A haughty old man, who is estranged from his son for over 12 years, starts looking at life in a different perspective when his grandson comes to stay with him.
For retired Tamil teacher Subbu (Balu Mahendra), it is his religion, caste and language that are close to his heart. For 12 years, he has not been on speaking terms with his son Sivaraman (Sashi Kumar), a doctor, who married Stella (Ramya Shankar), a Christian girl and an orphan, against his wishes. But when Sivaraman hears that his father had suffered a stroke, he goes to his village at the insistence of Stella, who wants their son Aditya (Master Karthick) to get to know his grandfather.
This is the set up of Balu Mahendra's
, a drama on human relationships that puts across the one question that matters in the end — 'who am I?' Midway into the film, Aditya gives a photograph of himself to his asks his grandfather if he could say who the person in the photograph is. The old man replies that it is just a piece of paper and questions the kid who he really is. Subbu delivers this line in a haughty manner, probably expecting his grandson to acknowledge his lineage (in the form of religion and caste) but even he doesn't realize the profoundness in his question. In a later scene, the village's pastor asks the boy if he is a Hindu or Christian, and the kid says that he is Aditya, and only then we realize how the boy has come to terms with his self.
It is this kind of understatement that sets
apart from current films. The scenes mostly come across as moments captured from the life of the film's characters rather than as part of a narrative. The director shoots the film with minimal fuss — the shots are held longer than in present-day films, and the camera often stays at rest, capturing everything in its frame. Ilaiyaraaja's background score too features large stretches of silences that feel alien to the insistent sounds in commercial films. Even the emotional scenes are not underscored with stirring music and it is left to us to imbibe the emotions from the performances. And this simplicity is reflected even in the scenes showing the bonding of grandfather and grandson. The kid doesn't know Tamil (Stella is from Bangalore and she converses with her husband mainly in English) and the old man isn't used to English. He begins teaching the boy Tamil and we see shots of them learning from each other at various locations and at various times, and they build up a rapport over time.
It is only in the pre-interval scene that there is a sense of urgency — a lady comes to Subbu and pleads with him to save her son who has been bitten by a snake — and the scene feels quite cinematic but this is probably because it is in our habit to expect a twist during at the interval point.
The only problem with the film is that it resolves many of the characters' issues quite conveniently. It redeems Subbu when he starts bonding with his grandson but never quite acknowledges his patriarchal mindset that dashed the hopes of his daughter. We get a scene where the daughter tells her brother that their father took out the anger he had for his son on her by putting an end to her studies and turning her into a child-bearing machine. But we never see Subbu recognizing his failings with respect to his daughter. In fact, while he instantly develops an attachment with his son's offspring, we are left wondering about his relationship with his other grandsons, who were born to his daughter. Maybe, Balu Mahendra wants to tell us that it is not possible to right all the wrongs we have done in our lifetime.
We also wish that the argument between Sivaraman and Stella over Aditya staying in the village had a bit more bite. It is a bit hard to believe that he gives in so easily when Stella counters his very valid reservations with the simple point that Aditya will learn much because Siva himself had studied in the village. Less practical and more romantic.
But there is plenty of genuineness and warmth, which, elevated by the minimalist storytelling and genteel performances (director-actor Sasikumar's cameo is the only false note) turn this simple film into the feel-good film of the year.
Strictly for those who like leisurely-paced slice of life films that are more enlightening than they are entertaining.