Last night, I visited Manderley again… because Netflix decided to remake the classic, Rebecca. The story originally written by Daphne du Maurier is one of a young woman dazzled by a rich, broody widower, Maxim De Winter, she meets in Monte Carlo. She rushes into a marriage with him only to realise that he is still living in the past, haunted by the memory of ex-wife Rebecca. My first experience with Rebecca was Alfred Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning 1940 film adaptation of the same name. Swooped into Manderley, the new wife finds it hard to shake off the evocative presence of Rebecca; she struggles to bear the weight of Rebecca’s legacy which lives on, thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Danvers, the faithful housekeeper.
To adapt a novel to the screen is no easy task. It’s more so when the novel is one of the longest in English literature, spanning more than 1,400 pages. Set in 1950, the era of the new India, director Mira Nair attempts to distill the sprawling universe that is A Suitable Boy into a six-episode mini-series for the BBC. The adaptation is BBC’s first series with no major white characters (Mira Nair once remarked it was The Crown in brown.) But it’s also the most expensive BBC series yet. This opulence translates to the screen: the aesthetics brim with the beauty of the rich… but where is the soul?
If you are a listener of Tamil indie music, you have probably heard about Kaber Vasuki. The indie musician is known for his philosophical, brutally honest lyrics that are designed to penetrate your soul. Kaber Vasuki, the man, is no different. I ask him about his chosen name, Kaber Vasuki, and he shares that he didn’t like the name his parents gave him. “I did not want my name to reflect my gender, religion, or where I am coming from.” Why this specific one though? “Nothing in particular. A lot of people have asked me this, but I tell a different story to each one of them depending on my mood. Siladhu lam en epdi nu theriyadhu, apo thonum pannuvom,” he says, with a chuckle.
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.
The first question I had asked Suhasini Mani Ratnam when meeting her for an interview two years back was, “Why aren’t you directing more?” She had laughed and said it would be a matter of time. And now, two years later, 25 years after her directorial debut, Suhasini has worn the director hat again for Amazon Prime Video’s first Tamil Anthology, Putham Pudhu Kaalai. “I began writing short stories in 2009 after taking a course. These were not published but worthy enough to be so. I have kept them to myself, but perhaps OTT is a good place for them.”
In this freewheeling chat, the actor-director talks about her return to filmmaking and what it’s like to work with her own family.
What do our children watch? It’s something that has been running in my mind for quite some time. Mainstream cinema in our country rarely caters to children and young adults. Sometimes, even films or series about them cannot be watched by them: like the controversial French film, Migonnes (Cuties in English), or Sex Education which is set in high school but has an 18+ rating. What are we offering our young adults in the form of mainstream entertainment? The children are missing in it, and so are sensitive narratives around them. As director Megha Ramaswamy asked, “The new mainstream is brimming with dystopia and men writing about bodies of women, the same old heartland, etc… What are children watching?”
India constantly reminded me of a famous Mark Twain quote: Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities—truth isn’t. Had these stories been feature films, we would have ripped them apart for their ‘illogical plot points’. We would have said banks aren’t as dumb as they are shown. We would have asked how a criminal is allowed to fly off the country so easily. However, truth is stranger than fiction, and Bad Boy Billionaires captures this adage with flair.
In an interview before the release, Aishwarya Rajesh was asked why the film is named Ka Pae Ranasingam, and she replied that though the film revolves around Ariyanachi (her character), the soul of the film belongs to Ranasingam (Vijay Sethupathi). When you watch the film, you can see the conflict in the narrative. Ka Pae Ranasingam is essentially Ariyanachi’s story but the film focuses more on establishing who Ransingam is. Ka Pae Ranasingam wobbles due to this tug of war and we get a three-hour film that wanders a lot before coming to the point.
Aishwarya Rajesh is bemused about interacting with the press through a Zoom call. “All of this is new to me,” she says, taking in all our faces peering through the little boxes on screen. This actor, whose Ka Pae Ranasingam has begun streaming on Zee Plex, admits to being a fan of the big screen. “I prefer watching films on the big screen. My mom and I used to catch the early morning shows.” She adds that Ka Pae Ranasingam was made for the theatres. “The film has been ready for release since April, but as we had no idea about when theatres would be allowed to open, we had to opt for a digital release. We believe that if a film is good, it will be acknowledged no matter which platform it releases in.”
On Episode 1 of The Good Place, I wondered how the creators managed to stretch a seemingly flimsy premise to three full seasons. But with each passing episode, the series consistently metamorphosed into something bigger, grander and yet, increasingly rooted in its humane values. The best thing about The Good Place is that it is relatable and has normal, flawed people at the centre, just trying to be better. The new season is no different. Humanity is at stake, and it is up to four normal human beings, one demon and a ‘not-a-girl’ Janet to save it.