Director: George Kora
Cast: Dr. Ramkumar, George Kora
I don’t remember the last time a story felt so private and yet so familiar.
Private: because the prospect of a grown man visiting his distant father after the mother’s demise can be an awkward affair. The balancing beam is gone, and two male adults – a breed notorious for its inability to express – must meet midway through the tightrope. They want to reach out to each other, but will identify the most roundabout ways of doing so. They want to reconnect – or rather, connect – but in a language that doesn’t require them to verbally convey their desires.
For instance, the film opens with an ageing Malayali father (Dr. Ramkumar), who otherwise feels the need to maintain his air of stoic authority, secretly learning how to speak Hindi. Shopkeepers are amused, but the man is dogged. We don’t know why. A few scenes later, we hear the visiting son speak on the cellphone to his Mumbai-based wife…in broken Hindi. Now we know why. Without so much as a flashback, we sense the clouded years of a family divided by a son wanting to marry outside his caste. Without so much as a dialogue, we sense a man deciding to mend bridges by reaching out to his daughter-in-law in a language she understands, rather than one he wished she understood. In a way, this is him expressing his acceptance – and, by extension, his affection – for his son.
Similarly, the boy, in an effort to embrace his stubborn old man, does what his mother might have once done. He cuts his father’s messy toenails, and cooks up a storm in the kitchen, conforming to the Malayalam movie trope of using food and beverage as more than just aesthetic devices. This is his way of reminding his father that he can be just as important as the woman who left them. When he wants to give his father a crucial piece of news, he manages to locate a strategy in which he is not face-to-face but within earshot when his father indirectly receives this update. Who knew that the most perplexing flaw of traditional masculinity could also make for the year’s most endearing cinematic moment?
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Familiar: because the ordinary Indian father-son relationship, across cultures and regions, tends to be the communicative equivalent of a missed call. One is physically unavailable when the other has questions; the other is emotionally unavailable when one has all the answers. The timing is never right, and the wavelengths never match. Yet, in the more fortunate cases, there is always that one fleeting window – in this film, some days of summer – in which the call goes through. And the reception is clear. It’s up to the individuals in question to recognize, and seize, this window of opportunity. First-time director George Kora (who wrote last year’s Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela; also plays the son here) beautifully captures this rift in time, without ever highlighting how rare it is.
He allows his film to play out like a stream of holiday mornings – the kind that characters experience without quite expecting them to turn into lasting memories. As a young man, the son’s perspective – that of perceiving the cyclical closure of parenthood – might have come naturally to Kora. But it’s his design of the old adult’s moments alone that paints a portrait that transcends the film’s 20-minute running time. The camera focuses on photograph frames, a table fan, his tiny homeopathy clinic and the gradual transformation of a man who would rather die than admit to his heartbreaking sense of isolation.
Kora’s filmmaking remains simple and charming, too. An example is the background theme – a few guitar strings that seem incomplete in the beginning when the two are ill at ease slowly merge to form a melody as the days pass. In the end, this core becomes a piece of music – with a sense of fullness and continuity, much like the evolving psychology of the family it depicts. For better or worse, it hints at the inherent irony of a people that would much rather tolerate a lifetime of stormy skies and teary monsoons before summoning the courage to enjoy the summer sun. And the summer of the son.