It's the season for anthologies, and Amazon Prime Video gives us one based on the theme of "New Beginnings". The first short is by Sudha Kongara. It features Jayaram, Urvasi, Kalidas Jayaram and Kalyani Priyadarshan — and it has two terrific conceits. One of them I cannot reveal. I'll just say it's about how love literally makes us younger — feel younger, look younger. Indeed, the title is Ilamai Idho Idho. (There's another Ilaiyaraaja song homage in the final short, Miracle, directed by Karthik Subbaraj. Here, the song is Oru kili uruguthu.) The other sweet touch is a small nod to Alaipaayuthey. A couple makes a plan to watch the movie. Then, as they are forced to spend increasing amounts of time together due to the lockdown, they begin to bicker like the characters played by Madhavan and Shalini.
But the film falls into the general mood of this anthology: pleasant but generic. A lot of it is very broadly directed, almost like a big musical number. The musical score is even bigger: it "acts" more than the actors. But the last scene left me with a happy heart, as did some of the performance bits. I loved the look on Kalidas's face when the girl he likes chooses to walk into his room (of the many available in the house). I loved the way Urvasi says "Perfect", when asked how the tea is. All the shorts feature a moment or two that are just… "Perfect" — like Shruti Haasan's vulnerability when speaking to her mother in Coffee, Anyone?, the short directed by Suhasini Mani Ratnam, who plays the oldest sister. Anu Hasan rounds up the trio of siblings.
This short — woven around the mother — could also have been called Miracle. The conceit is that each sister has a brush with some form of motherhood. A pregnancy. A son with developmental issues. And a daughter with psychological issues. But there's too much articulation in the form of dialogues (you hear more than you feel), and the emotional impact is muted: again, pleasant but generic. Rajiv Menon's Reunion is about two estranged classmates, played by Andrea Jeremiah and Sikkil Gurucharan. There's a superb moment where a drug addict (who isn't judged but treated with sympathy) explains the addiction: "Because my dreams were too big for me". There's real poetry in that line, which comes from a singer. There's another beautiful glimpse into the inside of a person, when a wife (played by the always lovely Leela Samson) complains about her husband's workaholism and then adds: "But he took very good care of me for 35 years."
I wished the shorts had matched up to these moments. The closures to the stories feel too easy. I felt everyone started out with a pricklier theme and then decided to veer, instead, into a feel-good zone: pleasant but generic. Gautham Vasudev Menon's Avarum Naanum/Avalum Naanum at least earns its ending. (The physical lockdown is extrapolated to an "emotional" lockdown.) MS Baskar plays Ritu Varma's grandfather. The bit that moved me here was when a man of science transforms, perhaps only momentarily, into a man of faith. A surge of emotion can do that to you, sometimes. I felt it was too "cutesy" a touch to have the grandfather barge into his granddaughter's Zoom meeting, but a second later, he remarks that the many voices on the call made him feel like his large, silent house wasn't silent anymore. Suddenly, it wasn't "cutesy" anymore. The short is certainly pleasant but it isn't generic: it leaves you with the aftertaste of the imperfections in relationships.
Karthik Subbaraj's Miracle is the late-a vandhalum latest-a varuven of the bunch. For one, after four elegantly mounted shorts set in the upper-class homes of people with white-collar jobs, the "low-life" milieu comes as a relief. And two, the film is neither pleasant nor generic: the title justifies itself with this director's trademark twist, and it made me smile. (Speaking of Karthik Subbaraj-isms, there's a filmmaker character named… Michael.) Bobby Simha and Sharath Ravi plan a sort of heist, which… I will leave that for you to discover, but there's real swagger here, from the writing to the brassy music. The way the godman who triggers the proceedings is worked into the plot is the slyest joke of all. The man who promises miracles to others is about to discover his own life isn't going to have one. I wonder if Karthik's start with short films made him use his allotted time so efficiently. He's made better work, but at least in this anthology, his work is the best.