Putham Pudhu Kaalai Review: Sudha Kongara stars in an anthology that evokes mixed feelings
Despite the limitations of the format, it’s also interesting to note how the filmmakers have expressed themselves through the use of songs and the musical extravagance
It’s fascinating to see established directors show us characters we wouldn’t usually see in feature films, and for these characters to be doing what they wouldn’t usually be allowed to. You can see this across all the five short films that are part of Amazon Prime Video’s anthology, Putham Pudhu Kaalai. In Sudha Kongara’s warm and sensitive Ilamai Idho Idho, two old people, despite the baggage of their families and the cold gaze of society, are allowed to breathe again in love. In Gautham Menon’s Avarum Naanum, Avalum Naanum, an old man is allowed to speak at length about his failed dreams for his daughter. In the film, his granddaughter (played by Ritu Varma), the type of woman whose purpose in feature films would be romantic in nature, is allowed to forge an important familial relationship. In Suhasini’s Coffee Anyone?, multiple women get together to try and rescue one of their own. In Rajiv Menon’s Reunion, an old woman reacts not with disgust towards an addict, as you would expect, but with empathy. It’s also fascinating to note that old people are integral parts of this new anthology. It’s a welcome development, is it not, that liberated from the rules surrounding feature films and star-centric cinema, these filmmakers are able to talk about an important section of society that’s damagingly stereotyped, even in the off-chance that they get depicted at all?
Direction: Sudha Kongara, Gautham Menon, Suhasini Mani Ratnam, Rajiv Menon, Karthik Subbaraj
Cast: Jayaram, Urvashi, Kalidas, Kalyani, MS Bhaskar, Ritu Varma, Suhasini, Anu Haasan, Shruti Haasan, Gurucharan, Andrea Jeremiah, Bobby Simha
Despite the limitations of the format, it’s also interesting to note how the filmmakers have expressed themselves through the use of songs and the musical extravagance you would typically associate with feature films. Think of Jayaram dancing about in love (in Ilamai Idho Idho). Think of how catharsis comes through a song recording (in GVM’s ANAN). Or how about an important moment in Rajiv Menon’s Reunion getting resolved through the cheeky use of a song from one of his own films? Karthik Subbaraj, in a style that he has made his own here, uses the Ilaiyaraaja song, ‘Oru kili urugudhu’, to hilarious effect in his short, Miracle.
The theme uniting all these films is hope—well, given the title and the yellow flower motif, it’s supposed to be anyway. Hope comes in different shapes and sizes in these films. In Sudha’s film, it’s the hope that an old couple will be allowed to lead a romantic co-existence. In GVM’s film, it’s the hope that a damaged relationship can be mended. In Suhasini’s film, hope, in a sense, is what helps a key character get resurrected. In Rajiv Menon’s film, it’s the hope that an addict will have seen the error of her ways. Karthik Subbaraj’s film, as you can imagine, isn’t exactly sunny. In fact, it’s almost a dig at the idea of miracles, at the idea of naïve hopefulness. And yet, in this film too, there’s resurrection—of a man and his career—in a, let me just say, Karthik Subbaraj-esque way.
Of the five films, Sudha Kongara’s Ilamai Idho Idho is the clear winner. Karthik Subbaraj’s Miracle comes a distant second, followed by GVM’s ANAN. Suhasini’s Coffee, Anyone? and Rajiv Menon’s Reunion feel like they are pretty much making the numbers. Sudha’s film is beautiful for how it is a clever, literal interpretation of how love makes you feel young. The swapping of the cast between Jayaram and Urvashi, and Kalidas and Kalyani, is a lovely touch. It’s a film that’s light on the surface but quite deep in its commentary of how society treats and imprisons the elderly. It’s a sign of how ignored they are that a gesture as simple as offering tea, is enough to create feelings of affection. If tea were the metaphor for a romantic bond in this story, is it not touchingly revealing that Urvashi is forced to sip it within the darkness of a closet? Isn’t that final scene then akin to the couple coming out of the closet, so to speak? Isn’t it as taboo, as dangerous for the elderly to share that they have romantic feelings for another?
GVM’s Avarum Naanum, Avalum Naanum is well-shot and has the interesting premise of a young woman mending her relationship with her grandfather during the lockdown—and yet, it feels like a lot more is said than it’s shown. There’s the metaphor of a woman’s voice getting suppressed after marriage, but it works more in the head on account of what it stands for than what it actually is in this film. The characters, chiefly MS Bhaskar, are bleeding their hearts out, and yet, you are not as moved as you’d expect to be. However, I did enjoy seeing MS Bhaskar in the GVM universe; it’s a marriage that yields some really interesting results. The actor too feels just right in the part of an educated, successful old man who is more comfortable with technology than many young people are.
Suhasini’s Coffee, Anyone? begins ignominiously with plenty of expository dialogue. The who and why of the characters, in this film, are often shared during awkward, forced conversations. It’s an irksome pattern, and is evident even in that scene when you first see Ramya (Shruti Haasan), who states a lot of what-should-be-obvious to whoever she is talking to, but is said anyway for our benefit. There’s utility in the premise that centres on many independent women… However, though these women seem to possess strength, this film doesn’t.
In Rajiv Menon’s Reunion, Andrea plays a coke addict called Sadhana. She’s dressed in torn pants; she’s said to be a part-time singer at a bar. In theory, this idea of an addict getting forced into recovery, when stuck with two warm people during a lockdown, seems cathartic, especially during these times when apathy is encouraged almost as a virtue. However, this warmth from Vikram and his mother towards this distressed woman feels rather manufactured, a quality that permeates much of this film. When during a big moment, Vikram breaks into a rendition of Minsara Kanavu’s Oh La La La, it only served to me as a wistful reminder of a time, when this director’s central idea of a distressed woman resulted in a very effective film.
Though Karthik Subbaraj’s Miracle looks and feels like a YouTube short in treatment, there’s plenty in there of what we have come to like about him. There’s dark humour, there’s free-flowing cussing, there’s the suggestion of supernatural activity … and hell, there’s even the character of a filmmaker in agony. That bit where a tyre rolls towards a near-dead man, as Ilaiyaraaja’s ‘Oru Kili Urugudhu’ begins playing, is vintage Karthik Subbaraj—as is the bittersweet end of this film. We have come to see much better from him in the feature film space over the years, but I’m still glad that Putham Pudhu Kaalai ends with Miracle and leaves us on a reasonable high.
The image that will stay with me from this anthology is of the old couple (Jayaram and Urvashi) giggling in excitement at sensing the waft of love once again. It’s a new dawn for the two characters… and is reflective of the spirit of this anthology’s title—and in extension, of the films and stories we can hopefully go on to see from writers and filmmakers whose horizons seem widened.