Panjim, 30 Nov 2018 11:00 IST
The film moves at a comfortable pace to show the passage of time between a family’s eviction notice and the struggle to find a new home.
Chezhiyan Ra’s To Let was voted the Best Tamil Film at the 65th National awards this year. Chezhiyan made the film based on his own experience of house hunting.
To Let is set in the first decade of the 21st century, specifically 2006-07, when a sudden infotech boom led to rents shooting up in Chennai.
Ilango (Santhosh Sreeram) and Amudha (Suseela) live in a 1BHK flat along with their young son (Dhahran). Their unkind, greedy landlady is a bully, and asks them to vacate the flat in 30 days.
Ilango, a film writer, does not have a steady income, and, to add to their woes, the rents have gone up manifold as infotech employees pay obscene amounts with their fat pay cheques.
‘To Let’ refers to the advertisement signboards outside homes on rent. It becomes a metaphor for exploitation and exclusion while inviting people to come and look for a space they can call their own, albeit for 11 months at a time.
The film moves at a comfortable pace, sometimes causing boredom. The treatment seems necessary, however, to show the passage of time between the family’s eviction notice and the struggle to find a new home.
Chezhiyan Ra pays attention to detail and scatters metaphors in many scenes. Ilango carries a bag from IFFI 2006, Amudha consciously puts her right foot forward when they go looking for homes as it is auspicious, their son scribbles on walls oblivious to the consequences.
The greedy landlady reprimands the boy, tearing and crumpling one of his paintings. In one scene, Ilango irons out the piece of paper. So what if he can’t iron out the creases in his life? It’s almost as if that’s all that is in his control.
Such personal touches would make the film relatable to many. It is an important film, highlighting a legitimate urban, metro problem — no spaces and soaring rents.
The camera moves shakily when they go house hunting on their moped, to show the unsteadiness of their present and uncertainty of their future. New tenants coming to see the house unknowingly disrupt their life. But the couple realizes everybody is sailing in the same boat.
Chezhiyan Ra uses silence effectively, often letting the camera linger on. It helps the audience to soak in the atmosphere and sympathize with the characters. However, it also seems manipulative at times. Even as the film moves at its own pace, it tends to drag.
To Let explores how moving homes is much more than just physical packing up. Emotions and memories scribbled in each corner are the hardest to erase, as the young boy finds out the hard way. Actors Santhosh Sreeram, Suseela and Dhahran effectively and convincingly depict their dilemma as tenants forced out from a home they build countless memories in.
The penultimate shot is telling of the ugly urban housing situation as Amudha closes the door, darkness engulfing the house. It’s a reflection of their own future that seems bleak as they are forced to move to the suburbs.
Except for the sluggish pace in some parts, To Let is a touching film about a very pertinent urban problem.
To Let was screened at the 49th International Film Festival of India in Goa on 22 November 2018.
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