The second instalment of Amazon Prime Video's anthology film Putham Pudhu Kaalai is titled Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa, and tells five short stories set in the pandemic once again. While the first film explored the novelty of being locked in and the suddenness of it all, the second film has more jaded characters, who've lived with the new normal for several months. Barring Karthik Subbaraj's short, Miracle, the first film was about upper middle class and elite people who lived in spacious bungalows. In the second outing, we move to smaller homes, and more intense feelings contained within them.
The first short is Balaji Mohan's Mugakavasa Mutham. The story revolves around two police personnel, Kuyili (Gouri Kishan) and Murugan (Teejay). They're on lockdown duty and have to deal with rulebreakers day after day. But what could have been an unusual love story plays out like an uninspiring government advertisement for coronavirus awareness. Thrown in the middle of it is a "ponna thookkuvom" drama that is all too common in Tamil films.
Kuyili is presented like the ideal heroine from the '80s; even her introductory shot is like that. She arrives on a two-wheeler beaming at nobody in particular. She might be a cop and his colleague, but what Murugan finds most attractive about her is that she can make excellent ooruga, and sincerely prays for every ambulance that goes past her. She's a girl with a golden heart who never forgets to wear her eyeshadow. If two wings had sprouted on her back by the end of the film, I wouldn't have been remotely surprised. None of the moments stand out and the film ends up looking like an amateurish effort. PSA for overenthusiastic viewers: Kissing while wearing masks can still transmit the virus.
Halitha Shameem's Loners is about Nalla (Lijomol Jose) and Dheeran (Arjun Das), two young people who meet virtually and develop a friendship. Typical of Halitha's films, there are small, real life observations that make you smile as you recognise them on screen. Nalla sitting with a saree draped over her pajamas for a virtual wedding, for instance. Both Nalla and Dheeran are trying to process their grief; she is still raw from a breakup while he has lost a close friend to COVID-19. They find solace in each other's company.
It's a believable premise, and Halitha's characters seem realistic enough...but, there are no surprises or insights in the writing. Everything is explained by the characters and the story proceeds with a linearity that is all too predictable, too correct (they even meet at an organic store). Lijomol is effortless as Nalla (and how different she is from Sengeni of Jai Bhim! This is an actor with range), and Arjun Das is convincing as the brooding Dheeran, but the drama between them stays at a flat line. It's a nicely shot film about nice people, and I wish there had been more to it.
Watch: Trailer of Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa
Madhumita's Mouname Paarvayaai is an inversion of Loners in many ways. This is about an older couple living in the same house. But unlike Nalla and Dheeran who talk all the time and share their feelings, Yashoda (Nadiya) and Muralikrishnan (Joju George) don't speak to each other at all; ironically, what causes grief in Loners is what brings healing in Mouname Paarvayaai.
Nadiya is wonderful as the angry Yashoda who expresses her feelings by loudly chopping the ladies finger, and holding her tongue even as she's screaming inside her head. Joju, with his ambling walk as the thoughtless Muralikrishnan who shoots vaguely apologetic looks at his wife, is apt for the role. There are hardly any dialogues in the film, and I wish the background music had been absent. Do we need the distraction when there are two good actors in command on screen? The flute music, which plays an important role (and is also connected to the names of the characters), would have been more impactful if it had filled the silence that defines the film at the opportune moment.
Nevertheless, with just these two characters in focus, Madhumita manages to capture the loneliness, panic and fear that invades our lives with every cough, every sneeze. The resolution to marital conflict and long-held grudges is seldom simple, and I did feel that Muralikrishnan got away by doing the bare minimum. But it is perhaps only a reflection of the reality we live in, where the bar is indeed so low for men.
Surya Krishna's The Mask is clever in how it interprets the theme. We all need to be masked and stay locked in to be safe because of the virus, but what about those who have experienced this for years because of a marginalized identity? Sananth plays Arjun, a gay man who has a partner, Paul (Arun Kurian), but is unwilling to acknowledge their relationship publicly. He ends up having a long, meandering conversation with his friend from school, Velu (Dhilip), and something within him changes. The tone is inconsistent as the film veers between the comic and the profound (The Fleabag-like fourth wall breaking moments don't work so well), leaving the viewer cold. Velu is now a thug-for-hire and his openness is rather refreshing, but I wish the film had focused more on the relationship between Arjun and Paul. Other than Paul telling an irate landlord that their rights are protected under Section 377 (actually, Section 377 criminalised 'unnatural offences' and was read down), we see very little of the tenderness and love that the two men share. And do we have to evaluate a gay relationship in terms of a heterosexual one to make it acceptable? I also wish we'd witnessed more of Arjun and the evolving relationship with his parents. These are new-to-Tamil-cinema areas worth exploring. Still, I suppose it is progress that when mainstream cinema continues to make 'avana nee' jokes, we have two gay men who are not characterized as cinematically 'effeminate' and appear to share a serious relationship.
Richard Anthony's Nizhal Tharum Idham is the last short in the series, and has the most finesse. Aishwarya Lekshmi has a translucent vulnerability to her that makes her perfect for the role of Shobi, a young woman struggling to deal with old wounds and fresh ones. Shobi is an independent person who doesn't like anyone fussing over her. She makes her own decisions and does not appreciate interventions, even if these are well-meaning. In the process of dealing with her grief and healing, she realises several things about herself that makes her look at the past and present differently. It's nearly an immersive solo act, with the camera focused on Shobi's changing expressions and her outbursts. The masked creatures, perhaps an externalisation of Shobi's inner demons, feel indulgent and theatrical, but other than this, Nizhal Tharum Idham has an organic quality to it that makes you travel with Shobi's arc. The film's background score, too, never amplifies the emotions on screen and stays where it should â€” in the background.
With the quality of the shorts varying so much, it's difficult to pronounce a verdict on Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa as a whole. Some interesting ideas, some damp squibs. Unfortunately, that seems to be the general nature of OTT anthologies that have come out of the south so far. Will there be a putham pudhu kaalai for this? One hopes so.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.