Directed by: Rojin Thomas
Writer: Rojin Thomas
Cast: Sreenath Bhasi, Johny Antony, Nalsen, Indrans, Manju Pillai
Cinematography: Neil D'Cunha
Edited by: Prejish Prakash
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
The beauty of #Home is that everyone, irrespective of age, gender, geography, will see a bit of themselves in it. Rojin Thomas' film about one family in Kerala contains universal truths about families everywhere – the fraught relationship between fathers and sons as children become adults and find their own voice; the acts of casual callousness that children, even loving ones, inflict without thinking on their parents; the distance that smartphones, social media and technology have created even in the most tight-knit families; the alienation that parents feel; the way in which mothers are taken for granted and critically, the importance of goodness and decency, which ultimately trump fame and success.
Three generations of the Oliver Twist family live under one roof. The name comes from the grandfather's fondness for English novels. He also named Oliver's brother Peter Pan and his sister, Mary Poppins. #Home is filled with lovely little details like this – in one scene, Oliver is washing his older son Antony's car. The younger son, Charles, notices this but instead of helping, he requests his father to also wash his scooter. Antony and Charles aren't awful, neglectful kids. They are just too busy with their own lives and too sure that they are smarter than the folks who raised them. Oliver used to run a video cassette library which was shut down when the technology became obsolete. He now spends much of his time tending to his terrace garden. The boys might have affection for him but he is definitely not their role model. He seems much too ordinary for that.
Charles, played with a nicely comical slacker vibe by Nalsen, is a YouTuber, hooked to social media. The older Antony, played by a solid Sreenath Bhasi, is a film director who made a hit first film. But two years later, he's still trying to put together his next project. Sitting in a messy apartment – even his bean bag has holes in it – he is struggling with writer's block. Antony has the dates of a big star but he can't come up with a climax for his script. His producer suggests that to find inspiration, he should return to where he wrote his first film. So Antony moves back home.
Much of #Home is set in a multi-level house where the family lives. In recent Malayalam films, homes have been the site for deep dysfunction and death – think Joji, Kala, Kuruthi – but this film's default mode is a lingering sweetness, much of which comes from Indrans who plays Oliver Twist. His diminutive frame and unassuming manner speak volumes. Oliver isn't an imposing patriarch. He's a timid man with modest dreams who only wants to have a deeper communication with his sons. Indrans plays him with a touch of bumbling affection and charm. Oliver buys a smartphone but can't even figure out how to take a photo. The device only further undermines his authority. In Oliver, Indrans somehow combines bruised dignity with good cheer.
The film goes overboard in making a case for limiting phone usage. At one point, Oliver starts to see a counsellor who gives an extended lecture on how phone addiction creates anxiety and disconnection, almost as though the film is a public service announcement. The film also makes a case for seeking help for mental health – we are told that it's like cleaning the rooms of your mind. The intention is laudable but the screenplay, also written by Rojin, inevitably becomes flabby. At two hours and forty-one minutes, #Home is much too long.
But these characters and situations are so relatable that you stay with the story – in one scene, Charles is trying to explain how apps work to his father, who is taking notes. The exasperation on Charles' face is something all parents have seen. Or take the mother, Kuttiyamma played by a terrific Manju Pillai. She keeps this family together. At one point, she loses her temper and lashes out at the entitled behaviour of her sons, asking – who are you two kings come down from heaven? As a mother of grown-up kids, I can tell you, all parents have, at some point, felt this.
Rojin cranks up the emotions, taking the narrative to a climax which will leave you teary-eyed. It's unabashedly manipulative, underlined by soaring music by Rahul Subrahmanian but it works. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that everyone lives happily ever after – this isn't a movie that could end any other way. But through it, Rojin also gives us the definition of home.
#Home is simplistic, both in narrative and craft, and overwrought. But it's also a heart-warming celebration of family and the ties that bind us.
You can watch the film on Amazon Prime Video.