Putham Pudhu Kaalai review: Warm, but a tad too sweet

The pandemic, and the subsequent lockdown, has several faces. People on the streets without food or shelter, the vulnerable struggling to reclaim the little stability they had — that’s the scary face. The more privileged of us experienced a kinder side. It pushed us to introspect, contemplate on the multiple personas we have; discover and acknowledge the same in other people. Putham Pudhu Kaalai, Amazon Prime Video’s first Tamil anthology, has captured this benign side of the pandemic. (With the intense shooting restrictions, it might have been tougher to explore more dynamic scenarios) It was said that the anthology was about hope, second chances, and new beginnings. But for me, these shorts are also bound together by this introspection: the discovery of faces (both of ourselves and others) we had hidden from the world.

Despite being the closest people in our lives, they are also somehow the farthest from our truth. Four of the five shorts explore this irony in our families and relationships, In the case of Sudha Kongara’s Ilamai Idho Idho, it was about the forgotten individual behind the parent mask. We see another version of this in Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Avarum Naanum/Avalum Naanum. With Reunion (Rajiv Menon), it is about remembering our forgotten younger selves, and Coffee Anyone acknowledges the dynamic nature of human emotions. What we feel today about someone, may morph into something completely different tomorrow. Karthick Subbaraj’s Miracle stands alone in terms of tone and theme, exploring acceptance from a different vantage point, and providing a much-needed change in terms of socio-economic representation.

While all of them deal with interesting premises, Ilamai Idho Idho and Miracle make the best of the restricted time they are given with. To tell a story with nuance in 25 minutes is not particularly easy, but these two shorts do it well without incongruous exposition in terms of writing. In Ilamai Idho Idho (my favourite of the lot), not only does the writing swiftly establish the setting and characters, it creates enough space for organic cute moments between the couple. Despite the adorable chemistry between Kalyani Priyadarshan and Kalidas Jayaraman, I couldn’t help but wonder what the film would have been if it had been Jayaram and Urvashi throughout. I would love to see that thread fleshed out into a feature film. (A special shout out to GV Prakash and Kaber Vasuki for that nostalgic musical tidbits) Miracle, on the other hand, picks a smart premise and tells it with undeniable intrigue. One can sense Karthik Subbaraj’s comfort and experience in the space — as he delivers precisely what is required.

The other three shorts feel a bit rushed, resorting to some amount of exposition to create the nuance in their narratives. Nevertheless, we get some fine performances from the likes of MS Bhaskar and Andrea, who breeze through their roles. One can also feel the restrictions in terms of space, but the shorts manage it well. They look good even if there are more hand-held shots than one bargained for.

Are these short films glossy? Yes. Could they have had more emotional gravitas? Yes. But they work as small, shiny nuggets of warmth. These are also stories you don’t generally find on the big-screen. Thus, It marks an interesting journey of experimentation. With the pandemic, several big-wigs have begun to make content for the digital space, with anthologies becoming the ‘form of the season’. So, I am treating this as the new beginning, a hopeful one, for better narratives in the future.

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