“In Loving Memory of KL-36-D-1743. Introducing Nano as Nannappan,” reads one of the opening cards of Gauthamante Radham. In any other film, a standalone introducing credit for a first timer is usually reserved for the launch vehicle of a star kid. In Gauthamante, the vehicle is the star. It’s also an indication of the ‘sharkara sweet’ brand of feel-good this film will explore, appealing to that folder in one’s heart-disk called “Pixar Movies”.
And this mood is important for us to buy into the overall niceness of a family that looks at a car, an orange Nano, as one of its members, even giving it a name. Gauthaman (a very likeable Neeraj Madhav), the family’s youngest (human), is one of those kids who grows up in a room full of car posters, instead of sports stars. When he listens to his grandma’s narrations of The Mahabharata, his hero isn’t Arjuna or Bheema. It’s Krishna, because he’s the one who gets to ride the chariot. He remembers the first car he ever saw, the first car he ever sat in and the feeling of holding the steering wheel for the first time (his teacher even compares it to touching a woman). The various chapters in Gauthaman’s life are not defined by the events themselves; it’s always what the events represent in connection to the car. Which means that Gauthaman’s 18th birthday is important only because that’s when he starts taking driving lessons, which, in turn, leads his family buying their first car. Even his first love finds a mention in the film, not because she was, well, his first love (human). It’s because she left him for a man with a bigger…car.
A film that’s narrated in the form of memories, Gauthamante Radham isn’t merely a story of this family’s love for their first car, because Gauthaman doesn’t even like the car to begin with. He wanted his father to buy a bigger, faster car but this Nano is what he ended up with. He begs his father to trade it for something bigger. He even tries to ruin it. In several instances, you see Gauthaman behave like the jealous older brother (he’s the only child) incapable of dealing with all the attention and affection the family’s new favourite seems to be getting.
There’s very little in terms of a real conflict in this film, apart from his dislike for the car. Filled with a series of non-events, you feel as though the film takes forever to get to the point. Scenes can be about nothing and still remain engaging if filled with good humour or wonderful actors. In Gauthamante Radham, we get long stretches, like a road trip to Munnar, that take too much time to give us little extra information. We also get a weak love story that doesn’t add the emotional heft it should have to give the car the importance of having affected a major turnaround in Gauthaman’s life.
But there’s also a flipside to this overall lack of drama. In one way, the film’s even a tad better for this, because there are no artificial events being squeezed in for the sake of drama. And, most importantly, even when the film turns sentimental, certain moments hit us with a hint of genuine love because they’ve been taken right out of life. As we near the film’s conclusion, you understand what the makers were getting at. The car can be a stand-in for so many factors that make up a family. It can be a house, a pet, it can be one’s childhood swing or even a grandfather clock. People outside may come to attach materialistic values like status to these…things. But for insiders, a car or a house, however small they are, represents invaluable memories worth more than the selling price. Gauthamante Radham is a tribute to those MasterCard moments and that innocently Indian emotion we call our first car.