Sila Samayangalil Review: A fantastic drama
An engaging drama that happens in a single day about seven people from different walks of life who await the results of their AIDS screening test
Towards the end of the Netflix film, Sila Samayangalil, there is a terrific shot. A seated character casts a shadow on the wall and it lingers for some time as a shocking piece of news is delivered. The man and the shadow, one and the same for much of the film, are now distinct. At this moment, the room is awash with light and dark interspersed in measured intervals. The real reason is because people are moving in and out of the light source. But the metaphorical reason is a battle that has long been waged between such dualities — light vs dark, right vs wrong, perception vs reality. That one shot which probably lasts all of ten seconds encapsulates much of, not just the character, but also what everyone embodies and are fighting constantly in the series.
Cast: Prakashraj, Ashok Selvan, Sriya Reddy, MS Bhaskar
I can’t recall the last time we had a chamber drama in Tamil cinema. While Hollywood had Room and 10 Cloverfield Lane in the recent past, we have to go all the way back to K Balachander’s Naanal to find one in Tamil. The beauty of a chamber drama is that this premise is set early in the film and what happens after that is mostly a deep character study. It requires tremendous confidence in the written material and needs even better actors. While it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Prakash Raj’s Krishnamurthy (reunited with Priyadarshan after Kancheevaram) is one such pivot, Ashok Selvan’s Balamurugan is the star turn of the film and the glue holding it all together.
Sila Samayangalil is a story of seven people who turn up at a testing facility to check if they are HIV-positive or not. That is the one-liner. But it is the people who make up this seven and the way they behave in the setting that makes the film. There’s a college going kid on his laptop, an old uncle who just sleeps it off, a young girl with a rosary praying, and a middle-aged man constantly on his phone; all dealing with tension in their own way. There’s also an irritable curt receptionist, Deepa. Sriya Reddy plays this insensitive, troubled character really well. The character arrives 45 minutes late to a 7am shift, when people have been queuing up from 6.30 in the morning, and the first thing she does is have a chat with her mother much to the annoyance of the waiting crowd, one of whom has been holding it in because the test asks for the first urination of the day.
Amidst this insensitivity comes empathy from the side of the patients. Balamurugan offers water to his fellow patients, who can’t get it because of a faulty water cooler. Then there is a scene where Krishnamurthy is having his breakfast (idli and coffee) and Balamurugan sits next to him and orders a coffee. He then proceeds to ask how the idli is, and orders it himself based on the look and nod that Krishnamurthy gives. What follows is classic character establishment as Krishnamurthy stands up and hurriedly drinks his coffee, standing, and rushes off to the bill counter. He does not want any small talk —a textbook version of an introvert.
Sila Samayangalil however is not just the interplay between Ashok Selvan and Prakash Raj. MS Bhaskar delivers a well-measured role that balances seriousness and comedy in equal measure. His wisecracks, mostly at the expense of Shanmugarajan’s Karunakaran, is the man at his best. But this levity, much like the music in Sila Samayangalil, is used sparingly and is not forced. The eerie monotonous speaker that calls out the token number, the sounds we hear from the outside whenever the door is opened, the utter and complete silence in the morning when the tests are given vis-a-vis the cacophony the evening entails when the results are out—everything is perfect.
But Sila Samayangalil is not perfect. It uses far more exposition than is necessary and sometimes over-indulges in telling rather than showing. That, and the way the stories are unveiled, somehow makes the pacing uneven and gives an air of unbelievability to a largely believable message movie that does not come across as one. However, given everything else it gets right, I guess that is okay.