Review of Cheran’s ‘Pokkisham’.

Pokkisham (Treasure) is not a Tamil version of ‘Love Letters’ or ‘Tumhari Amrita’ though letters do play a pivotal role in this love story set in the early 70s. Lenin (Cheran), a marine engineer based in Calcutta falls in love with Nadira (Padmapriya), a Tamil Literature student from the coastal town of Nagore in South India when they happen to meet by chance at a hospital taking care of their respective parents.

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Cheran and Padmapriya in Pokkisham                        Image Courtesy – Rediff. com

The movie examines the difficulties of true love across religions in an orthodox setting – the letters narrating their travails is indeed the focal point of the movie.

Cheran’s movies often tend to shun the commercial aspects of cinema and march to their own drummer. Often this reflects on their box-office results as well but one needs to admire the man’s sense of purpose. He does tell the tale as he visualizes it and it is a treat in its own way to watch such offbeat themes.

Well there is not much of a suspense in the story – Lenin’s letters are delivered by his young son rummaging through an old trunk. They tell a tale that we know from outset is about a doomed pair of lovers – the real appeal of the movie is in the journey and the destination is just a peg to close the story.

What worked for me – 

Authentic settings of the story – Nagore and Calcutta appear on-screen as one can imagine them in the 70s. Nagore settings are scenic with lovely shots of the seashore and the famous ‘Nagore Dargah‘ but the Calcutta scene truly mesmerizes. The old buildings, scene of the Durga Puja, its quaint trams, the quaint post box and post office, the people and their sweet language – it all comes alive. Instantly I was reminded of Kamal Haasan’s  ‘Hey Ram’ which again featured Calcutta in its true splendour.

The charm of Tamil dialect and literature – In a way it made it rather difficult to follow the story but Cheran takes a lot of pain to portray the local dialect and quotes heavy amount of Tamil poetry and literature as a way to depict the quaint relationship between the lead couple. Indeed common interests initially help them forge a friendship that quietly deepens into a love story through the exchange of letters.

Cheran’s convictions are firm in the face of ‘Tanglish‘ and Madras Tamil dominating our movies and lives. He could have easily got away with the use of at least conversational Tamil but that wouldn’t have been an authentic narrative. He seems to say that is an offbeat story is to be told, it is better to stick to its rhythms and charms.

A film for Cheran’s fans – It has his signature style – clean content, no violence or titillation, in fact not even a real villain so to say. Nadira’s father might have acted against her wishes and schemed in preventing their alliance but there is not much ill spoken about him by any of the characters. It is an idyllic world in its own way – Cheran amazes us with his faith in humanity and looking for the ‘good’ in everyone.

What didn’t work for me

The narrative style – It weakened the story. It could have been made into a period film rather than complicating it with a ‘future story’ of a son taking the letters to an aged Nadira. Even it was rightly intended the portrayal wasn’t effective and the aged Nadira just does not quite tug at one’s heartstrings.

The contrast of a modern love (an impatient girlfriend who gets suspicious and mean mannered when her boyfriend doesn’t reply to her mobile calls) is too convenient a foil to merit interest. And it’s not even developed into a theme so is more of a distraction.

A tale meandering to its finish – It is a slow themed story but it just runs way too long. In particular the second half could have had a tighter finish without detracting from the essence of the story. Instead we end up crossing over to Malaysia for a final scene that really fails to have the right impact.

The reading of the final letters though meaningful are a pattern that is repeated far too often. It just doesn’t hold the interest of the audience though it may appear to be an ‘artistic’ form of screenplay. Cheran also made the tale unidimensional – he should have developed at one or two sub-plots – Lenin’s life as a marine engineer, Nadira’s fun and games at her college, Lenin’s life with his wife and family, Lenin’s son and his relationship with his girlfriend were the options available to add variety and flavour to the narrative.

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