Priyadarshan's Tamil film Sila Samyangalil, titled in English as Sometimes, released on May 1 on Netflix.
Set mostly in a medical testing center, the film revolves around HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with it. Freed of the constraints of mainstream cinema, the tightly scripted drama does not have any distractions by way of songs or unnecessary comedy tracks. There is no melodrama either. Instead, Sila Samayangalil captures the irritations and tensions that people harbour when they're awaiting important medical test results, which could change their lives in the snap of a second.
The wait builds a temporary community which carries within it a nebulous trust. Sriya Reddy plays Deepa, a hassled employee at the test center who takes a gamble because she's desperate for money. She, along with Ashok Selvan and Prakash Raj, make for the main protagonists. Others in the cast include MS Bhaskar, Shanmugarajan, Varun, and Anjali Rao.
Towards the end, we're told that the film was made to create awareness about HIV/AIDS. That purpose is largely accomplished. However, this desire to educate appears to have weighed on the director's mind heavily - some parts of the film are rather deliberate in how they provide information. For instance, each of the characters, we're told, could have contracted the virus in different ways. Ranging from blood transfusion to drug use, it's all too pat.
The reason given for the woman character, although valid, is predictable and falls back on the moral code for "good girls" that south Indian filmmakers are so fond of. Why can't we have a woman character who gets HIV because she had consensual, unprotected sex? Is it just not possible to give her a sympathetic treatment anyway? Aruvi, which released a few months ago, and revolved around a woman AIDS patient, also took the easy way out by impressing on the audience that Aruvi was "good" and that she got AIDS through unexplained means.
The performances of the cast, however, manage to hold our attention. Sila Samayangalil succeeds in creating memorable characters despite the short runtime and the fact that we mostly see them only within the confines of the medical center. With a few deft strokes, Priyadarshan defines what each person is like and how they respond to a tense situation. The cool guy who cannot stop talking, the man who is on edge all the time, the cop who can fall asleep wherever he is, and so on. Sriya Reddy as an irritable young woman delivers a convincing performance, drawing our empathy despite her show of insensitivity. Prakash Raj, playing a jittery middle-aged man caught in a spot, is the perfect foil for Ashok Selvan's chilled out Balamurugan.
The scope for comedy is slim in such a subject. Nevertheless, Ashok Selvan, MS Bhaskar, and Shanmugarajan put a smile on our face with their expressions and observations. For instance, the scene when Shanmugarajan lies to somebody on the phone that he's at a wedding - the incredulous and slightly mocking expression on Ashok Selvan's face as he eavesdrops, is priceless.
As it stands, Sila Samayangalil is an engaging drama which could have been better if it had not been so conscious of its purpose.
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.