Director and writer Lakshmy Ramakrishnan dug into the December 2015 Chennai floods, and picked out quite an unexpected story that’s both predictable and poignant in ways.

House Owner review An unexpectedly moving and multi-layered drama
Flix Kollywood Friday, June 28, 2019 - 18:04
Worth a watch

For the people of Chennai, as much as the summer of 2019 will be remembered as the year when the last drop of water slipped into the parched earth, the monsoon of 2015 will evoke a different kind of memory. For this coastal city that was least prepared for the floods of 2015, there was no Noah’s Arc, no North Star.

For a storyteller, the December floods of 2015, had many prompts. Director and writer Lakshmy Ramakrishnan dug in and picked out quite an unexpected story that’s both predictable and poignant in ways. House Owner starring Kishore, Sriranjini, ’Pasanga’ Kishore, and debutant Lovelyn Chandrasekhar, is a drama with the Chennai floods in the backdrop, with love being its central theme.

A majority of the film is shot inside Radha (Sriranjani) and Retired Lt. Col Chandru’s (Vasudevan) house. Lovelyn Chandrasekhar and ’Pasanga’ Kishore play their younger versions. Literature and cinema have often romanticised Alzheimer’s, a condition that leads to dementia, as the final test of love and endurance between a couple, and House Owner pegs its premise on this too.

Here, Chandru suffers from Alzheimer’s and Radha becomes his full-time caretaker. While in The Notebook we saw an upbeat Noah looking forward to his reading sessions with Allie, here’s Radha, her face visibly tired, spending all her day watching over Chandru. While his day is spent in forgetfulness, her's is the torment of constant repetition. House Owner is as close as Tamil cinema has come to capturing the real emotions of a spouse who has turned into a caregiver.

In one of its earliest scenes, we understand their daily lives. Radha is an indispensable part of Chandru’s life, even as he switches between submission and rebellion, recognising and forgetting who they are. He’s angry when he sees an old man in the mirror. “Who are you? This is my house!” he shouts at his reflection, before Radha walks in and folds a newspaper over the mirror.

The film begins with a Brahmin wedding, taking place inside an ancestral house. A young Chandru weds a naive Radha while the skies pour. The arrangement of these memories, as Chandru remembers, are placed very organically. A rose reminds him of the one time he secretly gifted it to her when they were young. A cauliflower on the kitchen counter takes him back to the time they danced at a party in one of their friends’ homes.

In most of these memories, there’s water or rain, a recurring theme in this film. Perhaps the incessant rain from the present day makes Chandru pick up these memories in specific.

The film, however, is not without moments that have been stretched a tad too far, making it seem deliberate. For instance, when Chandru writes a long letter to Radha from one of his army camps, he shreds the first and goes on to write another with just one word – “safe”. A few scenes later we’re shown Chandru explaining his letters to Radha and it feels like an explanation to the audience instead.

House Owner shifts between Chandru’s oblivion and Radha’s emergent reality and there’s good detailing that leads us smoothly to a climax. Within its taut runtime of 1.45 hours, a seamless drama is woven in with just these two characters, and set inside a house that takes the focus towards the end.

However, we know very little about Radha, played brilliantly by Sriranjini, even lesser about her as a young woman, except that she’s a naive and traditional Brahmin woman. A little more screen space and dialogue to her younger version may have supplemented to the story very well. Also, if the viewer is unfamiliar with the Palakkad Brahmin slang, the dialogues are a little difficult to follow.

Should the story of the floods have been told through the lens of a less privileged family, that perhaps lost everything? Well, it is Chandru and Radha's story that the director chose to tell. Most of us, in fact, will have our own memories from the nightmarish two days this city went through. Yet House Owner captures our attention and manages to move us with its well-executed screenplay.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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