When Putham Pudhu Kaalai was released on Amazon Prime Video in October 2020, the Delta strain of the coronavirus was finding its feet in India. The second edition of the Tamil anthology series arrives on the heels of the Omicron variant. Here’s hoping that the series doesn’t go all the way down the Greek alphabet – and we mean that in the nicest possible way.
Putham Pudhu Kalai (The Brand New Dawn) comprised five stories directed by Suhasini Mani Ratnam, Rajiv Menon, Sudha Kongara, Karthik Subbaraj and Gautham Menon. Lightweight in tone and intent, the series aimed to put a smile on the face half-concealed by a mask and strained by anxiety over the health of loved ones, financial worries and threatened job losses.
Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa (Awaiting The Brand New Dawn) is similarly about de-stressing rather than wallowing in distress. We are back in a world in which characters are confined in large and well-equipped homes, where they reassess existing human connections or forge new ones.
The tone is set by the fun-filled episode written directed by Balaji Mohan. It’s a part public safety announcement film and part love-during-lockdown saga, enacted by two very dutiful and medal-worthy police constables.
Murugan (Teejay Arunasalam) and his colleague Farook (Kallori Vinoth) ensure that the streets are free of loiterers and rulebreakers. Murugan’s stern visage relaxes whenever he sets eyes on Kuyili (Gouri G Kishan). The cute pair make an honourable exception to the no-pass-no-passing-the-barricade rule and help a young lover in trouble.
Writer-director Halitha Shameem’s contribution locates optimism in the thicket of loneliness that has consumed countless homebound individuals during the pandemic. Nalla (Lijomol Jose) and Dheeran (Arjun Das) forge a connection over virtual interactions.
Since each of them has recently dealt with personal loss, the emphasis is on an “exchange of energies” and healing. Shameem’s deep empathy for lonely souls and smart use of video rooms steers the film past its wellness cliches.
In Surya Krishna’s episode, written by S Guhapriya, the mask does more than protect from infection. Arjun (Sananth) is unable to tell his parents that he is gay. An old school friend Velu (Dhilip Subbarayan) becomes an unlikely ally in Arjun’s journey.
Madhumita’s film, co-written with Sabarivasan Shanmugham, is a more cheerful tribute to the Oscar-nominated animated short If Anything Happens I Love You. A couple whose marriage is under strain has retreated into silence. Yashodha (Nadiya Moidu) and Murali (Joju George) communicate through text messages and instructions scrawled on a blackboard. And then Yashoda coughs…
Moidu and George bring their collective acting heft to a narrative in which heavy emotions need to be communicated through facial expressions and gestures. Madhumita lets the actors be, reaping rich dividends and overcoming the film’s tonal jumps.
Richard Anthony’s Pondicherry-set chapter, co-written with Praveena Shivram, is bursting with discovery. As Shobi struggles to mourn her dead father, the young woman bristles at a neighbour’s kindness, finds new company and befriends a stray dog.
Lead actor Aishwarya Lekshmi has an excellent scene where she finally unravels the knot of her conflicting emotions. Of all the films, this one has the least to do with the Covid-19 pandemic and more to do with the complicated process of remembering and forgetting.
Despite broad differences in storytelling, Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa has a sameness that flows from its determination to feel good even in times of sickness or irreparable loss. A focus on individual stories doesn’t have to preclude a wider exploration of the social and economic effects of the health crisis.
A harder look at the ravages of the pandemic is available in the non-fiction space. Vinod Kapri’s 1232 Kms (on Disney+ Hotstar) movingly explores the perilous journeys undertaken by migrants who fled cities and walked, cycled or hitch-hiked home during the 2020 lockdown.
Mehr Singh’s documentary Toofan (on Mubi) combines heart-breaking audio testimonies recorded during the Delta strain’s rampage through Delhi in April 2021 with poetic footage of the capital a few months later. These films provide a “feelbad” antidote to the happy endings that fiction makers feel compelled to churn out despite evidence to the contrary.