Oru Kuppai Kathai Review: An emotional drama that fails to hit the mark
A neatly made underdog tale of love, betrayal, and redemption, that could've been much better
Debutant Kaali Rangasamy’s Oru Kuppai Kathai opens with a shot of a drunk Kumar (Dinesh), clad in shabby clothes and boarding a bus to Salem, giving us a brief deceptive impression that the Kuppai in the title might signify his miserable appearance and profession. But the point the director actually wants to make is that it is the materialistic and treacherous heart of humans that is the real garbage. The film could have joined the league of underdog dramas like Angadi Theru, Veyil, and Kaadhal, but falls well short due to several issues.
The story is about trash collector Kumar’s quest to get married and lead a normal life. But he is unable to find a wife because of his profession, and so, is forced to lie to get a bride. He marries Poongodi (Mansiha Yadav). For a few months, they’re happy, and then all hell breaks loose when she discovers the truth. Things turn ugly when Poongodi develops a soft corner for her good-looking, wealthy and caring neighbour, Arjun (Sujo Mathew).
Kumar is a passionate conservancy worker, who loves his job despite the hardship and stigma associated with it. Sadly, this is conveyed only through dialogues and not visually. We aren’t provided with enough details about his educational background or a solid reason that draws him to the job. This is one of the many points where the film loses the emotional connect with the audience. It would have been great if the film had a scene or two, showing the unknown side of a garbage collector—his little moments of happiness or the lesser known aspects of the emotionally and physically draining profession—in place of the Kuppai Vandiyil Payanam montage song, which simply shows him on a garbage truck moving about.
As Poongodi, Manisha Yadav delivers her career best performance. Oru Kuppai Kathai is a fitting finale to her awareness trilogy for women—her debut Vazhakku En 18/9 dealt with teenage love and voyeurism, Aadhalal Kaadhal Seiveer was about premarital pregnancy, while this film is about an extramarital affair. She gets so into the skin of her character that her other blink-and-miss glamour roles can all be forgiven. Particularly of note is the sequence where she depicts Poongodi’s mixed emotions of guilt, pleasure and dilemma, while slowly slipping into the affair.
Though the film suffers several hiccups, it works on the whole because of its non-judgemental and bold treatment. Despite handling a serious issue, nowhere in the film does the director attempt to morally police women. For instance, even when Poongodi elopes, we are not subject to forced cues like incessant closeup shots or a loud violin orchestra to villainise the character. The staging is all very subtle.
Little details such as Arjun choosing to live in Hosur instead of Bangalore, in deference to Poongodi’s preference for less crowded places, and the rubber band on Kumar’s phone, elevate the film. It is also refreshing that the characterisation of almost all the roles is grey. No one is depicted as purely evil or totally innocent.
There are some lingering questions, like why Poongodi is okay with living in a nasty locale beside the banks of Coovum, but enraged the moment she discovers his husband is a trash collector. For lack of clarity in such details, it’s hard to call this a remarkable film. Still, director Kaali Rangasamy deserves a pat on the back for making a non-formulaic Tamil film, shot for the most part in seldom-seen live locations of Chennai.