HOUSE OWNER – Review by Mythily Ramachandran

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It calls for immense courage and self-conviction to make the kind of films she does in a country known for its formula films centered on a star’s image and a male character leading the story on a stereotypical path for a box office win.

Indian actor-director Lakshmy Ramakrishnan stands apart with her stories pivoted around women that are portraits of people who are human. Her fourth Tamil (south Indian language) film, House Owner talks about living with a spouse suffering from Alzheimer’s-a premise not much explored in south Indian cinema or even Indian cinema.

House Owner is set in Chennai and follows Vasu (Kishore) and Radha (Sriranjini)-married for several years- now in the sunset of their lives. The city is battered by torrential rain and a flood like situation is imminent. While their neighbours have vacated to take refuge with a friend or kin, this couple is caught indoors as Vasu will not leave home. Having bought the house at a young age, he is fiercely possessive of it. Radha in jest calls him ‘house owner.’

Besides, Alzheimer’s rules his mind and he is locked in a memory capsule. He does not connect with Radha now, but remembers fondly his wife of younger days. In fact he does not even recognize himself in the mirror when he wakes up and shouts angrily at the old man there-‘Who are you? Get out of my house.’

Swinging between the past and the present, Ramakrishnan reveals their predicament that night and the following day. There are snippets of their first meeting in the traditional Indian way followed by marriage and subsequent bonding.

Today, their roles have reversed. Radha who had looked up to Vasu as protector and provider is now the care-giver. Theirs is a daily ritual as she coaxes Vasu to brush his teeth, take a shower and eat his food, much to his annoyance. He refuses to take instructions from this woman whom he does not recognize anymore.

Ramakrishnan’s story was inspired from the life of a couple she has known. Her writing is strong and brilliant. Shot inside a house and with the two lead characters holding court mostly, Ramakrishnan’s narration is poignant and real. And, if you have been a caregiver or known Alzheimer’s from close quarters, it stirs up memories of a loved one.

The past is shot in vibrant hues that reveal a sunny phase of their lives. The present is rain drenched and gloomy. Will Vasu’s house become the ‘house owner’s tomb? There lies the irony.

House Owner’s strength lies in the uncanny balance of casting. The thin built Kishore wears well the shoes of a retired army man while Sriranjini slips easily into the garb of the broad built Radha. Wonder how Ramakrishnan envisioned that! The two actors with their carefully controlled performances never once slip out from behind the masks of the characters they wear.

To remain true to her lead characters, Ramakrishnan has chosen a dialect not commonly used in Tamil cinema-once again going against the grain. And, she has lent a specific voice to Radha’s character.

Kishore, a reputed performer, is terrific. Sriranjini, who has until now played supporting roles springs a surprise. She completely owns Radha-who is on her toes, watching hawk-like over Vasu and putting up with his stubbornness. One moment she chides him, next she coaxes him into a carom board game and also strokes his self-esteem. Her love is unconditional and she takes life in her stride.

The younger version of Vasu is played by Kishore (child actor of nationally acclaimed film Pasanga). Lovelyn Chandrasekhar marks her debut as Radha. They impress too.

I loved the tiny details that mark the story. There is a beautiful moment when in a rare gesture Vasu leads Radha into a dance. In each other’s arms, a joyous Radha is carried away, but grounded back to reality in no time once Vasu realizes that she is not the woman he married. He pushes her away. That scene leaves you misty eyed.

Cinematographer Krishna Sekar’s frames are evocative and poetic.

House Owner is a poignant emotional drama that stays afloat despite the heavy downpour and the washing away of memories in Vasu’s head. You don’t get such stories any more.

mithilyMythily Ramachandran, a Chennai based Indian journalist, is a regular columnist for Gulf News, a leading UAE daily. When this crazy film buff is not catching up with films, she is snooping around for those little-known stories of human interest, which eventually find a place in the Weekend Review of Gulf News.

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