When I was in school I was a slightly peculiar kind of student. I was good at academics and extra-curricular activities, but had no friends in the vicinity of my home and hence I kept myself busy reading whatever I could. On the contrary in school I had the company of my friends and would sometimes end up doing something mischievous, often getting into trouble. My parents would often wonder how come I would remain trouble free at home, but get into various naughty situations in school. Whenever I would get punished by a teacher for anything silly I would needlessly get upset at the teacher for punishing me, some of the teachers preferred to discipline the kids with a ruler but others were content in just doling out punishments and restraining themselves from getting angry and violent. Years later when I would do my bit of teaching myself, I often wondered whether we realize how tough it is for a teacher to instil discipline in his/her students and whether we really know how much they care for the students. We keep hearing instances of some teacher or the other abusing or physically assaulting a student, becoming a big issue of concern of late. But is every such incident genuine? Have we ever wanted to know the teachers side of the story?
I was quite surprised when I heard that Mumbai Film Festival 2014 had a Tamil film in its competition section, something of a rare phenomenon for Tamil Cinema actually. Hence I was quite sure that I wanted to watch the film despite not knowing anything really about the film. Even when I tried to dig up information online all I got to see was a hastily cut teaser and a few stills. Despite the screening clashing with that of another interesting film I opted to trust my instinct and went in to watch Kuttram Kadithal, a decision which on hindsight turned out to be right indeed. In those 2 hours I went through a myriad of emotions, as I sat down totally engrossed in this tale that was unleashed upon me by director Bramma.G who was making his debut with Kuttram Kadithal. The film is not only Bramma’ first film, but it introduces many actors and technicians into the industry, including the producer of the film Christy Siluvappan (who produced the film along with J.Sathish Kumar of JSK Film Corporation).
Merlin (Radhika Prasiddha) and Manikandan (Sai Rajkumar) are newlyweds who are trying to settle down in their new phase of life. Manikandan often laments about the fact that Merlin’s mother is unhappy with their marriage but Merlin is a dutiful wife who always asks him to be positive and look ahead. Merlin is a schoolteacher who likes her job very well and loves being in the company of her school children. One fine day an unexpected incident in her classroom brings in turmoil of unimaginable proportions, throwing the lives of Merlin and Manikandan into a spiral that they had never expected. Instead of a quiet and peaceful life, they are now thrust into the public glare unfortunately. Bramma in a very mature and sincere manner goes about telling us how the lives of ordinary people could go for a toss for no real fault of theirs, bringing grief, anguish and chaos into their lives and that of a few others in the process as well. Kuttram Kadithal (aka The Punishment) is a title derived from the Thirukkural, which talks about mistakes and the ramifications that might follow them.
The film tackles a subject that anyone and everyone in India can appreciate and connect with. Considering the growing importance of education and with economic barriers also not so prevalent as before from preventing anyone from standing a chance of getting educated, it is crucial for films like these to be made and to reach out to the audience at large. While Kuttram Kadithal basically is all about an incident that happens in a school and what it triggers off later, its crucial to understand that something like this can be encountered anywhere and thus it becomes all the more topical and relevant. A film on a subject like this also makes us wonder how does one think ethically, rationally and positively when faced with adversity. How would you view the actions of Merlin and Manikandan, or that of the Headmaster (Kulothungan Udayakumar) or that of Udayan (Pavel Navageethan), the firebrand uncle of Chezhiyan (Master Ajay)? Who is right and who is wrong? Or how does one even decide what is right or wrong?
The film makes you ask questions like these and more but thankfully Bramma has steered clear of sounding preachy which is quite an achievement by itself considering that it was an easy out for a film like this. Months after I’ve seen the film I keep thinking of it and remembering various striking moments from the same. Like the scene at the church where Merlin goes to in between all the underlying tension, the black polythene cover getting dragged on by Merlin’s footwear without her own knowledge, the hospital scenes where there is a lot of emotional outburst but never going overboard, I can just go on and on as the film leaves quite a mark. Technically too the film is quite an achievement and a celebration of the efforts of everyone involved. Manikandan’s cinematography is very effective and he brings in the contrast in the visuals in line with the change in mood and tone of the film. C.S.Prem’s editing helps keep the film tight and engaging at the right pace. Anthony B.Jayaruban’s sound design lends the film an edgy yet realistic touch.
Shankar Rengarajan excels both with the songs and the background score. Bramma has made use of the songs quite effectively, and none of them distract the viewers from the actual narrative. It is heartening to see the usage of the classic Subramaniya Bharathiyar song “Chinnanchiru Kiliyae” reworked in great comfort here. Another aspect which has worked in favour of the film has been the performances from the actors, most of them being relatively new to cinema. The supporting cast is wonderful, be it Sathya Sachu as Chezhian’s mother, Kulothungan Udayakumar and Durga Venugopal playing the couple running the school, the lady playing Merlin’s mother and even the lady cop. Master Ajay carries off the mischievous role of Chezhian with conviction, while Pavel Navageethan (noticed earlier in Pa.Ranjith’s Madras) is rock solid as the angry uncle of Chezhian. Sai Rajkumar as Manikandan makes a good debut with this film as he lends admirable support and plays perfect foil to Merlin. Radhika Prasiddha certainly has come up with one of the most impactful debut performances by an actress in Tamil Cinema in recent times. She brings about various shades to the character and makes her vulnerability look extremely real.
Bramma has come up with a debut film that’s a compelling watch, managing in the process to treat the social drama almost as a thriller, not a mean feat at all. Kuttram Kadithal joins the ranks of some wonderful first films of a director to have been released this year including Killa, Court, Kaakka Muttai, Labour of Love (Asha Jaoar Majhe) and Masaan and it is heartening to see a film like this getting made and supported in the first place. Go watch Kuttram Kadithal, trust me you won’t be disappointed.
Note-After some delays Kuttram Kadithal has finally released in Tamil Nadu today (24th September) and I really hope that the producers Christy Siluvappan and J.Sathish Kumar manage to get the film released in the rest of the Country as well soon.