Bench Talkies, the first anthology of Tamil shorts to receive a theatrical release, was something you sat through with caveats. Okay, it’s not great, but these are amateur filmmakers… Okay, they didn’t have a big-enough budget… Even so, it was hard to get past some of the shorts that strained to be lyrical, profound – even in this abbreviated screen time, they wanted to leave us with a message. Aviyal, the second anthology, is a huge improvement – not just in terms of craft and performances, but also because the filmmakers don’t expect us to watch with caveats. They’re saying: “We’re not amateurs, cutting our teeth on short films. We’re pros, making shorts because we want to make shorts.” And this is the only message, delivered right at the beginning, in Shammeer Sultan’s story of a man who, while waiting for his order of bread omelette in a hotel, begins to talk. Who is he talking to? It’s a wicked twist, and mercifully, one that’s not hammered home. We’re not meant to slap our heads. We’re meant to smile and move on.
Mohit Mehra’s Sruthi Bedham finds a young man in the throes of an existential dilemma: What if your chitti, your mother’s youngest sister, just a year older than you, turned out to be a hottie? After all, if a girl can marry her thaaimaaman, why not this? Every time the young man thinks of his hottie chitti, he smiles, and then he remembers what she is to him – the smile vanishes. This utterly delightful short takes more risks with the romance than I’ve seen in a while. Apart from the incest angle, there’s a noir element too, with shades of blackmail and even a femme fatale who strings a patsy along. I laughed loud on seeing a literal visualisation of that wonderfully Indian phrase, “nose cut.”
If Sruthi Bedham rejuvenates the romance, Kalam, directed by Lokesh Kanakaraj, buffs up the action movie, with a face-off between a gang of pickpockets and a film crew. The chases, the cleanly edited fights are an up-yours to the action clichés we get from Kollywood – there’s not a single gravity-defying move. And the background for the big action set piece? An Ayyappa chant. Kanneer Anjali, by Guru Smaran, tries to do too much, with a mix of horror and family drama woven into a drug-smuggling plot. It drags on a bit. But Alphonse Putharen’s Eli is a stunner. There are big names in this segment (Nivin Pauly, Bobby Simha), but no one is bigger than the plot, which throws in everything from noisy lovemaking to shootouts to tall tales based on myth. It isn’t just coitus that’s interrupted – it’s the narrative too. Eli feels like a nasty little Poe story remade by Tarantino, and I can’t imagine anything like this coming out in Kollywood, ever.
- Aviyal = see here
- thaaimaaman = mother’s brother
- chitti = mother’s younger sister
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