Director: Roju (Rohit Nandakumar)
Cast: Sanchana Natrajan, Rohit Nandakumar, Madonna Sebastian, Ramya Nambessan, Senthil, Karu Palaniyappan, Vivek Prasanna
Streaming on: SonyLIV
Magical realism as a genre has been the object of fascination for many filmmakers over the years, starting with the likes of Italian auteur Federico Fellini. And just a second into Kaiyum Kalavum, it becomes apparent that filmmaker Rohit Nandakumar (aka Roju) too has been bitten by the surrealist bug. The seven-episode series is an admirable attempt, for not just staying true to the genre, but for doing so with a refreshing take on Tamil sensibilities.
The series is clear about what it is as early as its introductory sequence — a world that operates on an illogical plane. We open with a historical tale about a king who wants to legitimise her daughter’s place in the kingdom. And what better way to educate his subjects than a play about egalitarianism? So, a theatre troupe of eccentric characters is lined up for the big day. But when its lead characters fall in love and ruin the play in an act of passion, the king dismisses them with a curse. One is cursed with an itch to destroy desires, and another with bad luck. And the only way they can be rid of the curse is by reuniting in an unlikely circumstance. Now, what if this star-crossed romance was contemporised? Enter a nameless boy (Rohit Nandakumar) and Anbu (Sanchana Natarajan), two obsessive thieves who have been dealt a bad hand in life.
The boy has an itch (a quite literal one) to destroy any wish that he overhears. So, it can be as small as someone wanting to shoot a film on their smartphone (RIP iPhone) or as big as someone wanting to kill themselves. The boy will stop at nothing to stop their wishes from coming true. And thereby the situations he is pushed to, make for incredible stories. Take the mysterious housewife he meets at a supermarket for instance. While her story starts off with a frivolous desire, it multiplies into something poignant. In a Persona (1966) style monologue, the housewife (a superbly cast Ramya Nambeesan) details her guilt over having the perfect husband. After battling her inner demons, she finally decides to die by suicide, not being able to accept a doting partner. Now this story could’ve easily turned out to be a tasteless take on depression. But the show is careful never to judge. And as is the boy.
Every episode is dedicated towards an untoward story. Sample this for size: there is a blind librarian who wants to burn down his library just so it makes for a powerful story. And a pimp who wants to pen down a love letter to his beloved pistol (bizarre enough?). And every one of these characters acts as a catalyst to bring the boy and Anbu together. Anbu comes with a past and family of her own. She is part of a motley group of petty thieves, led by PMC (played gracefully by trans actor Jeeva), a matriarch who believes in thieving with morals. “No chain snatching and no messing with children,” she declares, before assigning her ragtag group to pickpocket away. And she is a scene stealer in all the senses of the word, often grounding and bringing her group (and the show itself) back to earth. PMC knows exactly what she and her loot are worth and doesn’t mince words. So, she doesn’t look at themselves as a crime ring with swagger, but as mere mongrels. “The bones thrown at us must be silently eaten, and only then can we survive.” Sanchana Natarajan, too, excels at making us invest in her world. Her scenes with Roju make up some of the most heartwarming portions of the show.
Every small resident of the show brims with such creative weirdness that makes you register how sincere the writing is to its world. But not all stories and their intentions are convincing. And some of them do not seem to fit into the show’s layered universe. This is the case with the story about an ailing father. While Senthil and Kalairani give brilliant performances as a troubled couple contemplating their power dynamics, the story sticks out in what is otherwise a brilliant arc about a corrupt doctor.
But the show somehow manages the overall mischief act pretty effortlessly (also thanks to Satish Raghunathan’s gorgeous songs). An outlandish concept such as this could’ve easily become heavy-handed. But ever so often, the show tactfully stops and reminds itself not to take itself too seriously.