‘Unakkum oru kanavu, Ada Enakum oru Kanavu, Inge Kanavugal Inaivathuilaye’
Na Muthukumar’s words from the song ‘Ninaithathu Ellam’ succinctly tells us what Oru Kuppai Kathai is about — a tale of mismatched dreams. A family to provide for, that’s Kumar’s (Dinesh master) dream; a husband with a blue-collar job and the fairly comfortable life that comes with it — that is Poonkodi’s dream. Except that Kumar is a cleanliness worker and he marries Poonkodi, who doesn’t know his profession. And when she comes to know of it, things turn ugly.
Just like its title, the film itself has several interpretations and undercurrent themes that reflect our society. This is a story that just doesn’t revolve around garbage, but also is an indication of the detestable tale that it is. There are several intriguing sub-themes in Oru Kuppai Kadhai which made me think about something that I already knew. Kumar’s house has an electric fan and a colour television (Thanks to different state governments) but doesn’t have a basic bathroom. When Poonkodi’s father sees Kumar’s dingy, matchbox-like house, he wonders aloud about its size. “With the koovam behind and the beach in front, this place is worth crores,” reassures the matrimonial broker. When Yogi Babu, a cleanliness worker as well, talks about inflation, he inadvertently quotes the hike alcohol prices. All I could think of was an interview I had seen long back about how garbage cleaners were inclined to be victims of alcoholism. Several women of Oru Kuppai Kadhai drink and they do so in a reflection of the social hierarchy that we stare at — the women at the higher rungs and lower rungs seem to be a lot more comfortable about their vices.
But, what Oru Kuppai Kathai does is take all of this and place it under layers of cliches. (As a film about adultery, complete with references to Patnis, sex workers and ‘women like these’.) The screenplay is extremely uninventive and the story just plods on, the twists are obvious miles away. And also, the characters are unapologetically perfunctory. The people of the slum, including Kumar, seem to be ‘goodness personified’. When Kumar meets his adulterous wife, he seems to have no angst. What will a father do when he finds out his son has an affair with a married woman? Admonish him? Maybe, a rant or two. But in Oru Kuppai Kathai, he says things like ‘Avan avan oru ponna thedi kalyanam panna avlo kashta padran. Avan kashtam avanuku than theriyum’ (Several men go cover hard distances to find a woman to marry.)
Oru Kuppai Kathai desperately needed some good performances. Despite being the lead, Dinesh doesn’t do much apart. Manisha Yadav does a fairly better job at being the cheating wife. And boy, what a track record she has. Vazhakku En 18/9, Aadhalal Kaadhal Seiveer and even Trisha Ilena Nayanthara — had her play a character that handles physical intimacy that falls across the grey scale. Also, the U rating confounds me. The film has the word ‘adingu’ muted but is okay with unsupervised kids watching an extra-marital affair and an attempt to rape.
Oru Kuppai Kathai is another example of how a promising story core need not necessarily translate into a good film. After all, it is not just what you say, but how you say it that matters.