(The review contains spoilers)
There is a great amount of tenderness in Sillu Karupatti , which you wouldn’t normally find in Tamil movies. It is there in the writing; in the performances, in the frames (cinematography is by Abinandhan Ramanujam, Manoj Paramahamsa, Vijay Karthik and Yamini Yagnamurthy), in the music (by Pradeep Kumar, whose violin riff adds a pleasant tone to the movie). Writing a love story may seem like a convenient approach, however, Sillu... is a story about love. Looking from a broader perspective, what is love? It is about returning a gift to your childhood crush; it is about bonding with a stranger on a cab ride, it is about rediscovering love in the time of diabetes, it is about switching off your ego issues in marital life. Above all, it is about living the moment. Love, in theory, is like an ocean and its vastness is what Halitha Shameem tries to capture through four shorts — each of which deals with different phases of life (like last year’s heart-rending Telugu indie, C/O Kancharapalem ), thereby giving the movie a strong, cohesive narrative arc.
The first story is Pink Bag , where you have a group of kids picking rags from a dump yard. There is genuine love amongst them, for they celebrate someone’s birthday with whatever leftovers they have collected. You smile at their innocence when a boy picks up a crushed party popper and says he wants to make a similar one for his birthday. A slightly older one among the lot, Manja (Rahul) is the protagonist who chances upon a pink bag (ring a bell?) with goodies in it. He discovers a greeting card with a photo of Mitty (Baby Sara) — perhaps to imply that the girl recently had her birthday? Early on, we see Manja’s friend asking him to find a used shampoo bottle for her. “They might have thrown it with a lot left, right?” she tells him. Is Halitha making a statement here? That what is considered a leftover is life for others? You anticipate an innocent love story between two classes of people, but Halitha puts a spin and eschews it from being straightforward. The class difference is right off the first scene and is wonderfully staged, to show the dichotomy between the two worlds they inhabit. Manja lives in a suitcase-sized house, outside of which there is a cloud of dust and smoke, thanks to mosquito fogging machine. The smoke in this scene cuts to little puffs of smoke coming out of the freezer...from Mitty’s house. The editing is beautiful and you sense a pattern. In another instance, Mitty is having a conversation (in a painfully fake English accent, again to show class supremacy) with her sister. The scene ends with a distraught Mitty looking at her toy horse. And cut, you have Manja taking a nap next to an actual horse in its stable. Even the road where Mitty lives has class undertones...it is called Maiyana Salai, and there is a superb joke about how dead the riches are in life. The pink bag that Manja picks from the dump yard seems like a one-off occurrence at first. But soon, it becomes an inevitable part of his life. Pink Bag is what you get when the boy from Kaaka Muttai gets an individual movie, with The Lunchbox treatment.
Speak of Kaaka Muttai , the second story is called Kaaka Kadi . The opening sequence reminded me of a scene from Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu , where Kamal Haasan steals an overcoat for a job interview. Here, Mugilan (K Manikandan, in an affecting performance) borrows an overcoat for a YouTube show that he anchors. And the guests? The boys from Pink Bag . The characters from the previous short spill over in the second movie, establishing a connect in the overall design. Everything is going smooth in Mugilan’s life. He works in a tech firm and is a part-time meme creator. To put it short...he is having a ball, except when that becomes an issue. He is diagnosed with scrotum cancer and yes, the jokes keep coming. However, there is remarkable sensitivity in the way Halitha writes humour. So, when Madhu (a gorgeous Nivedhithaa Sathish) asks him why the wooden face, he says, “Cancer.” She thinks about the zodiac sign associated with cancer and says, “Naanum dhan.” Or take the one where Mugil goes to the hospital...to test whether he is fertile or not. He is perplexed when he is handed over an adult magazine. You laugh. But it does not end there; it ends with Mugil asking, “Is there Wi-Fi here?”. The humour is dry, but it is both hilarious and cruel at the same time. Mugil and Madhu begin to frequent cab rides together, discussing life, porn and everything under the sun — it is quite similar to the short film Detour . If this were a Hitchcock movie, it would have been called Strangers on a Cab , with the girl ending up dead. In Madhu’s language, love in Kaaka Kadi , is like the lump of chocolate you find in the tip of Cornetto ice cream. But to get there, you need to excuse the initial vanilla-ness it offers.
- Cast: Samuthirakani, Leela Samson, Sunainaa, K Manikandan and Nivedhitha Sathish
- Director: Halitha Shameem
- Storyline: An anthology of four shorts made with sense and sensibility
In Turtle Walk , Halitha brings old age love to the fore. It centres around two elderly characters Navaneethan (Krav Maga Sree Ram), although I thought how GREAT Sathyaraj would have been in this role) and Yashoda (Leela Sampson) who live invisible lives, in the eyes of youngsters. “This generation expects us to adjust and update,” says Navaneethan, when he shares a table with Yashoda. At first, I thought Turtle Walk was a metaphor on ageing — like the pace at which turtles walk. But we get an explanation from Navaneethan when he says, “Aamai maari vazhka vazhanum.” Here too, there is love at first sight; there is a cutesy meet at a hospital cafeteria. Yashoda is a member of Sea Turtle Conservation, and invites Navaneethan for Turtle Walk — it is the beach where Manja drops a gift for Mitty in Pink Bag . They have a breezy moment on the beach where they let themselves into each other. There is gentleness with which Halitha handles the romance between the couple, and the movie never becomes vulgar or perfunctory. Even when Navaneethan makes an unintended joke about a kiss, prompting a walk out from Yashoda. The narration instantly subverts with a casual, “Here is tea added with a lot of dignity,” from him. When you are in the last cycle of life, what more do you expect than companionship? Does Navaneethan see a motherly nature in Yashoda, or is it otherwise? Could that be the reason why they are called Yashoda and Navaneethan (Lord Krishna and his mother)?
The fourth story, Hey Amu , is what you get if Samuthirakani decides to make a quiet Samuthirakani movie, taking on marital issues. It is about Dhanapal (Samuthirakani) suffering from selective “ sevvudu ” (auditory attention). It is about a husband exhibiting “ iruttu la anbu...velichathile veruppu ” to his wife Amudhini (Sunainaa). Like most Indian households, Amudhini runs the house and gets treated like a vending machine. Her husband, on the other hand, treats her like a piece of meat. There is a brilliant stretch that seems to have been inspired from Lust Stories . It is where Amudhini says, “All I want is meaningful sex.” There have been movies that dealt with similar issues. But very rarely do filmmakers get inside a woman’s head, showing us what she goes through or what she thinks at that point. That happens to a large extent here. Amudhini does not get a chance to vent, and her husband does not even listen. She finds a companion in a Bluetooth-operated speaker — something like Alexa, and calls her Amu. Innocence and charm were the strength of the other three movies — this is what Hey Amu lacks. Not to say that it does not have affecting moments. Like the rapturous bit when Amudhini drops her phone in sambar, when she hears Dhanapal say the golden words: “I love you.” Or the one where the couple argue over strands of hair. Or when Dhanapal silently ‘sight-adichifies’ his wife at a grocery store. Madhu from Kaaka Kadi makes a cameo here, connecting second and fourth stories.
Perhaps the movie is less about love and more about the bitter-sweetness of life, just like Sillu Karupatti (palm candy) — like when Mugil says, “ Odambu fulla kasapa irundhuchu, nee vara varaikum .” If I were to nitpick issues at gunpoint, it would be for this: it is still an ideal world about ideal characters, reaffirming ideal principles. It is a world that we aspire for. But the weight of reality tells a different story, right?