I saw Pithamagan. It had me curling into the sofa in a brooding funk by the end of the evening so watch it when you’re in the mood to be shaken out of your comfort zones. It’s hard hitting enough to make you queasy and honest enough for you to be unable to shrug it off.
The film explores marginalisation, ‘outsider’ness, and the parameters of the civilised world without letting the story slip into didactic monologues. In fact, it explores these themes precisely by not doing so.
Chittan (Vikram) is born to a vagrant in a cemetary, who dies soon after. Raised with no contact to the outside world except with dead bodies, he grows up inept at social interaction. An acquaintance with a neighborhood drug dealer Gomathi (Sangitha) gets him a job as a handyman in a cannabis farm. Chittan ends up in jail where he makes his first real friendship – with a conman Shakti (Surya).
Vikram is impressive in his national award-winning performance. He conveys Chittan’s brute strength, power and crudity and manages to retain his strange innocence. Surya is a delight because he is so natural and he provides a good foil to Vikram’s unrelenting intensity.
The film is well edited and barring one rather silly song-and-dance routine with Simran looking less than spectacular, there’s nothing extraneous. Music by Illayaraja adds to the hauntingly poignant quality of the movie. Here’s the Raaga link where you can listen to the songs.
After this movie was over, I tried to imagine what it must be… to grow up in an environment devoid of joy, to grow up with mourning as a regular event, to become inured to corpses. Some kinds of marginalisation are talked about, written about, filmed. But this is a particular human situation that has not really been talked about much. It makes for a unique story. And a compelling one.
Taxi No 9211 is not an original story. But it’s an unoriginal story adapted well and told with just the right pinch of Indianisation to make for a ‘wholesome entertainer’.
Raghu (Nana Patekar), an insurance salesperson now turned taxi driver and Jai (John Abraham), the son of a wealthy business family, belong to different worlds. Their paths cross one day when Jai steps into Raghu’s cab. Jai is on his way to court to claim money which is rightfully his. But soon, a simple cab ride kicks off a journey in which things go unexpectedly and spectacularly wrong. The strangers turn into vicious adversaries, as both men are sure of only one thing – that the other is to blame!
I thought the first half dragged a bit with some unnecessary scenes. But director Milan Luthria pulls in the reins in the second half and the overall effect is that of a taut, pacy action thriller. I liked the slight didactism at the end with Sonali Kulkarni chastising her husband; its message about anger management raises it slightly above the usual thriller.
The scenes where the two men realise that they have similiar problems because they are essentially similiar as people were also handled well. The redemptional attempts were a tad sappy but hey, what would Bollywood be without some honest, tear-inducing sappiness?
Nana Patekar is very convincing as the disgruntled taxi driver who believes the world is out to get him. He combines just the right amount of bristling aggression with snivelling self righteousness. John Abraham actually manages to act, for a change. I find his accent irritating but he’s so hot that one can forgive such small transgressions. Ne c’est pas?
The two actors worked surprisingly well together on screen with one’s sophisticated, foppish persona playing off the other’s raw strength.
Sonali Kulkarni is extremely effective in a small but important role as Nana Patekar’s exasperated wife. But please, somebody tell Samira Reddy that she’s too fat to be sexy. The less seen of her, the better. And I mean that in every possible way.
I’m not a big fan of the soundtrack though Meter Down and Mumbai Nagariya are catchy and hummable. Here’s the Raaga link where you can listen to the songs.
Overall, worth a watch. Why it’s been included in the Oscar archives though is a bit of a mystery to me.