Bench Talkies - A View
A television program gave a bunch of short filmmakers the exposure, which laid the platform for them to make their debuts on the big screen. The last couple of years has seen a few of these filmmakers make a huge impact in Tamil cinema. Karthik Subburaj, one of the success stories of this phenomenon, seems to be still in love with the medium that had laid out the path for him to Kollywood. Time and again he has been emphasizing in his interviews that short film making should not merely be a transition period for aspiring feature filmmakers but it should be a craft on it’s own that should reach it’s target audience and also be commercially viable. And he has decided to do something about this and Bench Talkies is a big step in that direction.
Bench Talkies is an anthology film. For the uninitiated, an anthology is a feature film consisting of several different short films. This is not something entirely new to Indian cinema. 5 Sundarikal (Malayalam) is one recent film that comes to mind. The recent Tamil release Aaaah too was advertised as a horror anthology. But Aaaah had a single plot with various episodes that were interconnected. What Bench Talkies offers is 6 different short films directed by 6 different people with nothing that relates them. It actually is a collection of 6 films that have been handpicked by Karthik Subburaj and team. So the individual films might have in fact been made without any intention that they might get a chance to be a part of an anthology.
It is tough to review an effort like Bench talkies for the simple reason that it is primarily a pioneering attempt in Tamil cinema and you do not have a reference to compare it with. As a viewer, I went in with an open mind and what I got was a mixed bag.
The first film ‘The Lost Paradise’, by Anil Krishnan plays out like a musical, with no dialogues. It has a strong emotional performance from Guru Somasundaram aided by an overwhelming score at the background. It is the sort of film that seems too poetic, the aim of which is to leave us with a heavy heart.
'Agavizhi' by Gopakumar is an urban romantic thriller that relies on surprising us every minute. The film is loaded with too many twists and we actually are wondering what is happening rather than being really glued to the screen due to excitement. The subject then made sense when the maker elaborated his thoughts during the end credits. A really interesting concept indeed.
Then comes ‘Puzhu’ by Chandrasekhar. In the director’s own words, it is an attempt to make an abstract film that has no plot as such and focuses on a particular scene. It sure is a novel effort and does involve decent performances from the two lead players. But whether we are engaged is a different question altogether.
The intermission arrives at this point. And frankly this was a breather. The films so far have been mostly sober. While the premises have been drastically different from each other, the serious treatment and gloomy undercurrent were consistently on the higher side. It also becomes tough to judge each film as a standalone due to this. A lighter film in between might not have been such a bad idea.
Monesh’s Nallathor Veenai is what we get after the intermission. The film deals with a serious issue of teenage physical abuse. It gives the feel of an awareness film that works like a documentary. We get the message and that’s about it. We do not connect to any of the characters or feel the lurking danger.
Then comes ‘Madhu’ which is clearly the crowd favourite. A zany comedy by Rathnakumar, it works primarily due to the lively performance of it’s entire cast. The lead player and his stout friend are particularly brilliant. The gloomy ambience set up by the 4 previous films also helps us to appreciate this livewire all the more. This maker sure knows the taste of today's theatre going audience.
Finally it is ‘Neer’ by Karthik Subburaj himself, to complete the anthology. Set in an ill-fated night for three fishermen, it successfully relates us with the characters. This is what was missing in the previous serious films that we witnessed. Here too there is no back-story to the characters. But we invest our time thanks to the performance of the actors and the interesting dialogues between them. And yes, Vijay Sethupathy the star who made it through short films is welcomed by cheers of the audience.
When the curtains roll, we certainly are appreciative of the intent of Bench Talkies. What was surprising is that almost 4 out of the 6 films were downright serious. The surprise is more because almost all the recent feature films made by the erstwhile short film makers have been light hearted or high on humour quotient despite the serious themes. Even the more emotional ones like Pannaiyarum Padminiyum left a smile on your lips while slightly moistening your eyes. So subconsciously I was anticipating a more lively experience as I stepped into the cinemas. But perhaps the purpose of bench talkies itself is different. As Karthik Subburaj has been emphasizing, it aims to make short film making itself a profession and not a path to reach the feature film industry. Let us welcome this baby step and see what Bench Talkies – The Second bench and The Third Bench that Karthik has promised have to offer in the near future. A little more care in choosing the right mixture of films is what would greatly help.