Arun Kumar, the writer-director of the evocatively titled Pannaiyarum Padminiyum, has a genuine feel for humour. He doesn't deal with tiresome punch lines. He opts for organically grown laughs, rising from the situation his characters find themselves in. The comic track with the handyman named Peedai (Balasaravanan) is pure gold. The actor doesn't mug for the camera, and he doesn't oversell a joke. He has the dazed look of someone who still hasn't come to terms with the fact that he has a special power, and just seeing him say his lines and witness the aftermath of these lines is funnier than anything we've watched in a while.
At other times, the comedy isn't as rip-roaring, but in a mellower key, like in the scenes with a landlord (Jayaprakash) learning to drive the Premier Padmini that's come into his possession or the one where the driver Murugesan (Vijay Sethupathi) covers the car with hay because he fears it will be taken away. The gentle idyll in these stretches is of a piece with a film whose pace suggests someone who's had a heavy lunch and is fighting off a noonday nap. In these frantic times, it's a relief to see a filmmaker who isn't afraid to take his time to tell his story.
In this and in other ways — and despite the “new-gen” excitement that has surrounded this film, owing to its origins as a beloved short — Pannaiyarum Padminiyum is sweetly old-fashioned. Excepting the landlord's covetous daughter (Neelima Rani), everyone is amiable and filled with the noblest of intentions, and when they're beset by bad thoughts, they're quickly shown the error of their ways — as in the scenes where Murugesan sulks at having to teach the landlord how to drive. What if he loses his job, and more importantly, the opportunity to swan around in the car? But he sees, quickly, that the people he works for — the landlord and his wife Chellamma (Thulasi, costumed perfectly in crumpled saris and one-size-too-loose blouses) — love him like a son.
But after a while, we begin to feel that the developments have been dreamed up simply to pad out the running time — and you need a lot of padding to expand an under-10-minute short into a 150-minute movie. In the short film, the story was about a landlord's love for his car. Now, it's about the landlord's love for his wife, with the car playing a silent supporting part. It's about the landlord's (and his wife's) equation with Murugesan. And because Vijay Sethupathi has become a feet-hands-face star, who cannot be stranded without a romantic interest, it's about Murugesan's love for Malar (the expressive Iyshwarya Rajesh). It's inevitable that scenes and characters are added to make a feature film from a short, but these scenes and characters, sometimes, feel like editing-room discards that are rightfully DVD extras.
A bigger problem is the rampant sentimentality. At first, we smile at the kid collecting 10-paise coins for a ride in the car, and we smile at the warm, playful relationship between the landlord and his wife. (The “plot,” if we were to call it that, pivots on his desire to drive her to the temple on their wedding anniversary.) But soon, we come to scenes where the child is slapped by his mother and, worse, where Chellamma wonders aloud what her husband will do if she dies. It's a testament to the performances of Jayaprakash and Thulasi that we don't turn against their characters after being dragged through such scenes. If young directors, the great hope of our cinema, resort to rehashing these silent-movie tropes, then what do we have to look forward to?
But at least with another old trope, the director knows what he's doing. The ‘Pesuren pesuren kaadhal mozhi’ song sequence, where Murugesan falls for Malar in the midst of preparations for a funeral, is a triumph. There's grief all around, but all Murugesan can see is this lovely girl he's falling for, and even as tears course down her cheeks, he cannot stop smiling at the feelings in his heart. We rarely get music videos that convey one emotion well enough, and here's a song that casually straddles two contradictory emotions, sadness and happiness, the tune balanced perfectly between dirge and romantic ballad.
And it's a lovely touch that ‘Onakkaaga porandhene,’ the heavily promoted number that made us think of young love, is dedicated to the landlord and Chellamma. They deserve this spot of sunshine, too often denied to seniors in our cinema — and it's a bracing sign that it's come from a young, first-time filmmaker.
Director: Arun Kumar
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Jayaprakash, Iyshwarya Rajesh
Storyline: The warm love story of a landlord and his wife (and their car).
Bottomline: Nicely paced. Good comedy. But overly sentimental and overlong.