Kalyani (Ram), a school dropout with a non-paying job, is obsessively affectionate towards his nine-year-old daughter Chellamma (Sadhana), who lives in a world of her own. But the realities of everyday life separate them. Can the bond between father and daughter withstand the tests of fate and bring them together again?
Ram managed to create a cult following for himself with his very first film,
. His follow-up,
is in many ways a mirror image of the director's flawed but fascinating debut film. Like Prabhakar in that film, Kalyani, this film's lead character, wants to live in his own world and so struggles to cope up the realities of everyday life. He is a school dropout, having married his classmate Vadivu even before finishing school, and does a menial job (silverware polisher) that doesn't even guarantee him a regular income (he hasn't got the salary for the past six months). He is a constant embarrassment to his parents, under whose roof he is forced to live with Vadivu and his Chellamma, despite the slights hurled by his father (Poo Ram), a retired teacher, and the unconcealed contempt of his mother (Rohini).
But as long as he is near Chellamma, who looks up to him for everything, all these do not matter. She is clearly a dyslexic child, although none of the teachers in her 'prestigious' private school realize it. So, she is labelled W, for not being able to rightly differentiate between the alphabets W and M, and branded a dimwit. And, here again, there are parallels to Kattradhu Tamizh. Just as Anandhi's life seemed better when Prabhakar was around, all is well in Chellamma's world when she is with her father. To these women, the men in their lives are a crutch and vice versa, and these characters feed off the fantasies of each other, creating a world for themselves where ideal — and not money — is the driving force. Sadly, it is money, particularly the lack of it that brings their worlds crashing down. Prabhakar's Tamil degree was an impediment to his success in the other film; here, it is Kalyani's obsessive affection towards Chellamma and his desire to be with his daughter at all times, at the cost of personal progress that very much separates them. Even the decision that these characters arrive at towards the end to preserve their make-believe worlds feels similar.
shares many of
's film's strengths and flaws. It is a well-intentioned effort, strikingly shot, and held together by persuasive performances. At the same time, it is also relentlessly grim and bludgeons you into submitting to the point of view of the filmmaker, and by the time it ends, makes you believe you have personally gone through the ordeals of the film's characters. But, thankfully, it doesn't have the intense — and incredibly misplaced — anger that scorched through the latter, to leave you feeling miserable in the end. In its place, there is a welcome amount of poetry and grey, and a little bit of warmth, which shows a filmmaker evolving, trying to polish off his rough edges.
Take the scene where Kalyani goes to the house of Evita, who Chellamma mentions as her favourite teacher. When the door is opened, it is by Evita's husband (Arul Dass), who seems a gruff person. He is suspicious (after all, it is well into the night) but calls out for his wife. When we first see Evita, she is teary-eyed, and we immediately think that somehow it is her husband who is the cause for her tears. He hands her the phone as Kalyani wants Evita to speak to his daughter, but puts it on loudspeaker. Evita speaks and Chellamma's words inject some joy into her mysteriously dreary world. Later, Ram cuts to show her husband wondering at Kalyani's love for his daughter, and, in that moment, makes you realize he might not be a bad person after all. We might never know the reason for Evita's tears, but this person might not be behind it.
There are also other scenes that show Ram maturing as a filmmaker. In a throwaway shot during a song in the latter part of the film, we see Kalyani's mother and wife sharing a happy moment, which makes you refine your opinion on his mother, who constantly faults her daughter-in-law and even removes her granddaughter's photo before her own daughter's return from Australia. The bond between Kalyani and Vadivu is also never spelt out. The love that forced them to get married even before passing out of school might have been buried under the harsh reality of their family life but the embers have managed to stay hot, fanning a fire every now and then.
But such moments of restraint get overwhelmed at times by full-scale melodrama. When Kalyani leaves the house, the sky bursts open, he has to beg to a teacher to forgive Chellamma, he gets beaten up when he tries to find the whereabouts of the 'rainmaker', which would help him buy the 'Vodafone Dog' that his daughter wants, and finally, he is forced to literally climb mountains (and in a single day!) to make his daughter's wish come true.
While its feel-good moments involving the drama in Kalyani's family are mostly genuine, the film feels a little false whenever Ram turns this relationship drama into a propaganda vehicle on the pros and cons of our educational system. The school scenes are the film's weakest ones, and Stella, the teacher who is forever harsh on Chellamma, seems to belong in the world of last year's Sattai, a preachy film if there was one. And, the ultimate denouement that it is uncaring teachers who are responsible for Chellamma's problems comes across as finger-pointing rather than provocative.