To Let movie review: A moving drama about middle-class dreams and reality
Film: To Let
Cast: Santhosh Sriram, Sheela Rajkumar, Dharun and Aadhira Pandilakshmi
If there’s one aspect that really stands out in Chezhiyan’s national award-winning film To Let, is how it stays away from the norms of commercial cinema -- which includes all the tropes that usually define mainstream Tamil cinema -- and still manages to make something so captivating and praise-worthy. It’s for this aspect alone; the film truly deserves to be celebrated. This is, without a doubt, Tamil cinema’s first big step towards realistic cinema.
The story is set in a small middle-class family. Illango, his wife Amudha and their five-year-old son Siddharth live in a small rented apartment. Their house owner decides to lease the house to IT professional for a higher rent, forcing the family to vacate in a month. With time running out and nowhere to go, Illango goes on a house-hunting spree across the city and everything that follows forms the crux of the story.
As much as To Let is about urban housing problems, it also focuses on middle-class dreams and reality. Illango works as a writer-cum-assistant director. It’s been his life-long dream to become a director and we see him struggle to get a break. There’s a scene where we see him ask his friend, in total despair, ‘how many more hours of my life I should invest to make a two-hour film’.
Amudha dreams of moving into her own home and she doesn’t mind even if it is small. She’s tired of being pushed around and taken for granted by her house owner. There’s a beautiful scene where she describes her dream house and the way she yearns for it really moves us.
In reality, both Illango and Amudha struggle to realize their dreams. At one point, Illango decides to sell his script and as he has that conversation with his wife, we see his hands running over his script and one can sense his disappointment. Amudha asks him to sell her jewels instead, and the scene almost moves us to tears.
Most of the film is shot inside a house and it’s amazing how Chezhiyan doesn’t make the experience boring. As we see Illango and his family struggle to find a new house to move in, we also see the bond they share with each other. Chezhiyan gives us a moving drama about a family that sticks together no matter what.
As Illango hunts for a house, we see his house owner show the house to prospective tenants. The family finds it extremely uncomfortable to have people come over at odd hours. In one scene, we see Amudha step out of a shower and quickly run back into the bathroom as she realizes someone has come to see the house. In another scene, we see someone who has come to see the house, open the cupboard to find sanitary pads. He immediately apologizes to Amudha, who stands helpless and ashamed in one corner. Chezhiyan beautifully establishes the fact the need for a house is not just to take refuge but have some privacy which Illango and his family really lack.
As people come and go to Illango’s house, we also see the kind of effect it has on Siddharth. In one scene, he imitates the whole scenario of how people get shown the house, and he ropes in his parents in the act to make it memorable. In another scene, Siddharth, who often scribbles and sketches on the walls of his house, draws a house with ‘To Let’ sign on it to remember the experience.
Chezhiyan treats To Let as realistically as possible. The influence of world cinema is quite evident in his treatment and rich tributes are paid to the masters like Mrinal Sen and Akira Kurosawa among others. The film features mostly newcomers but their performances really standout. Siddharth as Dharun is easily the pick of the actors as he delivers the kind of performance that is very rare from someone so young. Santhosh and Sheela as the couple turn in matured performances.
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