Putham Pudhu Kaalai is an anthology film that features directors Francis Thomas, Shruti Ramachandran, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Suhasini Maniratnam, Rajiv Menon, and Karthik Subbaraj, who tell stories about finding love, finding hope, and finding money during the COVID-19 pandemic. If the first and last short films are viewed in isolation (pun unintended), then you will have a light-hearted viewing experience. But as soon as you take the other three films into consideration, it becomes quite a task to wade through all the regressive story beats.
In an interview with Gulshan Devaiah, he said that the pandemic has exposed us as a society pretty harshly. And I agree with that. We love to think that we are the best species in the whole goddamn universe and we are so special that nothing can touch and we can go about doing the worst things without any repercussions. But then the coronavirus pandemic happened and showed us that we are pretty idiotic since we are not able to do the simple act of staying indoors and providing refuge and medication to those who don’t have a home. In addition to all that, due to the lack of distractions, this pandemic forced us to look inwards and think about our emotional maturity and how we’ve failed at that as well. Amazon Prime Video’s Putham Pudhu Kaalai attempts to touch on all these topics and comes close to doing so successfully.
Usually anthology films have an overarching narrative that ties together all the individual short films. However, that’s not the case here with Putham Pudhu Kaalai . So, I’ll be taking a little departure from my standard format of reviewing films and will be looking at the films in the order that it was presented.
Ilamai Idho Idho (Directed by Sudha Kongara, written by Francis Thomas and Shruti Ramachandran, and starring Jayaram, Kalidas Jayaram, Urvashi, and Kalyani Priyadarshan)
The story revolves around Rajiv (Jayaram), a middle-aged father and a widower, planning to spend a few days with his newfound lover, Lakshmi (Urvashi), a middle-aged mother and a widow, under the pretense of going to a Yoga retreat. However, as soon as things start to look up, the COVID-19 lockdown lands on them, thereby extending their vacation of 3-4 days to 21 days. As you can guess by now, the film becomes a commentary about finding love at an age when people are not expected to find any and starting a new chapter in their life, and it is presented in a sweet and heartwarming fashion. I think that the decision to portray how young they feel when they are with each other was creative. But it was overused. It should’ve been reserved for the start and end of the film. I feel that that would’ve been more impactful. That said the actors, Kalidas and Kalyani, did a commendable job and have brilliant screen presence. The cinematography, the editing, and the songs made it a breezy watch.
Avarum Naanum/Avalum Naanum (Directed by Gautham Vasudev Menon, written by Reshma Ghatala, and starring M.S. Bhaskar and Ritu Varma)
This is where the wheels of the anthology start to come off. The story is pretty relatable as a young IT professional, Kanna (Varma) is sent to stay with her grandfather, Thaatha (Bhaskar), on her father’s insistence (Please keep that in mind) to ensure the old man’s safety during the pandemic. Kanna has a lot of reservations about it because Thaatha hadn’t approved of her mother and her father’s marriage and had apparently broken all ties with her. She cold-shoulders him and rightfully so because he was an a-hole to his own daughter and son-in-law and Thaatha subtly starts to gaslight her. And then he turns it up to eleven and goes into complete victimhood mode and successfully gaslights Kanna. I think people who constantly spout “respect your elders” will love this. I don’t adhere to that notion, so I absolutely hated it. I think elders should earn the respect that they think they deserve and stop thinking that just because they gave birth to us, they own us, and they don’t need to take our life-choices into consideration. On top of that, the camerawork, the editing, the set design, and the background score are tacky, thereby making the short film feel grating.
Coffee, Anyone? (Co-written and directed by Suhasini Maniratnam, written by Mani Ratnam, and starring Suhasini, Anu Hasan, Shruti Haasan, Kathadi Ramamurthy, and Komalam Charuhasan)
I don’t want to mince words and straight-up claim that this short film is straight-up problematic. What’s not wrong about showing a father of three, Mahendran (Ramamurthy), taking his wife, Soundara (Komalam), who is suffering from locked-in syndrome, out of the hospital and taking care of her with homemade nuskhe when their daughters are repeatedly telling them to not do so, and then everything working out in the end? What kind of a message does that send to a country with poor healthcare and high on regressive medicinal techniques? On top of that, it’s so anti-women. Only person, Ramya (Shruti), has a voice of her own and is successful for alienating herself from the family. And how does the family treat her? By berating her constantly while dreaming about being as successful as her. It’s just dangerous storytelling that’s sugarcoated to look like a sweet story about reviving familial bonds and just getting over the toxicity one fine day. It’s just bad. The only good thing about this movie is Shruti. Apart from that, the direction, the acting, the storytelling, the editing, the cinematography, are horrendous.
Reunion (Directed by Rajiv Menon, written by Menon, Adihtya KR, Krishnaswamy Ramkumar, and starring Andrea Jeremiah, Leela Samson, and Gurucharan C)
Have you seen that meme where someone puts up the photo of a problematic person and says “I can fix them”. This is basically that. Three men banded together to fix a fictional girl and make her fall in love with a geek. That’s it. I don’t know why Leela Samson is here. I don’t know why any of these people are here in this movie. That’s all I have to say. I don’t want to waste any more words on this short film.
Miracle (Written and directed by Karthik Subbaraj, and starring Bobby Simha, Sharath Ravi, K. Muthukumar)
Karthik literally saves this whole anthology film from imminent doom. He proves that if you give an idiot any kind of resources, they’ll make shit, but if you give a smart person the same amount of resources, they’ll create magic. Subbaraj is the smart person here and Miracle is his magical creation. The story is very simple. It involves a film director and two thieves. That’s it. But he elevates it from a short film to a truly memorable and enjoyable short film through the tone, the visuals (Take a bow Shreyaas Krishna), his actors, the editing (Take a bow Vivek Harshan), and the execution of the themes of religious propaganda and redemption. It’s so fat free and gets straight to the point without losing any of its flair and the audience’s attention. Like I said, it’s smart storytelling. The three actors in the movie, Bobby, Sharath, and Muthukumar, definitely deserve a shout-out for their performances. It’s just perfect and given how it was made during lockdown, I think this film will motivate budding filmmakers to not lose hope as the pandemic is still not coming to an end and make their own short films. Well done, Karthik, well done!
Just watch the first and last short films and call it a day. And if you’re in the mood to watch trashy stuff, don’t watch the first and last short films and just watch the ones in the middle. I won’t suggest watching all of them because you’ll come out of it feeling very conflicted. Because as a whole Putham Pudhu Kaalai isn’t a very well-thought out anthology film. It seems unplanned due to the lack of an overarching narrative. Maybe that was the plan all along but then someone should’ve made sure that all of them were qualitatively good. From my perspective, it just looks really uneven. An argument can be made that they were made during lockdown and hence can’t be held to a certain standard. However, the very existence of Ilamai Idho Idho and Miracle show that excellence art can be made despite being confined.
Putham Pudhu Kaalai is streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.
Cover image courtesy: Amazon Prime Video India