MS Bhaskar can deliver a zinger. His granddaughter played by Ritu Varma, almost estranged, has arrived to stay with him during the 21-day Covid-19 lockdown and what was once a forced Deepavali ritual turns into an awkward period of discovery for both. He learns about her, her work, and she learns about him and why he harbours a hatred for her father, the man his daughter married. He was a nuclear physicist and she’s condescending towards him, amazed at his Whatsapp use and reluctant to give him her broken portable router. He asks, “You are an IT employee and yet you couldn’t fix it?”
That’s the man. He can be blunt for he knows what he’s good at and expects nothing less from others. He fixes it and adds as a matter of fact that he’s only worked with radioactive materials and national secrets, he just rolled around the router till it fixed itself. A humble brag delivered with nonchalance and only an actor like MS Bhaskar could do it, playing a man with veneer of confidence and awareness about his achievements shielding an affecting warmth.
Avalum Naanum that morphs into Avarum Naanum, written by Reshma Ghatala and directed by Gautham Vasudev Menon works in part thanks to MS Bhaskar but it is also too clean and aesthetically too GVM-esque to be a lockdown film. Also, apparently, GVM believes a man of science cannot be casteist?
The aesthetics in majority of the films is partly an issue with Putham Pudhu Kaalai, the Homemade- like anthology from five directors.
For a lockdown film, the houses remain posh and squeaky clean throughout, dust doesn’t accumulate and there is no laundry lying around. In Sudha Kongara’s film Ilamai Idho Idho, written by Francis Thomas and Shruti Ramachandran, elderly friends – played by Jayaram and Urvashi – rediscover love. The film is about how that love manifests – it is in the title – and this is presented as an encounter between younger actors – Kalidas Jayaram and Kalyani Priyadarshan. They meet with stars in their eyes but soon begin to get tired of each other’s ticks, a wet towel on the bed or a spoon inside the refrigerator. It begins with one of them watching Alaipayuthey but is more like a twisted version of OK Kanmani. Like GVM’s film, this too is sweet and pleasant, but it never goes beyond that, the lockdown period is only about woes of working from home or the wayward hirsute non-experiments of men.
Rediscovery is a running theme in Putham Pudhu Kaalai, that really did not need the lockdown for any of its stories. The real woes of the period are swept away like the invisible vacuum cleaner that takes care of homes with senior citizens with arthritis and more serious ailments.
In Suhasini Maniratnam’s film Coffee, anyone?, three sisters (Suhasini, Anu Hasan and Shruti Haasan) come together, and there’s a reunion with a mother on deathbed. The film, written by Suhasini and Mani Ratnam, flirts with coming to terms with mortality and negotiating suffering but, once again, there’s a lot of exposition to go along.
The title of Rajiv Menon’s screams the theme – Reunion, written by Menon, Adithya KR and Krishnaswamy Ramkumar. High school friends – Gurucharan C and Andrea Jeremiah – chance upon each other in another huge home in a part of Chennai that’s self-sufficient to get through this period, and they learn how they’ve grown into entirely different people while also coming together through shared past. None of the moments in Menon’s film registers, it’s as inoffensive as they come without saying anything real.
In comes Karthik Subbaraj with Miracle, a miracle worker in this famous five, who has the state health minister on television delivering numbers and promising that everything is under control and a fake godman talking about miracles. One wonders who is more harmful. Because it is Karthik Subbaraj, there is also a Michael and stylised shot making with Ilaiyaraaja set against slow motion. Only in his film do we find real disarray and characters with genuine problems, two of them looking for food and money, the third scavenging for the latter. They have shelter but one of them uses a scarf for a mask, for petty theft.
In contrast, the characters in other films wear N95s.
In Homemade, the directors dealt with the pandemic hands-on, the widely different problems that different strata of society encounter but Putham Pudhu Kaalai is four personal films having nothing to do with the pandemic. That’s alright but it feels like an opportunity lost.
Putham Pudhu Kaalai is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
The Putham Pudhu Kaalai review is a Silverscreen India original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.