To Let movie review: Chezhiyan's film is an unflinching portrayal of the urban house-hunting process
To Let is a poignant, well-crafted film about a lower middle class family's search for a home in a metropolitan city.
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5 stars)
The Tamil film, To Let, has been making waves in the festival circuit for the last one year. It even won a national award for the best Tamil film and it finally gets a theatrical release. It is one of the most poignant and well-crafted films about a lower middle class family's search for a home in a metropolitan city. Cameraman-turned-debutant director Chezhiyan has come out with a stark, realistic portrayal of a family searching for a home in Chennai during the IT boom of 2007 when house owners made hay with rentals going through the roof.
The film captures the economic imbalance that the information technology boom has created in our society, and the way it has impacted the lives of the lower middle-class when it comes to one of the basic necessities of life – a home. Technically the film is slick with Chezhiyan taking a bold decision to do away with background score and be realistic by opting for sound design by Tapas Nayak. The sound of radio and television, conversation of people, door closing or an auto on the road helps to create the right mood of the hustle and bustle of a city.
The film speaks of the difficulty faced by those who have migrated from villages to cities looking for jobs and their fight to get a house with just the basics at a reasonable rent. Ilango (Santhosh Sreeram) is a struggling script writer and an aspiring director looking for a house in Vadapalani area, the nerve centre of the movie industry in Chennai. His wife Amudha (Sheela Rajkumar) manages the house out of their meagre income but is happy that they are sending their son Siddharth (Dharun) to a decent English medium school. Their landlady (Athira Pandilakshmi) humiliates them at every given opportunity and looks down at Ilango and one fine day asks them to vacate the house. They have to find a new accommodation within a month and the struggle begins as nobody is interested in giving a house to Ilango, who works in the unprofessional film industry.
Chezhiyan’s camera is like a silent character and brings out the anguish and pain of the lead characters. Caste, religion and other social backgrounds of those who seek a house for rent is beautifully etched into the narrative. The film is able to capture the emotional turmoil a person feels in vacating or moving to a new house and how consumption of food plays a crucial part in the house owner deciding to rent out his place. The often asked question when you are house hunting — "Are you a vegetarian or non-vegetarian?," is addressed in the film. The message that the director wants to convey is that when people from same religion and caste start living together, it leads to the ghettoisation of society. Chezhiyan also avoids bringing in too much melodrama that one associates with such art house films. And National Award-winning editor Sreekar Prasad’s cuts helps in a big way by making it racy with a runtime of 99 minutes.
Chezhiyan also brings out the difficulties in living in rented apartments and the anguish of spending a good part of your life house hunting. The hold the house owner has over the tenant is subtly brought out in the film. In a scene, the land lady arrogantly uses the notes given to her as rent to scratch her back! They are always greedy and want to increase the rent every year and without providing the basic facilities. In another scene when Amudha comes out after her bath, the house owner has brought in a new tenant to check out the place and she has to be locked in. The performances of the three lead actors enhance the film.
There have been films like Balu Mahendra’s Veedu in the past which explored the difficulty in finding a house for the middle class, but To Let nails the issue. The director is able to keep us hooked to the narrative as some of us living in metros may have gone through the tedious house hunting process. The message the film wants to convey is that the lower middle class also deserves a roof over their head in our metros where real estate is beyond the reach of the common man.
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