Director: Lakshmy Ramakrishnan
Cast: Sriranjani, Lovelyn Chandrasekhar, Kishore, Kishore DS
Lakshmy Ramakrishnan’s House Owner plays with memory. It is set in the backdrop of 2015 Chennai floods, an elderly couple in Chennai’s Defense Colony are locked up for the day inside their home. The rain is relentless (it can be traumatic if you lived in Chennai during the time) and they have no reason to step out. Radha (an excellent Sriranjini) has other reasons to keep the doors locked. Her husband (Kishore as Vasudevan, former army man) suffers from Alzheimer’s. At all costs, he needs to be prevented from getting out of the house. The opening shot is a marvel. We see a young man (Kishore DS of Pasanga fame. The younger Radha played by Lovelyn Chandrasekhar) getting out of bed. He is sleeping with his slippers on and he is gathering his accessories – glasses, a hat, the box to keep the specs in – as if he’s been searching for them in a dream and found them in his waking life. He walks around the house, closes the windows beating against the wind. He moves to another room and the windows go again. He then notices himself in the mirror and sees a different man. The man we see in front of us now is the older Vasudevan and the young man is in the mirror. The reflection has frozen in Vasudevan’s mind and all he remembers are events past. Particularly the early years of his marriage. The mirror is like a prison he cannot get out of.
The title House Owner is a bit of a misnomer. It’s what Vasudevan assumes himself to be, a position of authority. But the rockstar in the house is Radha. She takes care of him and the house. Every time she tries to remind him to take care of himself, he shuts her down saying she can’t order him around, that she is a woman and he is the house owner. He even orders people on TV. “Sing a different song,” he says to a contestant in a music reality show. But when he is asked to sing a different one by Radha, he is confused. For someone who was in the army, Vasudevan is terrible at taking orders. Radha does the chores, makes sure things are in order, clears the blockages in the water outlet, cooks and cleans. After Vasudevan’s momentary adventure outside the house, she paints her phone number on his hat, something the rain had erased. Vasudevan is so many men we know of a generation. He might suffer from Alzheimer’s but there are other men out there who behave the way Vasuevan does and the women in their lives hold everything together. It can be exhausting to live with them, but we’ve seen mothers and aunts get by with unfathomable levels of patience. Radha is one such woman. Written by Lakshmy, there are moments in House Owner when it becomes a difficult watch, even irritating, to see Vasudevan drone on and repeat the same things. But it reflects what life is like with him.
Their prison like status manifests in different ways. Vasudevan is locked up inside a memory capsule. Radha is locked up with Vasudevan for life. Radha and Vasudevan are locked up inside the prison of their own making thanks to the rain. It is classic chamber drama. Lakshmy plays with time. She switches between the couple’s early life and present day. When Vasudevan was a better, different, healthier man. We discover that Radha is afraid of snakes. She used to be afraid of water. Vasudevan had very liberal attitudes back then. Radha only spoke Palakkad Tamil. She never got out of her village. She found it difficult to socialize with his army colleagues and their wives. But in throwaway moments we learn that she now speaks English and Hindi. Rain had a different meaning back then. It always rains in House Owner, whether it is the early 70s or 2015. Rains in the earlier period complement their marriage. It was new, joyous and content. Lush greens of Kerala shine with extra pop. The petrichor wafts off the screen. Now the rain is nature’s fury, damaging lives and property. This taps into a particular sentiment that the people of Chennai experienced in 2015. Something as enjoyable as monsoon turned into a kind of phobia for a couple of years following the floods. Even material loss took away precious nuggets of life – a photograph depicting times of contentment, an award from the 1971 war. Lakshmy’s direction is confident, the relationship drama is as compelling as the disaster film in House Owner. Rain has helped create as vast a memory as it has erased.
The House Owner review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.