Writer & Director: Pandian Sooravali
Editor: Anbila Mathi K
Cinematography: Pandian Sooravali
Cast: Fenny, Manigandan, Santhosh Raaj Kumar, Saranya Sara, Subramanian, Guna Sundhari, Dhasthakir
Dilemma is a black-and-white film that’s divided into chapters. In the very first chapter, we see a fixed frame. The camera is fixed outside a window and we see what’s going on in the house through its bars. It’s been raining outside and a man named Selvam steps in, dries himself and pours out a glass of brandy. Slowly, we find out more about him: he lives in a matchbox-sized flat and yet, has a roommate called Murthy, a daily wage painter.
Selvam is a Rajinikanth fan and the wall is covered with his posters. He’s sharing a room with Murthy as he’s a member of a Rajini rasigar mandram and can get him tickets for early screenings. Gradually, we discover that Selvam is having an affair with a married woman. And having discovered this, you’d imagine that this is the crux of chapter one. But it’s actually the fact that Murthy wants to borrow a hundred bucks from Selvam.
Slowly, you begin to realize the aesthetic principle of the film: it shows everything in great detail as if it’s happening in real time, as if we are in the room with the people, and observing them. Typically events are edited out for the common movie audience. For example, if someone is searching for something in Dilemma, we see him shine his torch on every single place. It’s not like he looks at just a couple of places and finds it. If someone makes a half-boiled egg, we witness almost the entire preparation. We don’t see a strangling and then a death; instead, we see the strangling happen in real time. We almost seem to sense the last gasps of air slipping out of the man.
In Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan’s The Mosquito Philosophy, there may be a tiny movement happening in Tamil Indie cinema. Alfred Hitchcock said ‘what is drama but life with the dull bits cut out.’ The Mosquito Philosophy and Dilemma put those dull bits back in. This doesn’t mean that the films themselves are dull. It’s just that events seem to be happening in real time. A normal movie editor would cut a lot of them out.
These filmmakers are, in a way, playing with time. Instead of compressing it and showing only the important events, dialogues and characters, they are expanding time and letting the film breathe. Everything is shown in real time, and in great detail. They are putting us with these characters with almost a documentary-like approach, though the films aren’t documentaries at all. There are some very cinematic touches in these films. For example, two chapters in Dilemma are reversed deliberately. We witness an event happening and are a bit confused about it, until the reasoning for it comes in the following chapter.
There’s also suspense and drama like in a regular film. It’s just that — like life — the dull bits are put back in. This makes the film more natural and lifelike. The director, Pandian Sooravali, who is also the cinematographer either moves the camera minimally or keeps it still. Combined with the cramped spaces in the film, it gives us a constant feeling of claustrophobia.
Another similarity between Dilemma and The Mosquito Philosophy is that they take regular Tamil film tropes like sarakku and figure-u to expose the ugliness in the heart’s of men. It’s a little too soon to say whether we’re watching the birth of a new Tamil indie movement, but more power to these filmmakers.
Dilemma: Some Adults Story is available for streaming on Moviewud.