#Home movie review: Indrans as Oliver Twist with a twist is a precious Onam gift

#Home movie review: Indrans as Oliver Twist with a twist is a precious Onam gift

#Home is a sweet-sad-funny-thoughtful reminder that everyone has a story.

A family in a state of inertia. Relationships that have plateaued, others that are sliding downhill due to extraneous circumstances. Individuals stuck in a rut. Members of a kutumbam residing within the same home yet disconnected from each other, eating meals at the same table while some hearts and minds are elsewhere.

This is the situation in which we find Oliver Twist (played by Indrans), Kuttiyamma (Manju Pillai), their sons Antony Oliver Twist (Sreenath Bhasi) and Charles Oliver Twist (Naslen) when we first meet them in writer-director Rojin Thomas’ #Home.

If the quietly eventful prologue in Oliver’s house is not enough of a hook, there is our maiden meeting with Antony, set as it is in his filthy flat that would put a pigsty in the shade, and of course, there is the lure of his father’s unusual name. Malayalis tend to give their imaginations free rein while christening their children, sometimes as a reflection of their political leanings and other interests, sometimes inexplicably – I have personally encountered Kennedy, Arafat, Shitto and Titty from Kerala. The story behind why Oliver Twist is called what he’s called is worth listening to, as are other aspects of his life that bely his insecurities and appearance of dullness.

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#Home is a sweet-sad-funny-thoughtful reminder that everyone has a story.

Oliver has failed to keep pace with this changing world. Antony is a director who scored a smash hit on debut and is now struggling to script his second film. When he returns to his parents’ home to work there, it becomes clear that he views the mild-mannered, technologically challenged Oliver as a loser. Kuttiyamma, who used to be employed in a hospital, is now stuck with the daily grind of housekeeping, yet cannot help but notice the strain between father and son, just as Oliver cannot help but notice the tension between Antony and his girlfriend Priya (Deepa Thomas).

Then there is Charles, a selfish adolescent whose demands on his mother never cease, but who has an affectionate, child-like side to him too. Charles is an obsessive YouTuber and Instagrammer. In the background is Oliver’s Appachan grappling with the indignities that old age and ill-health heap on human beings.

Mental health, millennials and Gen Z-ers playing out their lives on social networking platforms, the over-arching presence of cellphones in today’s society, the way human beings take for granted those who are closest to us while walking the extra mile for others, the patterns of impatience that are repeated over generations – all this is woven into the narrative so seamlessly, that it doesn’t feel packed or strained.

A conversation on mental well-being starts off looking set to stray into insensitivity but ends up being the opposite. It is heartening to see mainstream Malayalam cinema repeatedly normalising therapy – Kumbalangi Nights did it in a more serious tone, #Home gives the subject a light touch.

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Rojin Thomas’ debut film, Philips and the Monkey Pen, won the Best Children’s Film trophy at the Kerala State Awards 2013. In #Home, his third venture, he follows in the footsteps of a sizeable segment of the Malayalam New New Wave by drawing on everyday occurrences and Everyperson’s existence to portray high drama on screen sans melodrama. Writers of films like Maheshinte Prathikaaram, Kumbalangi Nights and The Great Indian Kitchen saw extraordinariness in seemingly ordinary situations and created magical cinema out of them. #Home’s contention is that everyone, even the most seemingly ordinary person, has done something extraordinary in their lives.

The point would have been made even without the so-incredible-it-sounds-fictional event buried in Oliver’s memory, but the fact that it lay forgotten for so long is telling in itself.

Not as convincing is the relationship between Antony and Priya. The two are almost never nice to each other, so why they are together remains a mystery.

In fact, like too many otherwise acclaimable Malayalam films, this one too fails to give its female characters the flesh and blood it lends to the scripting of its men. There are only two women of significance in the plot, Kuttiyamma and Priya, and both largely remain in the shadows while the spotlight is placed on one man after the other who is written to be interesting and stand out in his own right.

Manju Pillai is a good actor, but the casting of a woman in her mid-40s to play Kuttiyamma, mother to a character played by a male star in his early 30s and wife to another played by an actor two decades her senior is illustrative of the limited number of age-appropriate roles for women artistes in Malayalam cinema. This is especially ironic because Mollywood simultaneously makes some of India’s most feminist cinema, and #Home itself is progressive in so many other ways.

With the benefit of far better constructed roles, the men all shine – without exception. As he did in Virus, here in the role of Antony too, Sreenath Bhasi shows that he is adept at injecting something special into Everyman.

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Naslen follows up his striking turn as a combustible youth in last week’s Kuruthi with his spot-on comic timing as Charles. The young actor possesses an X factor that goes beyond his evident acting talent and roles though. He is star material and stands out even in the midst of this impressive ensemble.

The moving force behind #Home, however, is Indrans. The veteran artiste is perfect as Oliver Twist who is by turns puzzled, pained, lost and longing for his child’s love. After Veyilmarangal, here once again he proves his ability to carry an entire film on his shoulders. How he could switch from a supporting role as an amoral policeman in last month’s Malik to this week’s Oliver Twist is a mystery, but he does.

The truth is that parts of #Home feel stretched, and the film could have done with some scissoring, but when it works, it works so well that this complaint recedes into the background in the face of its overall endearing nature and loveable simplicity. The writing of Oliver Twist and Indrans’ acting are the most precious gift Rojin Thomas could have given Malayalam film viewers this Onam season.

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