In the early minutes of Eeswaran, there’s a local cricket match. It is the final over—seven runs to win with just one wicket left. Eeswaran (Simbu) walks in to much applause. The other batsman Puli Kutty (Bala Saravanan) asks Eeswaran to hit a single and leave the rest to him. However, Eeswaran says, “Crowd-a paathalla? Naa aadithan jeikanum nu wait panraanga.” This last over becomes a metaphor, as Eeswaran continues to waste balls. Once, he even picks up the ball and throws it to the bowler, almost getting Puli Kutty run out. And then, the final ball arrives, and Eeswaran hits the CG ball for a six.
There’s a story about a baby elephant being chained. Introduced to the chain even before it can walk, the young elephant thinks it can only move as far as the chain allows. It gets so accustomed to this, that it refuses to go out of those boundaries, even when there is no chain. It is a good analogy of how conditioning works, how patriarchy works. But, with each generation, we become more confident to push forward, closer to equality. This is visible a lot in mother-daughter relationships. Most mothers don’t want their daughters to face the struggles they had. And daughters, after they grow up, become the strongest supporters of their mothers’ desires and push them to go for it. This understanding comes from having a common enemy, and a shared battle. This is the premise of the short film B Selvi and Daughters, starring Kalaivani and Gayathrie Shankar.
They say love is blind. Colour, caste, creed, class… nothing is supposed to matter in the sanctum of love. But how often do we think this way? Even those of us who want to badly believe in the noble notion, still fall prey to biases rooted in stereotypes. Rathna (Tillotama Shome) works as a live-in help at Ashwin’s (Vivek Gomber) house in Mumbai. A widow from the villages, this job is her ticket to her dreams. On the other hand, there is the morose Ashwin carrying the guilt of a broken engagement and lost dreams. And in that safe space of a house, they both nudge each other closer to their dreams, finding an unexpected companion.
As an ardent KTV fan, Amman films hold a lot of personal nostalgic value for me. As a child, I remember those afternoons spent watching the glorious Amman step down from the heavens to save the struggling heroine from the villain. Growing up, my equation with faith transformed, but there still seems to be something comforting about Amman films. It is the ultimate escapist entertainment, right? The world is black and white here, and you know there’s a saviour. Thus, when RJ Balaji announced Mookuthi Amman, I was quite excited. But the big question is, can you sell all those tropes without the cushion of nostalgia?
There is a famous quote that time is priceless. But in our world, time is frequently bought. For example, for a regular person, a trip to Mumbai takes roughly a day by train. But for the wealthy, it takes less than two hours. Why is the time of a wealthy person inherently more valuable? Who decides that the time of the not-so-rich isn’t worthy enough? These are the questions behind Nedumaaran Rajangam’s dream of creating a low-cost airline. “Vaanam enna unga appan veetu soththa,” asks Maara furiously. The idea is to make the skies accessible, for anyone who dreams to fly
How do you make chess interesting for the outsider? The sport (or game, depending on which side of the debate you are) often bears a misconstrued image of being ‘boring’, given that it is played in silence, devoid of evident excitement, with even spectators maintaining a stoic quiet. It is just two people, bent over a board of 64 squares staring intently at a bunch of oddly shaped pieces. Naturally, I was curious to see how The Queen’s Gambit has captured the abundant drama that chess embodies. And boy, does it get it right.
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?
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.
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.