How often have you met someone and felt a sense of discomfort at first glance, only to go on to get close to him/her later on? How often do you think of some people and regret for what you had done for them earlier? Is it possible to actually have a person outside your family circle become as important if not more important than your close family members? Are we still humane enough these days to go beyond the call of duty and look at making someone else happy, probably even at the cost of our own personal discomfort earlier? Well I’ve been thinking of all these questions and more ever since I watched Orange Mittai a few days ago. It’s not the only film of late which has made me think a lot, there have been others as well for sure. But it’s probably the only film in recent times which made me think on these particular lines, which is something I can certainly vouch for.
Biju Vishwanath is a filmmaker who has primarily been more popular overseas than in India. I say this because most of his films so far have been tailor made for film festivals Worldwide, creating quite an impact over there. Hence I was quite surprised when I heard that he was to direct Orange Mittai, a film in Tamil with some commercial appeal of sorts. Commercial appeal because it had the backing of Vijay Sethupathi who was not only featuring in the film, but also producing it (along with B.Ganesh). The premise looked promising and the trailer released initially tried to project the same, in an innovative manner of sorts, albeit with mixed results. After quite a few months of waiting, the team released a regular but more acceptable form of a trailer, which indicated that the film certainly looked quite interesting. Considering that the film released along with 3 other films, it was commendable to see Orange Mittai managing a small but definite release outside South India as well.
Orange Mittai starts by taking us into the lives of Sathya (Ramesh Thilak), an Emergency Medical Technician on board an ambulance service and his friend Arumugam (Arumugam Bala) who drives the ambulance. On the day of his father’s death anniversary, Sathya is confused in terms of what to reply to his girlfriend Kavya (Aashritha)’s father, who wants Sathya to look after one of his businesses. That’s when Sathya and Arumugam are asked to go and pick up an old man who seems to be in a critical condition. After much drama they reach the residence of Kailasam (Vijay Sethupathi) an old man who seems to live all by himself in a palatial mansion which indicates past days of glory. Now Kailasam to their surprise doesn’t appear to be battling for his life as they expected, but nevertheless is a heart patient and they reluctantly agree to take him to the hospital for his check-up. But soon Sathya and Arumugam realize that Kailasam is no regular old man they are used to ferrying across in their ambulance. He seems to be peculiar in a very uncharacteristic manner and quickly gets on the nerves of Sathya and Arumugam. Kailasam doesn’t want the journey to end so soon, contrary to what the other two people think. So what’s Kailasam upto, what is his problem if any, what happens in the journey of the three people etc is what we get to see from the rest of the film.
Written jointly by Biju Viswanath and Vijay Sethupathi, Orange Mittai is a dark comedy of sorts, quite often bordering on a highly emotional point, only never crossing the boundary thankfully. There are some really well written and enacted scenes/moments which make us cheer for the film. Take for example the way Kailasam handles the ‘drunkard’ whom Sathya and Arumugam are forced to be carried on the ambulance by an angry mob on the way. Or take the part when all of a sudden we see Sathya impulsively hugging Kailasam, to the discomfort of the old man who is probably not used to such bouts of affection from people known to him as well. The way in which Kailasam playfully makes Arumugam spill out Sathya’s love story and how he reacts to that is another interesting moment in the film. Throughout the road journey there is a constant sense of animosity tingled with some strange connection of sorts between Sathya and Kailasam, something keeps drawing them both together despite so many odds.
While a film like Orange Mittai is a welcome relief from the usual formulaic films (just look at the other films which released the same day for example), it has its limitations as well. For a film which proceeds well and has quite an appealing first half, the narrative loses some steam in the second half. Somewhere down the journey a feeling of complacency sets in making the proceedings slightly look a bit sluggish. But thankfully the film finds itself back on its feet soon and ends on a note which would make you exit the auditorium with a smile. Also while it’s nice to see Vijay Sethupathi stepping into the shoes of a slightly cranky old man, even managing to get the look and feel right, at times he tends to go a little over board. This makes one wonder if probably a more senior actor should have been cast for the role. Take for example the scene at night when Kailasam dances to glory to the 80’s hit song “adiye manam nilluna nikkadhadi” (from Neengal Kettavai) while Sathya and the auto driver watch from the side-lines, not only does it look out of place but it keeps going on and on. However it’s also true that there is some novelty factor emerging out of Vijay Sethupathi’s portrayal of Kailasam, one of the reasons probably why people would check out the film.
Biju Viswanath has also handled the cinematography and editing of the film, both quite competently indeed. At a run time of around 101 minutes, the film is just about adequately long and the pace is good, suffering just for a bit in the second half. Justin Prabhakaran’s music is ok; the songs thankfully do not break the momentum of the film. Arumugam Bala is good as Sathya’s friend and colleague, with a temperament very different from that of Sathya. Aashritha plays Sathya’s love interest Kavya competently and it’s nice to see people like Karunakaran and Bobby Simha (voice of Sathya’s supervisor) lending their presence in a small way in the film. Ramesh Thilak who has been seen playing supporting characters so far makes a transition as leading man over here, though not the conventional leading man and he does it quite well. As someone who is torn between the passion for his job and the love of his life, Kavya he does come across as someone very convincing in the portrayal. That moment when he confronts Kailasam’s son and tells him as to how he misses his own father now when he is no more is conveyed with a lot of heart, but without any unnecessary melodrama.
Orange Mittai is a good attempt by Biju Viswanath eventually and it is good to see Vijay Sethupathi support a film like this wholeheartedly. It would be interesting to see what Biju goes on to do after this, now that he has managed to reach out to a wider audience with this film.
Note- It would have been good to release the film with English subtitles in markets outside Tamil Nadu or South India. A film like this should stand a chance to reach out to people beyond those who speak/understand Tamil as well.