Review By : Movie Run Time : 1 hour 39 minutes Censor Rating : U

Production: Prema Chezhiyan, Zha Cinema Cast: Santhosh Sreeram, Sheela Rajkumar Direction: Chezhiyan Screenplay: Chezhiyan Story: Chezhiyan Cinematography: Chezhiyan Editing: A Sreekar Prasad

After a dream run at the film festival circuit, Chezhiyan's To Let is finally hitting the screens. The first element that grabbed my attention was the official poster of the film - A pair of feet on a white background, with one small foot in between them. To Let is about a family of three - Ilango and Amudha, and their child Siddharth (played by a raw Santhosh Sreeram, a natural Sheela Rajkumar and an exceptional Dharun respectively) facing the need to find a house within a short span of time as their house owner is going to rent it to someone else. The poster signifies that the family should also ensure that Siddharth gets a safe future.

The film is devoid of subplots and gives more space for focussed storytelling. The nature of the story, and its simplicity ensures that lot of us can very well relate to it. While a lot of earlier films have dealt with this premise before, the way Chezhiyan has treated this story results in To Let paving its own path. A lot has to be said about the casting. In particular, the pre-climactic sequence's writing is elevated by the restrained performance of Dharun, who exudes innocence and conveys how a landlord-tenant problem can affect a child. 

Not having a background score is a gamble by the director, that has miraculously paid off. Instead, we witness an immersive sound design from Tapas Nayak. His percipience is shown when you can even hear the sound of a creaking fan in the background, whilst a loud quarrel is happening in the foreground. This is a testament to the fact that the film concentrates more on creating a life-like ambience. When we walk down the streets in our daily life, there is no background music playing. It is just the honking of the vehicles passing by, or the sound of the pan hitting the 'biriyani' vessel, or people chattering non-stop. Tapas Nayak creates such a chaotic atmosphere... so chaotic that it's beautiful!

The camerawork breeds a sense of calmness, balancing the chaos created by the sound design. Since the story deals with a family man, Ilango finding a house for rent, the first place he visits alone sees a break in that pattern. The frame is set from his perspective, and as he is led through the narrow passages of Chennai. The movement is not regular or smooth. We see a sequence that is almost Mysskin-esque in mood. There is a sense of outlandishness when this sequence takes place. Gradually, the calmness resumes after the first time, as Ilango gets used to it.

One of the major issues with To Let is that it uses the cliches created by earlier films of the same kind. When there is a hunt for a house, we are always shown the following: a casteist landlord, a vegetarian one, an over-charging house owner, someone who asks you not to hit nails on the walls, someone who prefers family tenants, a religious house owner... and the list is endless. We've seen it in a lot of films. The film could have taken a detour to show us what makes the house owners say this, thereby giving a human touch to them. The director has fleshed out characters who are either black or white. The lack of characters with a grey shade results in us rooting for the protagonists right from the start. The film also has a run time of just 99 minutes, which compensates for the leisurely paced narrative. If you are expecting the film to entertain you for the 150 odd rupees that you dish out, then you are bound to be disappointed.

However, Chezhiyan manages to stay true to the intent of the film, and that honesty is what makes To Let a great watch. The metaphors placed at various points are brilliant. For example, we are repeatedly shown a small sparrow trapped inside a house unable to get out. After some time, it gets stuck in the ceiling fan and dies. It can be compared to the situation of Ilango's family, where he wants to get out, but doesn't have a place to go. Similarly, while vacating the house, we get a glimpse of the book - Indru Puthithai Piranthen, the Tamil version of legendary director Late Mrinal Sen's biography, Always Being Born. Like Mrinal Sen, Chezhiyan makes a social commentary on urban poverty by bringing in fiction and facts, while consciously staying away from mixing both.

Another interesting aspect about the film is the way the certain scenes unfold. Throughout the film, the child, Siddharth keeps drawing images on the walls of the rented house. When time comes for them to leave the house, he tries to rub them off, but in vain. The wife, Amudha is about to leave the house, but looks up in despair; her eyes tell us how much she wants to stay there. Even Ilango's two-wheeler doesn't start when he is about to leave the house. When you are in love with something, you leave a part of you there. To Let beautifully explains that, and transcends the definition of cinema to become an experience that everyone must feel. Chezhiyan has made a brilliant piece of art called To Let. It's our duty to not let theatres look like empty houses with the To Let board.

[Review based on a special press show on February 18. Catch the film in theatres, from February 21]

Verdict: To Let is an honest reflection of the lower middle class' forage for a dream home. An adroit piece of art that must not be missed.


3.25 5 ( 3.25 / 5.0 )





To Let (aka) Tolet

To Let (aka) Tolet is a Tamil movie. Santhosh Sreeram, Sheela Rajkumar are part of the cast of To Let (aka) Tolet. The movie is directed by Chezhiyan. Production by Prema Chezhiyan, Zha Cinema, cinematography by Chezhiyan, editing by A Sreekar Prasad.