There’s no better place to hide your grief or intentions than in a place out of a picture postcard. Sachin Kundalkar’s Marathi-language Pondicherry is not only set in the city now known as Puducherry but unfolds almost entirely in the exclusive French Quarter.
In this gorgeous bit of real estate, a single mother who runs a homestay gets an unwelcome visitor. Nikita (Sai Tamhankar) doesn’t know it just yet, but Rohan (Vaibhav Tatwawadi) has landed up at her residence with every intention of converting it into a luxury hotel.
Fiercely independent and fully capable of taking care of herself, Nikita is both friendly towards and distant from the aggressive Rohan. Nikita’s mother (Neena Kulkarni), who lives in Pune, warns her against harbouring strangers. Indeed, the gossipy matriarch, who asks the questions about antecedents that Nikita might have asked too, isn’t far off the mark when it comes to Rohan.
The arrival of another guest, Manasi (Amruta Khanvilkar), complicates Rohan’s plans, as does his growing attachment to Nikita’s precocious son Ishaan (Tanmay Kulkarni). The film traces the relationships that develop between the characters and influence their actions.
Pondicherry has been shot by Milind Jog entirely on a smartphone. It’s packed with views of vivid murals, well-known scenic spots and saturated colours (shades of orange dominate). The 110-minute movie encourages viewers to head from the cinemas to their computers and Google “Weekend getaway in Pondicherry+homestay”.
The Tamil flavour of Pondicherry is largely absent. Sai Tamhankar does a fine job of speaking Tamil and a few locals wander in and out of view. But by and large, Pondicherry stays within the tourist district and provides a superficial perspective of a city that is more than a collection of boulevards and bungalows.
Beyond the eye-watering scenery lies a middling story of escape and redemption. The screenplay, by Kundalkar and Tejas Modak, balances a fairy tale flavour with elements from the real world. The depiction of unorthodox connections that develop beyond conventional family structures is vintage Sachin Kundalkar.
So too is the wistfulness and empathy towards characters who might have been villains in another world. But the trite plotting and pat resolution feel as unearned as the choice of the story setting.
Sai Tamhankar, among the few actors who can effortlessly suggest enigma and reserve, is the most compelling member of the cast. Vaibhav Tatwawadi and Amruta Khanvilkar are saddled with uneven and implausible character graphs. Neena Kulkarni is a hoot as the scandal-mongering mother, but there’s nothing in her performance that we haven’t seen before.