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Aviyal Review: An Ambitious Attempt

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­­­­Aviyal, the second film from Karthik Subbaraj’s Stone Bench Creations, is a portmanteau of four independent low-budget shorts. Much like its predecessor, Bench Talkies ­– First Bench, Aviyal is an ensemble of shorts by talented young film makers. The films are approximately 30-minutes long. A little longer than YouTube shorts, yet similar as far as technical standards go. Without trying to be profound or philosophical, the shorts are quirky, humorous, and ‘realistically dramatic’. The characters are mostly young slackers who inadvertently get into trouble. The sole female in the anthology is a femme fatale. The shorts resemble the filmmakers’ life in one sense: they thrive on a shoe-string budget, and have big aspirations.

*****

It’s unfair to compare Aviyal with anthology films from other parts of the world, like Paris Je Taime, Amorres Perros, or the recent Wild Tales. Or even the Malayalam anthology, Kerala Cafe, which had films made by seasoned directors like Lal Jose, Anjali Menon, and Anwar Rasheed. In Aviyal, nothing links the four tales. There are no outstanding shots or performances. At times, they feel like videos made by school kids on a smartphone.

And yet, it’s impossible to ignore the sparks of good film-making. Or some of the really interesting characters. The second short has a guy who plugs in his earphones and listens to devotional scenes whenever he’s stressed. In one scene, he and his friends have to fight some goons. He starts listening to Harivaraasanam. Now we’re watching a fight with this song in the backdrop. In another short, a boy falls in love with his young chitti (mother’s younger sister). Another short has a ghost as the protagonist. The ghost wants to tag along with his friends on a road trip.

*****

Putheren’s Eli, which serve as an anchor to the ensemble, looks like Neram with a different ending. There’s Bobby Simhaa in his ‘Vatti Raja’ avatar, and a helpless Nivin Pauly. The short is backed by a tight script, a witty and wacky climax, and the star factor. The first short, Sruthibhedam, has a neat plot (which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Coen Brothers’ segment in Paris Je taime). The other two shorts, which begin on a promising note, meander and end up being a yawn.

*****

Aviyal is another ambitious step forward for the young turks of Kollywood. They aren’t afraid to experiment and take risks. Here is talent which doesn’t wait for big production companies, and plunges into cinema. How often do we see such attempts in our industry? It may not be a chef’s recipe, but for what it tries to do, Aviyal is impressive.

*****

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