Putham Pudhu Kaalai (Tamil, Amazon Prime): We all know this is the time when we need to be kind.And if you don’t know why then you probably live under a rock. None of the characters in the five stories of this well-intended omnibus lets us forget that they are living during a time of crisis and trying to make the best of it. The omnibus’ opulent and omniscient optimism of the presentation made me feel the best thing to have happened to fractured relationships is the Coronavirus.The first story Ilamai Idho Idho directed by Sudha Kongra plays it for cuteness to the hilt,and places two older people together to enjoy time away from the judgmental eyes of their children. Very selfconscious in its sunshiny intentions, the narrative does instant-time switches. Sometimes we see the couple (played by Jayaram and Urvashi) in their 60s. Sometimes in the 20s (played by two star-kids Kalidas Jayaram and Kalyani Priyadarshan). It was a delight to discover the spontaneous charms of Jayaram’s son. He is a natural.
Sweetened is the only way to describe the next two segments Avarum Naanum – Avalum Naanum and Coffee, Anyone? In the former, an estranged grand daughter gets a chance to know how ‘cool’ her granddad is, when she reluctantly comes to stay with him. Brimming with the aroma of shastriya sangeet and traditional values this segment, directed by Gautham Menon is an ode to the creaking joints of the joint family
In Coffee, Anyone? Directed by Charu Haasan , Kamal Haasan’s clan (his niece, nephew, daughter are all there) descends to squeeze tears out of the viewer with their sugary tale of a comatose mother, her obdurate husband (who won’t put his wife into the hospital) and their three daughters who stumble through differing stages of hysteria in trying to good guilt-ridden daughters. When Shruti Haasan starts singing a traditional Tamil song on the internet decided it was time to flee the scene and let this family stew in its own juices. Or percolate in its own coffee beans.
In the fourth story Reunion directed by Rajiv Menon a goodhearted young doctor and his angelic arthritic mother take it a stranded girl as a house guest when the lockdown suddenly happens. The girl, brimming with nervous energy, repays their kindness by snorting cocaine in their bathroom. When she locks herself in, the doc bursts into an old Tamil song which calms her nerves. What about the viewers’ abused nerves? Just when I thought it was time for the abused hospitality to end, the hosts decide to do a crash-rehabilitation programme on the girl. If they needed lockdown entertainment they could have just subscribed to Amazon!
The final story Miracle directed by Karthik Subbaraj has more bite than the darkish yelps of the four other stories. Two petty criminals, one suicidal filmmaker and a miracle (pronounced ‘meer-yaquel’) man on television come together in an unexpected clasp of irony . This, I thought, was the story that I wanted to see more of. Not the other over-sweetened melodramas oozing with the condensed milk of human kindness. Leaves you queasy.
AB Aani CD (Marathi, Amazon Prime Video): Amitabh Bachchan as a concept rather than a living reality is nothing new. In the Kannada film Amritdhare Mr Bachchan was cast as a dying woman’s last wish. Nearer home , there is a brilliant short film called Yours Truly, Amitabh in which a retired man (the wonder Kumud Mishra) gets his neglectful family’s attention by claiming he once corresponded with the iconic mega-star.
This kind of metaphorical iconization is unique to Mr Bachchan. His stardom defines acting just as Lata Mangshkar’s vocals define singing. ‘Who do you think you are, Amitabh Bachchan?’ is a classic putdown for someone acting too big for his boots.
In this quaint Marathi film, the Big B is ubiquitous in the way, say, in another context Rebecca was in the Daphne du Maurier novel. The actual hero of AB Aani CD, the Joan Fontaine of this Marathi Rebecca, so to speak, is Vikram Gokhale. He plays an unhappy retired gent(have you seen any protagonist being happy after retirement?) whose extended family begins to treat him with the mild contempt that we have seen Mr Bachchan and before him Rajesh Khanna go through in Baghban and Avtar.
There is nothing new about Vikram Gokhale’s projection of hurt humiliation and muffled anger as he fights against his own swelling dismay at a family that seems to respect only his “connections” with the mega-star. The family, I am sorry to say, is a bunch of broad-stroked caricatures… you know, the bitchy bahu who wants to rid the house of the patriarch’s legacy , and the docile men who cannot help being bullied by the women of the family into mistreating the retired patriarch because otherwise they wouldn’t get it in the night.
Ironically while Vikram Gokhale is in almost every frame (sometimes joined in joyous singing by Neena Kulkarni who plays his wife) it is Mr Bachchan who presides over the plot. Does he actually show up in the film? Ah, the big mystery question best left unanswered. This film does enough of that.
Image source: IMDb, Amazon, Youtube/AmazonPrimeVideoIndia/Rajshri Marathi