Kutty Story movie review: Vijay Sethupathi, Gautham Menon's film is an engaging take on love, relationships

Within the constraints of an urban, middle class, heterosexual romance, Kutty Story is an interesting mix of shorts

Ranjani Krishnakumar February 13, 2021 10:14:08 IST

3.5/5

Nalan Kumaraswamy is in top form. Venkat Prabhu makes an earnest attempt. Gautham Menon has an interesting idea and too pleased with himself for it. Vijay has no idea!

Kutty Story is an anthology of four stories of urban, middle class, heterosexual romance. Within the constraints of that, it is an interesting mix of shorts. The most problematic one is Vijay’s Avanum Naanum. It is the story of a college-going woman, Preethi, who gets pregnant. Soon enough, the story becomes about abortion. In Vijay’s world, abortion is illegal (thank god, in the real world, it is not — at least not in India since the 1970s). Yet, in the film, doctors who perform the allegedly “illegal” abortions make women fill out forms titled “abortion form” because that’s how illegal activities function; complete with signed and stamped paperwork!

In telling the story of a woman who is going through multiple physical and emotional crises, Vijay chooses to give her no voice or agency. She has other people who make all the decisions for her, first a friend, and then a sister, and so on. Small mercies are in the fact that these are not men. In Avanum Naanum, the women deliberately carry forward the patriarchy.

Gautham Menon’s Edhirpaara Muttham is written and filmed like yet another slice of Menon’s own life. It doesn’t help that he plays the male protagonist himself. He has an interesting, even if ancient, idea: Where is the line between friendship and romance in a relationship between a man and a woman?

He explores this question through the story of Aadhi, played by himself, and Mrinalini, an angelic Amala Paul (like all of Gautham Menon’s heroines, of course). Aadhi insists that he hasn’t crossed the line. Even as his friends refuse to believe from his repeated retellings of a meeting that’s filled with sexual tension. Robo Shankar, the disbelieving friend, is an excellent counterpoint to Aadhi’s starry-eyed romance.

Yet, the writing and execution are awkward. Everyone keeps reiterating how his present wife doesn’t mind hearing about his past romances. Conversations about past love aren’t really introspective, and don’t seem to have any taken help from hindsight. The ending goes for the melancholy of unrequited love rather than for understanding of human relationships. With a little more critical engagement, Gautham Menon could have made the film a layered anti-thesis to the long-held Tamil film notion that first love is the only love. This one stops just short.

Venkat Prabhu makes a love story, which itself is a fresh outing for him. His film Lokham is surprisingly well-considered. Adam, the video game alias of the male protagonist, meets Eve, the female protagonist, and they journey together. In fact, Adam is a happy-go-lucky chap meandering in the world, who finds protection and companionship with Eve.

Telling the love story through the video game makes the metaphors easier to build, but more importantly, stark in impact. It offers layers that would have been utterly difficult without the video game. For instance, when we meet Eve she’s already way ahead of Adam in her journey — a subtle reference to her age that comes beautifully together later. It’s the kind of film that we might see pleasant connections in second and third viewings.

Premgi Amaren does a fun job of the music, giving the video game some thara local background music, when the hero comes to his own. The pivotal scene where Adam confesses of love is clumsy, though. It sounds almost as if Gautham Menon walked past the set while shooting and decided to write the dialogue for that scene, and Venkat Prabhu hastily translated it. On the whole, it’s an interesting attempt by Venkat Prabhu.

The best of them all is Nalan Kumaraswamy’s Aadal Padal. The film shines on all counts. The writing is clever with near-perfect rhythm, packing so much so well in 30 minutes. The dialogue is sharp, the silences sharper. Vijay Sethupathy is top-notch as the garden variety “asshole” — misogynist, philanderer, and manipulative. He’s in the zone, his performance among the best of his recent outings (I count Master too here). The film hardly gives 2-3 minutes to build his character, but it tells us so much, even while saying so little.

Aditi Balan as his wife is terrific; it’s a shame we don’t see more of her in Tamil cinema. Cinematographer N Shanmuga Sundaramadds to the temperament of the film. Even as much of the film is set on the terrace of a single house, the dynamism of the shots makes sure that it never feels repetitive. Edwin Louis’ quirky music accentuates conflicts without cueing up emotions for the audience.

The success of Nalan Kumaraswamy’s film is in the sensitive and observant portrayal of a present-day marriage. He has no hero and heroine — just a flawed man and his wife, who doesn’t care for his nonsense. It doesn’t justify, in fact, it doesn’t even resolve the conflict. It reminds us of what we come to accept.

Nalan’s film alone is worth a visit to the cinemas to watch this anthology. It would have fared much better if not for Vijay’s fiasco. But, even with it, Kutty Story is an interesting take on love, romance, and relationships.

Rating: ***1/2

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