(An edited version of this was published in Silverscreen)
The fourth day is when you hit fatigue. Three or four films a day and some hits and some misses and some losses because you did not make it in time for the unreserved queue. The queues start in front of the screen entrance and have hairpin bends more dangerous than the highest hill stations. Is this the reserved queue or the unreserved queue for Anomalisa? What film is this queue for? Hey Mister the queue ends here. Behind me. This queue is actually the food queue! Sir, at least 200 people in the unreserved queue surely you won’t get in. And so it goes.
Manikandan’s Kuttrame Thandanai begins with a Nietzche quote but there is a ghost of Dostoevsky drifting through it. Ravi played by Vidharth – whom I had a problem recognizing because he looks nothing like how he looked in Mynaa – is a collections officer in a local firm and is a bit of a loner living in what looks like run down set of housing board flats. His neighbors are of all kinds. There is a man whose wife has left him and has his routine stormy phone conversations in the balcony for the world to see. The landlady living downstairs is nice but firm when dealing with Ravi. A laundry woman who is quizzical at all times. There is Nasser, Ravi’s only friend and conscience keeper who shapes glass objects at his home and advises Ravi on how needs shape morality. Manikandan is great at establishing all the characters and their traits in the first 15 minutes of the film. The equation between Ravi and his colleague (Pooja Devariya), or his guarded interest in Swetha (Aishwarya Rajesh) – both of them well-developed arcs. Manikandan also uses Ravi’s tunnel vision problem in admirable ways. At first it never gets sentimental and is in fact used for humor. But its symbolism hangs over the film as it goes about examining the aftermaths of a crime. This is Manikandan’s sophomore effort after Kaaka Muttai but something he signed up to direct before Kaaka Muttai happened. While the two films are poles apart in what they are trying to do Kuttrame Thandanai suffers from the melodrama that creeps in in the later portions and the manipulative background score (by Ilaiyaraja) does not help. A steadily unraveling narrative suddenly sacrifices its tone. But it would be interesting to see how this is received soon after the Kaaka Muttai maelstrom.
The man who doesn’t have to worry about how his previous works and their reception may influence his next is of course Charlie Kaufman. Mostly because every film of his is a reworking of similar themes and philosophies and to not at all stretch it, about himself even. That way Kaufman is one of the foremost modern auteurs. His latest film, Anomalisa was one of the most sought after here at the Mumbai Film Festival. It hasn’t had a wide release yet and played only at a handful of festivals across the globe and therefore you can imagine the serpentine queues that manifest outside every screening. In a lot of ways Anomalisa is like Kaufman’s version of Her, the film from Spike Jonze, known collaborator with Kaufman in Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Anomalisa too deals with loneliness, the inability to connect with people for a man who is considered to be an authority in the world of customer service. To add that extra characteristic Kaufman (along with co-director Duke Johnson) has filmed this in stop motion that brings out the mechanical nature of everyday relationships today. Awkwardness is Anomalisa in one word. The awkwardness in dealing with fellow flight passengers, taxi drivers or the hotel chaperon. An awkwardness that translates to even people you’ve known all your life. This is at its most pronounced in one of the best sex scenes you’ll ever see on screen. We always wonder how sex in films is so practiced and perfect while in real life it is almost always untrained and awkward. Kaufman recreates it like none other.