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.

I was disappointed with Petta, here’s why.

When Petta was announced, Karthik Subbaraj was quick enough to say that it would be a film for the fans, made by one as well. This was looked at with some apprehension by people who have grown to like the young filmmaker’s unique, maverick style of filmmaking. Will it be a Rajini film or a Karthik Subburaj film, they pondered. Well, now that the film is out, I see a lot of comments that it was a Rajini film rather than a Karthik Subbaraj one. Petta had almost all the motifs of Karthik (even though he says he doesn’t want to be associated, we have come to see a few in his films), even though he disappointed me in more than few places.

A constant feature of the Karthik Subbaraj story is that it weaves several genres or plot points that could have been independent films of their own. Similarly, Petta weaves in several genres into one mosaic with Rajini’s face on it. On one hand, it is a family drama, but there’s also a revenge saga, a campus story, a sand-mafia gangster tale buried in it. And there’s also the slightly bizarre but ironic endings that Karthik gives his characters. A laughter-hating don becomes a comedy actor; a blind man gets to see his family in Mercury… you get the drift. Petta has a similar ending for Pettavelan. Even the background score, is peppered with evergreen numbers from the yore — Anirudh gives a blazing soundtrack but at the same time you sense Karthik’s hand. The stylised visuals, the marginally darker frames — all are indicative of Karthik Subbaraj and his sensibilities.

Karthik has given us strong female characters; they are in the film because they make a difference. However, the women in Petta are a major disappointment. Right from his first film, Karthik’s on -screen women were in the story because they made a difference. Even Iraivi’s Malar (who has a comparatively smaller role than the other two women) is an admirably written character. However, in Petta, most of the women don’t have much to do except for the exception of Poongudi (Malavika Mohanan). As lovely as Mangalam (Simran) and Saro (Trisha) look, it was painful to see them be reduced to a few coy looks and smiles. Maybe, I wouldn’t have been so outraged if it had been someone else.

But this isn’t restricted only to the female characters. Petta has a long list of actors, in characters that don’t deserve them. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, for me, tops this list closely followed by Vijay Sethupathi and Mahendran. The more I think about it, the more Petta feels like a checklist film for Karthik Subbaraj. Considering he had Rajinikanth on board, did Karthik use Petta as an opportunity to work with all the actors he aspired to?

In more than one way, Viswasam, the other release for the week, and Petta are similar. Both are odes to the actor they idolise — it is about invoking the nostalgia and charm of the star they have become. (In fact,  I am more excited for Ajith’s film with H.Vinoth.)

Petta is a handcrafted love letter from Karthik Subbaraj to his matinee idol. There are more than enough references to Rajini’s avatars and previous films — the pambu from Annamalai, the ‘Ulle po’ and rolling chair from Baasha, the ‘haaan’ from Raja Chinna Roja. While it was extremely enjoyable to see Rajini in a young, energetic avatar, haven’t we enjoyed Rajini in his all-charming glory for so many years? Why is it that we want the rest of Kollywood to evolve, but exclude the biggest stars out of the process?

Which is why Kaala will still be my favourite Rajini film of recent times. While fans might disagree, what Pa Ranjith and Rajini did was unique and it was new. It was Rajini exploring.


From Pizza to Mercury: The several faces of Karthik Subbaraj

“You have an unusual talent for cinema” says director Prathap Pothen looking at a younger Karthik Subbaraj — this was the before the finals of the reality show for short-filmmakers, Nalaya Iyakunar. One of the judges critiquing Karthik’s work for the show, Prathap was backed by the other judge – cartoonist, film critic and writer Madhan. “Very confident and consistent,” he calls Karthik. Better words couldn’t have been used to describe Karthik — for he is consistent with interesting films and confident enough to make them without many compromises. Continue reading “From Pizza to Mercury: The several faces of Karthik Subbaraj”

Karthik Subbaraj-Prabhu Deva’s Mercury

Mercury is an intellectually stimulating film with carefully added layers that traverse through genres, something that is now a fixture with Karthik Subbaraj. Another creatively inclined lead role who ‘defeats his limitation’ — Karthik now has a definitive theme. Mercury is definitely an interesting visual/aural spectacle. It takes guts to make a film where everything isn’t spoon fed. There’s a lot of brain but not enough heart — that makes Mercury, a tad cold. Nevertheless, if you’re watching Mercury, then do so on the big screen. Some good visual/sonic filmmaking awaits.

Generally, Indian filmmakers don’t explore much when it comes to sound: Mercury sound designer Kunal Rajan

For Kunal Rajan, it is a double treat as his 150th film is also a silent film. The sound designer of Karthik Subbaraj’s silent film Mercury terms the experience quite a challenge. “When Karthik approached me, it is not like I could check other films for references. The last silent film came thirty years ago (Kamal Haasan’s Pesum Padam), and that wasn’t a thriller. Even in Hollywood, the last silent film I remember watching is The Artist, again a completely different kind of film. It was challenging and scary but we did what we felt was right.” Continue reading “Generally, Indian filmmakers don’t explore much when it comes to sound: Mercury sound designer Kunal Rajan”

Being in a Karthik Subbaraj film with Prabhudheva is a dream come true for me: Mercury actor Sananth

A horror film, a stoner comedy, a web-series and now a silent film — it is an interesting list of projects that Sananth Reddy has in his repertoire. After debuting with the hit horror film Demonte Colony, Sananth backed it up with the stoner comedy Jil Jung Juk and then came Balaji Mohan’s viral web series As I am suffering from Kaadhal. Now the actor is part of Karthik Subbaraj’s silent film Mercury, which also stars Prabhudheva and Meyaadha Maan fame Indhuja. Quiz him about his eclectic pick of projects, Sanath admits that it is part choice and part destiny. “I want to get associated with films and directors who can bring something different out of me. I have been a bit choosy. Partly it is because I pick characters that are interesting and will stand out with the audience,” he said. “The directors who I got the opportunity to work with have also given me characters that bring out the best out of me,” he added. Continue reading “Being in a Karthik Subbaraj film with Prabhudheva is a dream come true for me: Mercury actor Sananth”

Kallachirippu review: This Karthik Subbaraj production is a kickass entertainer

Watching a good piece of work leaves me in a strange conundrum — on one hand, there is the excitement of discussing, dissecting and raving about the tiny details and on the other hand is the desire to let the person get that pleasure first-hand by letting them watch first. Kallachirippu is one of those — making it a hard series to review but an absolute pleasure to watch. Continue reading “Kallachirippu review: This Karthik Subbaraj production is a kickass entertainer”

Meyaadha Maan movie review: Vaibhav Reddy-Rathna Kumar’s Royapurathu La La Land is a lovely watch

As a cinephile, there are movies you root for; films that you feel will bring a fresh voice into the realm with some aspect of their craft. Sometimes they become disappointments. But there is a quiet sense of satisfaction when it turns out to be good. The contentment is personal as if you have achieved a feat and want to make sure that the world knows about it. I walked out of Meyaadha Maan with that sense of contained contentment. Continue reading “Meyaadha Maan movie review: Vaibhav Reddy-Rathna Kumar’s Royapurathu La La Land is a lovely watch”

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