In Rojin Thomas's #Home, one of the characters is a filmmaker played by Sreenath Bhasi thats shaped from cliches about creative artists. They like to live alone, have cluttered dwellings, and are self absorbed. When we first meet Bhasi's Anthony, he is also struggling to complete a script for a big star, having a case of writer's block— another cliche. Writers crave validation, and in the social media era, validation fixes are readily available through posts, tweets and likes, and Anthony, it appears, has great social media game. But there is a point where validation fixes stop being just fixes, and Anthony seems past that point. As we learn later courtesy a mini lecture from a psychologist, he is addicted to social media. (An artist with an addiction— that's a cliche if I ever met one). Cliches or otherwise, I still liked that Anthony is a well defined character, and Bhasi plays it so minimalistically that these facets are almost invisible like the script in his head that he can't seem to get across.
At the other end of the spectrum from the hotshot filmmaker is his father — a man defined by the dreary ordinariness of the many mundane chores he does. When we first meet him, he is wiping urine off the floor. He washes his son's car, tends to his plants. There's an ironic twist that this nondescript man is named Oliver Twist— after the boy whose life is literally defined by its adventures. In an eye roll moment, Anthony casually remarks to his father that his life is so unremarkable that his story would barely fill a page, let alone a a book. But Indrans, who plays Oliver, breathes such life into the mundane, that even his muted mannerisms exude a generous warmth. Take the scene where Anthony makes that cruel remark. Indrans doesnt react immediately. He calmly excuses himself, walks down to the living room and when he finds it occupied, he makes another excuse, and walks out to the gate. There he finally takes a moment to cry in the dark, and even then, it's not a melodramatic outpouring of hurt, but a rather gentle moment with a little trickle.
That's because Oliver is a gentle little man— he is small in stature, puny in physique, and in many ways, a stand in for ageing parents who grow smaller as the world that's left them behind grows larger. Like so many of his kind, he's a fish out of water, trying to navigate the virtual world of smartphones and social media— there's even a literal fish out of water moment early in the film. But what defines Oliver is that rather than sink into self indulgence, he wants to do what it takes to be part of the new world – even if it's just to be more emotionally connected to his son, Anthony.
But in a way, Anthony is a fish out of water too. When he wrote his first script— a super successful one— he wrote it at their family home, drawing from the lives around him. But now, he struggles to write his second one there, as that home has since changed, and more importantly, he's grown bigger and distant from what it is, from what he once was. That is a feeling so many of us who move far away from our parental homes can relate to. That emotional distance is most acutely expressed in the strained relationship Anthony has with his father, a man rooted in the bygone era of videotapes, corded phones, and photo albums. Anthony is far too self-consumed in his new smartphone addled writer's life, where he has adopted a new father (-in-law) figure whom he calls "Daddy" as opposed to his own Papa. The new Daddy is more in tune with the new Anthony, having lived a life exciting enough to write an autobiography, one that is unsubtly titled "It's all about me".
#Home is then not just the story of Oliver and Anthony finding their way back to each other, but also about them finding themselves. Oliver tries to do that by consulting with a Tai-Chi instructing psychologist who helps him "declutter his mind." This psychologist is the kind we only find in movies, the kind who gives Oliver a one line diagnosis based on a Rorschach test. But that one line diagnosis, likening Oliver to a boy who stopped running when he came to a ditch, has an unexpectedly touching payoff when Oliver narrates his "extraordinary" story.
Anthony, in contrast, navigates his troubles by trying to change the environment around him and lashing out at people who care for him. And it's in a late scene, one that seems shoehorned into the script, where we get his "diagnosis". We learn, through a couple of loan officers, that Anthony once used to be a salaried architect, and that a loan was issued under the promise of Anthony's old profession, and even if he has since moved on, he still needed to pay his monthly dues. In a way, that's what his father is looking from him as well, a steady connection to his old life, even if he has moved on to an exciting new one. As the loan officer remarks, "At least pick up the phone when we call."
At the heart of #Home is really a cliche about generational differences, and how technology & social media can distance people. But it's the way it's spelled out in specifics, in characters, and conflicts, that breathes life into the film. I particularly liked how Oliver's friend, Suryan, is more than just a comic relief. Suryan's character is shaped as a contrast to Oliver— he's big, edgy and adept with technology. He is also a cynical hypochondriac, but this is refreshingly treated as a condition, and it makes for casual everyday humour instead of cheap laughs. There's a cheerful chemistry between Indrans and Johny Antony who plays Suryan, and a lived-in feel to their characters' relationship especially in the way they're integrated in each other's families.
It's perhaps a testament to the quality of ensemble dramedies in Malayalam cinema, that some of the other characters who were merely serviceable, like the women, felt like outliers. The mother, Kuttyamma, for instance is mostly portrayed as weary and frustrated, and although that is the state her character finds herself in— and Manju Pillai really disappears into that role— I still found it repetitive. But there's a couple of beautiful moments between Oliver and Kuttyamma that cuts through that. Like early on when Oliver is lying silently awake in bed, Kuttyamma senses he is hurt by something, and gently prods him to talk about it. Or in a later scene, when Oliver makes a casual joke about her nursing profession to guests, and then, a moment later, explains in a soft tone how at this age she continues to be a nurse to help his ailing father. These are small moments that show a sensitive side to two people caught in a rut of dreary domesticity.
#Home is laced with a lot of lovely little moments which pad the runtime without adding much to the central premise. But the unpretentious staging, an understated warmth in the performances, led by an endearing Indrans, all make it worthwhile. This is a movie with a lot of heart. And like an ageing heart, propped up by stents and grafts, the film is also propped by cliches and contrivances, none of which really took away from how I felt. There's a grand reveal in the end about the "extraordinary story" that ties everything a little too neatly, but even that is met with a reaction that's more casual than cathartic. That aside, this is really an ordinary story about ordinary people. And tucked into that ordinary story is a little message about storytelling, which is as much about charting a magical journey with intrigue and adventure, as it is about the deeper magic of pulling the extraordinary out of the ordinary.