Halitha Shameem’s Sillu Karupatti features a tape recorder, a shampoo bottle, a ring, a box of Pringles chips, a Johnson’s baby ad, a Cornetto ice cream air balloon, a bird-shaped key fob and an Alexa virtual assistant named, “Ammu.” You must wonder why I would start a review listing a bunch of inanimate objects. Good question. My answer is simple. If you have watched the movie, you will know that all of them acquire a life of their own. Seen one way, they are animated objects. Animated by a sense of warmth and affection that is infused into them by the superb writing and craftsmanship displayed by the director and her team. If that is the life that the filmmaker imbues objects with, need I really say anything about the humanness, the charm and the lovability that she adorns her actors with. I wrote “adorn” because Sillu Karupatti features some of the most beautiful characters that I have seen on film. Beauty, not necessarily in just the cosmetic sense of the word. But an inner glow that radiates from within the soul of the actors that lights up the entire screen. To borrow the late Roger Ebert’s ecstatic reaction after watching Jerry Maguire, I wanted to “hug myself with delight!”
Sillu Karupatti is an anthology of four stories. All four of them are ‘love’ stories, loosely speaking. But none of them are frivolous or lightweight. The underlying sadness or seriousness of some of the tracks is leavened with some marvelously written lines that drip with wit, understated humor and intelligence. The bevy of actors, both the lead ones and the smaller characters, are all pitch-perfect. There is not a false note in one of the performances, irrespective of length of the role. (Among the actors in minor roles, the misty-eyed nurse who holds a “Hope” sign was especially unforgettable.)
Among the actresses, Sunaina and Nivedhithaa Sathish come up trumps. As I had written in my review of Marriage Story, implosion is much more difficult to portray than explosion. Sunaina’s implosion of emotion in the verbal duel with Samudrakani is arguably her best work till date. Her satisfied sigh in front of the mirror and her little “thank you” speech to “Ammu” in the final sequence are as incandescent as the candles in the scene. Nivedhithaa brings an impishness and perkiness that, unlike the typical masala film heroine, is also balanced by common sense and street smarts. Her affectionate hug of Manikandan in the terrace and her loving glances of him in the hospital bed are instances where the character sparkles, as does the actress.
Of the actors, Manikandan and Samudrakani are especially magnificent. After Raghuvaran, Samudrakani has probably been my favorite character actor. An advice-spouting do-gooder is how we have mostly seen him. But in this film, he brings a disarming casualness to his performance. I have never seen him exhibit shyness or childlike qualities as he does in such a winsome manner in Sillu Karupatti. And Manikandan, who held his own in Kaala against the mighty Rajnikanth, turns in the most nuanced performance of this film. His expressions alone are worth the ticket of this film. Be it when he is writhing in pain, the befuddled look when a politician asks him to create a meme (pronounced, “mee-mee!”), the surprise he exhibits when he is compared to Charlie Chaplin, the delight having swallowed a piece of a tasty kulfi, the wistful look in the mirror as he strokes his hair, the joyous smile (and the way he says, “Nalla Sagunam”) while entering the hospital – these are all imprints on screen left by a consummate actor who is completely in sync with his director’s vision.
If I were to pick the best of the four stories, it would probably be the Manikandan – Nivedhithaa one, owing to its incredibly sensitive handling of some very delicate topics without posturing or sermons. On the other hand, I found the Leela Samson – Sree Ram track to be the least effective. It is because I felt that this was one story that couldn’t attain the level of depth it needed in the amount of time that it had. The thawing and growing affection in the relationship felt rushed to me. I kept thinking that this story, to work effectively, deserved a movie of its own like the art house classic, Anthimanthaarai.
The cinematography and music are unobtrusively effective. The background score (by Pradeep Kumar) is especially impactful in the kids segment where the tenderness of the longing glances is matched by the gentle score. I especially enjoyed the photography (by Yamini Yagnamurthy) of the final segment. In the scene featuring an inebriated Samudrakani, we first see him from a tipsy angle. It is only then revealed that he is sitting in a merry-go-round in a playground!
As I reflect on the immense joy and satisfaction I derived from this film, I just wish that more actors and producers (like Suriya has with this film) support such efforts where the richness comes not from extravagant set pieces or exotic foreign locales and instead, comes from detailing, nuance and delicacy of the writing and film making. It is films of this ilk that will not only endear themselves but also endure.