Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadha Movie Review: Halitha Shameem’s Loner shines in this decent anthology
Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadha, the second of Amazon Prime Video’s lockdown anthology series, is superior to the first, in both content and presentation
When Putham Pudhu Kaalai premiered on Amazon Prime Video back on 16 October 2020, it looked to ring in hope in uncertain times. The idea was to show that Tamil cinema, against all odds, could adapt and survive, even if it meant forgoing the theatre experience and big-budget ambitions. And yet, that anthology didn’t quite hit the mark, failing to really capture the perils and the mood of the period. The lockdown and pandemic were just slender threads that connected the five short films, and it was hard to see why the pandemic was necessary for these stories. Thankfully, the same cannot be said about this second edition, Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadha. Well, at least not about most of its stories—perhaps that’s how the order of the films was formulated.
Director: Balaji Mohan, Halitha Shameem, Madhumita, Surya Krishna, Richard Anthony
Cast: Gouri G Kishan, Teejay Arunasalam, Arjun Das, Lijomol Jose, Nadiya Moidu, Joju George, Sananth, Dhilip Subbarayan, Aishwarya Lekshmi
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
However, I couldn’t stop wondering why Balaji Mohan’s Mugakavasa Mutham was identified as the first episode of the anthology. The lockdown is integral to this film, and yet, it’s the weakest of the lot. The story is about the budding romance between police constables Murugan (Teejay Arunasalam) and Kuyili (Gouri G Kishan), who guard a checkpoint during the second wave of the pandemic. When they set out to reunite a random guy with his lover despite lockdown constraints, Murugan and Kuyili end up falling in love themselves. The narrative is as barren as the roads the constables are guarding. The film is set in a remote road of Taramani perhaps because it was easy to shoot there; such convenience is felt throughout the film. The idea to sell this as a light-hearted story is best exemplified by composer Sean Roldan’s impressive work.
Almost all the segments of this anthology are mood pieces in a way. Halitha Shameem gets it right with Loners, which, unlike the first episode, is pretty dense and is arguably the most rewarding lockdown film we have got so far, given the topic it deals with: loneliness. It begins with a brilliant setup of the life of Nalla (Lijomol Jose), who gets a food delivery from her ex-boyfriend by mistake. That he had her address saved on the app says a lot about their relationship. There's more. The food parcel is for two people. So, clearly, he has moved on. We get all of this in seconds; it’s understated depth, the like that exists throughout the film. Nalla goes on to meet Dheeran (Arjun Das) through a virtual wedding. It’s all organic and there are no contrivances here. Without really focussing on the pandemic and the lockdown, it’s impressive how Halitha captures their effects on people.
In contrast to Halitha’s film, which relies on clever dialogues, we get flung into the taciturn world of Yashoda (Nadiya Moidu) and Murali (Joju George) in Madhumita’s border-line silent film, Mouname Paarvayaai. The estranged husband and wife are not on talking terms. They use grunts, mixer grinders, and a whiteboard to communicate. While Yashoda loves order, Murali is a bit chaotic. Everything here is shown. There are moments where the film too deliberately avoids dialogues, and that’s jarring. Yet, you can see that the director is experimenting. So, when Yashoda begins to cough and show symptoms... the dynamics change. It’s not groundbreaking, but it efficiently tells the story of this couple. The Tamil word that kept ringing in my head as I was watching this film: Oodal.
Director Surya Krishna’s The Mask is perhaps the most wayward film of the bunch. The director doesn’t seem to have made up his mind about the tonality. On one hand, he wants to be sensible in handling the story of Arjun (Sananth), a gay man who struggles to come out. His partner, Paul, is devastated by his fear and feels exploited. Meanwhile, Surya also wants the film to be self-aware and funny. So, we have a fourth-wall-breaking hero. The gimmick isn’t funny as it is supposed to be, but it isn’t curtains either. The film also meanders with a deus ex machina in the form of Arjun’s old-school friend that works reasonably. The bond between Arjun and his school buddy, despite being melodramatic, is heartwarming. There is also a parallel between the lockdown and the protagonist's state in this film.
By the fifth episode, Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadha seems to have given up on the lockdown setting. Richard Idham's Nizhal Tharum Idham has little to do with the pandemic. Yes, one could argue that it is about grief, an emotion that has everything to do with the pandemic. Shobi (Aishwarya Lekshmi) is a self-reliant woman, who doesn't let anyone get close to her. When her dad, her only familial connection, passes away, we don't see Shobi wailing. Instead, her wall gets reinforced. The sober story is all about how this wall gets broken down. Like Mugakavasa Mutham, the film's problem is not having much of it. There’s a monotony, and the final redemption of Shobi is not quite realised as we don’t suffer with her in the first place. Yet, the film has a wonderful Aishwarya Lekshmi, who helps make it all functional.
It is tempting to call Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadha a mixed bag, but that might be a tad too harsh. There’s intent in almost all of the films, and it’s definitely an improvement over its predecessor.