House Owner: A Film That Is Both Moving & Zestless At The Same Time
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
House Owner is Director Lakshmy Ramakrishnan’s fourth film. In all her three previous outings, she brought to life strong, relatable and relentless female characters that will forever go down in the books as roles that actually reflect the lives of real women. In her fourth film too, she brings your attention to Radha, a woman whose personality bears pieces of many of our mothers and grandmothers who’re strong without ever having to yell, who put their emotions into tiny boxes and choose to let their affection for their family take the center stage. Is their plight unfair? Sometimes, yes. Is it realistic? Absolutely. So, as long as House Owner follows Radha, it is nostalgic and poignant even. But when you turn to the other characters the authenticity falters and even though the nostalgia prevails, it becomes too faint to carry the film through a memorable completion.
House Owner is a tale of love and companionship. The kind of love that begins at sixteen and lasts well into the ’70s. You are introduced to Vasu (Kishore DS) and Radha (Lovelyn) being hitched at a very young age. You see flashes of their youth and suddenly, you are jolted back to reality as an elderly Vasudevan (Kishore) wakes up, shocked to realize that he has aged. He is now a retired army general who lives with his wife, Radha (Sriranjini) at their home in Nandambakkam. It is the year 2015 and hence, the Chennai floods are brought into their story as games of carrom are interrupted by gushes of water that floods their living room. How Radha and her Alzheimer-ridden husband, Vasu survive the floods while also recollecting the early years of their lives, forms the crux of the film.
One of the things that instantly draws you to House Owner is how beautifully it travels between time to put together Vasu and Radha’s youth life and their current life. The contrast is obviously there, but none of it is melodramatic. Take, for instance, how their relationship has changed over the years, in the flashback, a sixteen-year-old Vasu tells Radha to always be herself, but an aged Vasu now resorts to his army general ways as he tells Radha to know her place. This isn’t to say that they are unhappy now, but to merely highlight the fact that things have certainly changed. The innocence that Radha once bore has now been transferred to Vasu. Many moving sequences like these adorn the film with what once was without robbing the beauty of the present. Such acknowledgments and intimacy are rare to come by in Tamil cinema these days.
But the film takes its time to settle into its narrative. In fact, up until the interval, you have doubts about where the film is heading and what it is trying to say. Is it simply a story that encapsulates their past and presence? Is it a subtle commentary on time and change? You understand that the film is a bit of both but by the time this understanding strikes you, the film is already at its climax. It doesn’t help that each of the characters except for the older Radha, carry with them a Palakkad brahmin slang that doesn’t quite fit as effortlessly into their personality as it should. It sounds inauthentic and proves to be a distraction.
Films like House Owner depend on the connection it builds with the audience. This connection brings the viewer to empathize with the characters and invest in their journey. Even though you do connect with the older Radha. Somehow, you find yourself unaffected by Vasudevan. You can’t help but feel that his character could’ve used much more depth. This is one of the reasons why you remain un-flinched even as a threat is inserted into their lives. Maybe this is why the climax never creates as big an impact as it should.
You know that feeling you experience when you find yourself at a new place? The sights and sounds are fascinating but nothing feels quite as comforting as home. This is the problem with House Owner. It’s moving bits and pieces aren’t enough to compensate for the flat portions that never give you the feeling of this story being lived-in.
Kishore and Sriranjini are terrific in their portions. Sri Ranjini is especially brilliant in capturing the personality of a doting wife who cares for her Alzheimer-ridden husband despite his shortcomings. The portions in which you see her purposefully allowing her anger to take a backseat are poignant and beautiful. Kishore DS is a good performer but somehow this role appears to be a misfit for him. Lovelyn, on the other hand, is great. She convincingly captures her character’s innocence and vulnerabilities. You almost cannot tell that this is her first film.
Krishna Sekhar’s cinematography strikes quite a beautiful contrast between Vasu and Radha’s past and present lives. Their past is visualized in warm tones, lush greenery and a gush of rain that brings alive quite the undefeated optimism one experiences in their youth. Sekhar then brings you back to reality with his depressing and wildly realistic visual treatment of their present life. Ghibran’s background score is subtle and yet manages to bring life to the screenplay with its rewarding presence. But Tapas Naik steals the show with his outstanding sound design. When it rains in the film, you really feel as though it is raining around you and you are stuck in the narrative.
On the whole, House Owner is an earnest film with more than a few moving portions. But as a whole, it lacks the warmth to make it an entirely heart-warming tale.