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To Let

Director: Chezhiyan
Cast: Santhosh Sreeram, Sheela Rajkumar, Dharun 

In a scene from Chezhiyan’s award-winning To Let, Ilango (Santhosh Sreeram) and Amudha (Sheela Rajkumar), break their heads and savings to make ends meet. As Amudha brings out her last ounce of savings that she had stored between the pages of her bible, their son, Siddharth (Dharun), brings out his hundi and places it between his parents. A regular film would’ve made that kid as an unnecessarily mature character who has probably understood the grave situation and is willing to let go of what he has saved for the betterment of the family. But To Let, unexpectedly, does what you’d expect a kid to do. Seeing his mother holding a handful of notes, he had brought the hundi and Amudha too plays along by inserting a hundred rupee note at its mouth, only for Ilango and Siddharth to push it down.

That’s one of the many times To Let’s realism would remind you of Balu Mahendra’s cult classic Veedu – a comparison that you’re ought to see in every review for this film. Set in the year 2007, at the peak of the IT boom, Ilango’s little nest gets disturbed thanks to their landlord wanting to milk more money from their house by renting it out to the new techie crowd. The story then follows the trials and tribulations of Ilango’s family as they try to get along their everyday lives as well as find a new place. Though the storyline might actually sound wafer-thin, Chezhiyan pads up the film with a lot of other issues. There’s the fact that Ilango works in the film industry and how that’s cited to be a reason why they can’t really get a house easily – along with many other factors such as how they’re not ‘vegetarians’.  In a classic problem that arises when trying to elevate one’s social status, the family finds itself in a dilemma of opting for a mediocre place in exchange for better living conditions or actually choosing a better place by tightening up the budget and reducing other expenses such as fuel and mobile recharges.

The way Chezhiyan etches characters that has no glimpse of melodramaticism in them is evitable in more than one occasion. Santhosh fits in neatly as the breadwinner of the family who, thanks to his job’s nature, doesn’t have a fixed salary. His patience in putting up with what life throws at him seems to be something that his career of a wannabe filmmaker seems to have taught him. After a commendable performance in last week’s Malayalam film Kumbalangi Nights, Sheela is a perfect choice for Amudha – the quintessential housewife who is sound enough to make an argument when she loses her temper, but naive enough to think of getting into an MLM scheme in order to do her bit for the family. Her innocence is exemplified every time happiness and sadness in her life is reflected in her innocent smiling and vehement crying. Dharun’s character is a personification of his family’s plight – someone who excels in drawing and painting but is forced to erase his works off the walls – just because he had to.

Despite being similar to Veedu as a one-liner, which was a major selling point for Balu Mahendra film was Ilaiyaraja’s music. But To Let lets go of the tradition once again and relies on the live sounds such as that of traffic and screeching ceiling fan. On the technical front, Sreekar Prasad’s editing makes sure there’s no lag in the slow-moving screenplay. In some scenes, the frames are intentionally not moved despite the characters moving out of it in order to leave it to the audience to determine the intensity of the emotions that the scene carries. Such nifty touches and displaying the plight of a lower-middle-class family without letting go of realism makes To Let a film that wouldn’t vacate your mind for a while.

My rating: 3.5/5


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