Writer and Director: Vinayak Chandrasekar
Cast: Manikandan, Meetha Raghunath, Ramesh Thilak, Bucks
How does one express love? One may go the route of gifts and flowers. Perhaps a gentle stolen glance or a tiny poem if we’re dealing with a wordsmith? But Mohan has a different love language — it’s food. In one of most adorable depictions of courtships I’ve seen all this year, a no-filter Mohan (played by the phenomenal Manikandan), between mouthfuls of chicken puff, buys his crush a bun butter jam. His eyes light up when the demure Anu (Meetha Raghunath) finally feels comfortable enough to eat around him. Vinayak Chandrasekaran’s film is filled with simple moments that turn sweet little nothings into a delightful comedy with huge emotional payoffs.
Mohan is a middle child, who shares a tiny Chennai home with his exhausted single mother, a bratty younger sister, and older sibling Maha, who comes with her own package deal – husband Ramesh (Ramesh Thilak is a ‘veetodu maapila’ in a film that beautifully enough decides simply not to expand on the matter). A picture of domestic mess and bliss is painted right as the film opens. A pot of tea is busy brewing in the kitchen, dibs on bathroom schedules are seriously discussed, and a couple withdraw to their room to catch a moment to themselves. But there is one unnamed resident in the house we haven’t addressed yet. We hear Mohan even before we see him. For his snore, which shakes up close to every tenant in the apartment, is the imaginary sidekick that much of Good Night is based on.
Mohan might have been named after the sweet-voiced Mic Mohan, but his snores earn him an unforgiving moniker — Motor Mohan. This leads to some obvious chuckles. “My snoring has gone and shattered all my dreams,” our hero laments at the irony, when his catnap scares away a potential girlfriend on a cab ride to work. His family, even if they manage to unsuccessfully hide a laugh here and there, assemble by his side when he grieves over his dry spells. Or at least pretend to. What are families for? Vinayak’s screenplay makes sure to linger on every single character in the film — from Anu’s adorable landlords (Balaji Sakthivel plays one half of a dreamy older couple) to the repulsive IT bossman (Bucks), pausing to show us all their quirks and daily routines that lends itself to being a truly fresh addition to the genre. A picture perfect “fam jam” moment is beautifully choreographed when a steaming pot of home-cooked biryani softens a heated moment. The grumpy faces slowly inch towards the kitchen and the tension vanishes as quickly as it developed.
Good Night is also a superb rumination on the law of attractions. Mohan, as earlier established, has zero filters, and wears his heart on his sleeves – this means that the tears flow as easily as silly anger. Anu, on the other hand, is asocial, and is happy living in her isolated world for a reason. And then we have the outspoken Maha, who is married to Ramesh, a loudmouth water filter technician, whose voice reaches low decibels, when his ridiculously overstepping mother taunts his wife for not bearing a child. The film handles this with surprising depth, and is not scared to scratch more than just the surface. So as we get moments of frothy feel-good fun, we also get candid moments of harsh reality checks that force these characters to look inward. This is also when Good Night goes from being a breezy romp to a film that we’ll perhaps take home with us. The same mother, who chides her daughter’s in-laws for being misogynists, raises an eyebrow when her son’s wife turns up home in a kurti without a dupatta. The same man who supports and convinces her lover to stop deriding herself, yells at her using her own insecurities during a moment of weakness. These small touches of human imperfections add a layer of perception to the already meaty structure of Good Night’s screenplay.
The film goes down a predictable path in the second half, milking Mohan’s snores for tears, leaving the laughs behind. Manikandan, as usual, excels as the vulnerable nice-guy husband, who goes beyond his limits to tackle his “bedroom” problems. He might be a big ol’ crier, but the scene which has him explain the gnawing awkwardness of living with an embarrassing inconvenience, is heartrendingly performed. Even in places where the snores are stretched a little too thin for dramatic effect, Manikandan pulls us back in with the kind of warmth that closely resembles the steaming pot of biryani that brings the household together with a gushing smile.