A car is left in the care of a genial landlord, who along with his wife, driver and villagers, gets very attached to it. Will they be able to handle it when the car is taken from them?
In this age of hyper editing and ramping shots, SU Arunkumar's
shows that there is still room for languid storytelling; that, lingering on a scene for long doesn't always get the audience restless. In fact, the film itself has just a single hook — the love a few characters have for a car — and every scene that unspools on screen is a reiteration of this one theme. And, yet, the film is always charming!
A genial landlord (the unnamed Pannaiyar in the film) is captivated by a Padmini car the moment he lays his eyes on it. This car belongs to his friend and circumstances force him to leave the car in the Pannaiyar's hands. The Pannaiyar is thrilled that he gets to be the de facto owner of the car for some time (even though he doesn't know how to drive it) and so are his villagers. And that is where Murugesan enters. He is a tractor driver (who races — and loses — to kids on bicycles) but becomes the designated driver for the car and soon, the car becomes a cherished thing for everyone in the village, turning into an all-purpose vehicle. It becomes an ambulance of sorts when a person is bitten by a snake, is used to relocate a dead man, and even takes stranded passengers when the local mini bus breaks down. But, for the Pannaiyar, his wife Chellamma and Murugesan, it is a beloved family member. So, when it is taken from them, their world becomes colourless and only the car's return will bring back joy.
Expanding his much-loved short film into a full-length feature, Arunkumar shows that he is a capable storyteller. He takes his time spinning his yarn but there is an assuredness in the telling that keeps you hooked. The film is filled with lovely moments (Gokul Benoy's burnished frames and Justin Prabhakar's soothing score only enhances the effect) and interesting characters, right from the Pannaiyar himself. He is a landlord, yes, and is always the person to introduce newer things in the village — including a toilet! In a montage to set up the character, the director shows the villagers looking in awe at the squat toilet, even as the Pannaiyar gets in to take a dump, and at that moment, sets the lighthearted tone of the film. And, Jayaprakash plays this character not as a privileged man but as a nice man who happens to be rich. His easygoing relationship with his wife Chellamma (an equally good Thulasi) is a delightful take on salt-and-pepper romance and fittingly, this duo gets the film's most romantic song,
. Vijay Sethupathi nails the little shades in Murugesan's character — he is fond of the Pannaiyar and the car but he gets insecure when the Pannaiyar wants to learn driving, and so, even tries to stop him from pursuing it. Then, there is Peruchali aka Peedai, the house-help, who bestows ill luck on anyone he wishes well and the role should be a breakthrough for Balasaravanan, who fits the part of comic sidekick pretty well.
True, there are a few problems, and foremost is the length of the film. Yes, the storytelling has to be languid for this material, but the film is overlong by 15-20 minutes (the editing is by Sreekar Prasad) and even though things never turn dull, we, at times, get the feeling of going round in circles. The romance between Murugesan and Malar is perfunctory, probably included because the character is played by Vijay Sethupathi, and a hero needs a heroine in Tamil cinema — even if she is missing for large parts of the film. The character of the Pannaiyar's daughter (she is played by TV's Neelima Rani) is somewhat of a caricature, and we wonder how this sole character could be negative in a film brimming with positive characters (even the driver and conductor of the mini bus, who often indulge in a game of one-upmanship with Murugesan are shown as competitive but good-natured fellows). Did her father's benevolence and amiability towards everyone turn her into a needy, self-centred person? At least, with her (non-speaking) husband, we get that the character is there only for laughs. And, the framing device that Arunkumar uses to tell his story — a young man (
Dinesh) who has bought a car of his own looking back on the car ride that remains an unfulfilled dream (he is shown as a young boy who tries hard to save five rupees, with which he could ride in the front seat) — doesn't really carry any emotional heft.
And, yet, when we exit the theatre, what we fondly look back upon are the genuinely feel-good moments that make the film irresistible.