mind when you think of the above-mentioned films. I was waiting for his short in this anthology. As the name suggests, this film is and about a reunion of school friends. The cast has the ever-lovely Leela Samson, Andrea Jeremiah and Gurucharan debuting (He is very evidently nervous though). Having watched a lot of interviews of Menon, this film felt like hearing him speak throughout. There is a small bit of experimentation with music here and that works out really well in the situation. Even here, the ending is very generic and safely-played.
Miracle: As the saying goes, "The best comes at last". So is the case of this Karthik Subburaj directed piece of absolute joy. Probably due to his short film background Karthik tells a story of greed with his typical Orwellian twist in the end. This along with Reunion and Avarum Naanum is a film with the least characters in it. Hell, one of the characters in this film has no dialogues! Bobby Simha (his go-to since the short film days) is prolific. But it is Muthukumar who steals the show. With his continuous exclamatory ejaculations, he keeps us in splits. Karthik's lighting in this film reminds you of the dark lighting in Iraivi. Coming last, this makes you feel, "This is how a short should be." This is the shortest short of the lot and yet the most engaging and entertaining. Another noteworthy and a welcome relief is that this film is not set in the upper class like the other four films. The language is closer home and hence more relatable. The twist at the end justifies the title in its own twisted way, just like any of Karthik's feature films.
In a nutshell, this is a welcome change for Tamil cinema and Indian cinema in general. With two more anthologies in the offing Navarasa (this is an anthology of 9 shorts with the who's who of Tamil Cinema coming together) and Aneethi Kathaigal (another anthology but with a darker set of stories) from Netflix, this is a good start. After Silukarupatti, this is a good second attempt. (Read the review of Sillukarupati here: https://www.celluloidtales.com/post/silukarupatti-romance-retold-or-love-retold). I would suggest even if you get bored halfway while watching this anthology wait for the end you would be rewarded.