Manikandan, the director of probably the best Tamil movie of the decade, Kaaka Muttai, is back with his next, Kuttrame Thandanai. He has once again taken the job of a cinematographer as well. Anucharan, another director and Manikandan’s dear friend, has taken care of editing, and the Maestro Ilaiyaraja has done the original score of the film. The film deals with a crime and the set of events and persons related to it. Let us explore how the movie has unfolded..
The opening credits roll out in an attractive manner. They themselves explain the nature (just the rudimentary, outside nature though) of each and every character, by a remarkably thought-out visual representation. The introductory scenes are set in a crowded apartment complex, and we observe the things that go on in the neighbourhood from the vantage of Ravi’s (Vidharth) flat, through his tunnel vision, his physical limitation. He can only see what’s directly ahead, which appears as a small circle in a sea of black. It’s like a frame that’s been paused from an iris shot. He also has a concentric circle drawn on his wall, which explains us the level of his vision with a timeline. Then, we see a neighbour getting murdered (An ode to Alfred Hitchcock, and his cult, Rear Window). The director unfolds everything in a neatly packed manner, paving way for the audience to think of the next scene. But unlike the Stewart character in Rear Window, Ravi scampers through to manage his own life. He’s a credit-card collection agent who goes after the overdue payments and those customers. The major difference is while Rear Window’s sole focus was on the murder, Manikandan takes a different route here. Ravi is just a simple, practical modern-day man, who has the impulse to do the right thing, but only for himself. Ravi needs lots of money (at least by his standards) for an eye surgery. He’s seen people coming and going into the murdered woman’s house. The irony is that a near-blind man is the only eyewitness. He latches on to the opportunity for extortion, which we think happen rather coincidentally. It’s tunnel vision of another kind. It is established that Ravi has eyes only for his own problems (Ironically metaphorical – a brilliant set up of the premise by the director) .
We all already know how good a filmmaker Manikandan is. It is agreed that he is just two films old, but the vision of his completely evident right from the first scene of his first, Kaaka Muttai. He never oversells a moment and there is no room for any kind of emotional manipulation. The best example is the scene where Ravi explains about his tunnel vision condition and reveals that he has been having this problem since childhood, and he thought this is how everyone sees, has a huge scope for such manipulation. But, we don’t get any of that. It just stays as yet another information that we want to know about that character. We see everything through the eyes of Ravi (through the tunnel of his vision, to be exact), and we see only the things that he sees. There is no deviation whatsoever. We learn only a feeble amount about others, because of the fact that the director charts Ravi’s journey, and through his vision, these characters only act as sidekicks. Vidharth brings to life Ravi in a terrific, yet low-key way, of a man who just doesn’t brag, but keeps on moving about life. He gives this kind of superlative performances only if he works with proper filmmakers, who can extract the best out of their actors (somewhat similar to Attakathi Dinesh). Pooja Devariya is wonderful yet again as Anu (after nailing down the role of Malar in Iraivi), as are Marimuthu (as a Police Inspector) and Guru Somasundaram, who is already on a roll after Joker, nails the ingratiating nature of a lawyer’s Junior. The scene in which he explains to Ravi about himself was a riot. Aishwarya Rajesh as Swetha plays the victim, which is quite a bold role to play. She doesn’t regret about her choices, which is exactly the same way Ravi is.
The crimes of these persons result in them getting punishments (as the title suggests). Everybody in this movie who indulge in a crime suffer some sort of punishment, either physically or mentally. Pooja Dewariya gives the phone numbers and she loses her job. The three men in Swetha’s life get punished one way or the other. Even Nasser is facing some kind of mental punishment, as he has a feeling of remorse, of him living all alone and about his son not taking care of him, which might be due to a mistake he did earlier. Manikandan uses a soft approach and handles these scenes. He doesn’t become a propagandist and goes for the high-octane stuff. Everything remains low-key. Even the moral of the story is dropped with subtle dialogues. Nasser’s role comes off as someone who wants to maintain the conscience, and the statements like “Edhu thevaiyo, adhu Dharmam“, add to that fact. This low-key approach makes us uncomfortable when Rahman makes an important confession, which runs like a voiceover. The writing looks strained at this particular point, to make the audiences understand the plot points and the mysteries, which happens yet again at the end, where all the twists unravel rather hastily. Yet, the outstanding performances make us look over these things.
One can’t pinpoint a flaw in this movie, which, in itself, is a major success for Manikandan. The running time is a mere 99 minutes. Had he extended the end a bit and revealed all the twists a bit slowly, we would’ve said that he had hit the bull’s-eye in all aspects. A simple Jataka statement is underlined by the core plot of the movie in a subtle (low-key, yet again) manner. There is a huge amount of restraint shown by the director before spelling out the moral of the story, ‘Crime is the Punishment’. This restraint shows the need of our times to dress the obvious with many decorations. A thing broad as a daylight is refuted, as unseen people put on their grey coats.What is the necessity for audience to travel along with characters on a moral journey to arrive at an equation they already knew ? ‘Am I aware of what’s going to happen next?’ – The audience are tempted to ask, which is pretty much a symptom of our delusional grey gang. The director nudges us right from the word go to reflect on our narrowing vision. The only problem with the majority of our audience is, they always like the in-your-face type movies, which hold them by the scruff of their necks and say (rather spit) everything at them. When something is told in a matured, realistic, low-key tone, it doesn’t really go well. Manikandan, though, manages to hang on to that fine thread to reach out to all types of audience. But, the compromises he’s done to bring it down to the normal audience is visible here, unlike Kaaka Muttai.
Multi-tasking is always a bit difficult in modern-day cinema. But, Manikandan has wonderfully handled the cinematography department along with his direction, with an array of beautiful shots, showing the places that Ravi travel in a realistic manner. There is a very minimal usage of artificial lights, which makes the movie more pleasing to the eye. The background score by Ilaiyaraja is excellent. Though it becomes the USP of the movie in certain scenes, I wish certain scenes could’ve been done without any score accompanying it. The use of background score in this movie is somewhat similar to that of Kaaka Muttai, where a lot of scenes could’ve been dealt with in silence. The score, at times keeps repeating that what we are watching is an intense thriller, which I think reduces the sensibility of Manikandan’s writing, though it’s been done intentionally to have a connect with the audience. So, if one is able to appreciate low-key thrillers and intense character studies, Kuttrame Thandanai is a treat to watch. It can be recommended just to visualise the skills of Manikandan – the writer, director and the cinematographer, on show.
Kuttrame Thandanai – Edhu thevaiyo, adhu dharmam!!!