வீடு (1988) [English title: House] — An elaborate portrayal of a common man’s (or woman’s) dream

This movie could be summarized as a tale of a woman who is assigned with the arduous mission of constructing a house of her own.

With a simple narration, the story elaborates this summary in detail without ever derailing from this one line. Yet, it manages to visit many territories such as bureaucracy, the luxury of romance, harassment, and relatively long sequences of travel. Some of them can be isolated. The rest are entangled with the main task of her life.

This movie is not vying for realism. It provides an account of probable events with unfavorable scenarios that could take place from the birth of a desire to realization. Because of this detailed treatment,

The scene of birth (of the desire), even though is a result of a series of events preceding it, is so deliciously crafted.

A person from more or less the same financial class as the lead characters of the story is having lunch with them. They are lamenting about high rents for houses. Then this person describes his experience in building a house. He narrates it with such delicacy and allure of a veteran con man without the intentions of a con man. He starts it off with an air of suspense by asking them to guess how he managed to achieve his dream (which would soon become theirs). After explaining the odds that were stacked up against him, he then goes on to describe how he fought and beat those odds with an enticing description of the house. This is probably a high-quality sales pitch without any self-interest. This scene not only births the entire movie but also the courage to wish for something and act on it, however unreachable.

This film is spearheaded by a female character (also exalted later by another female character). Will power and individuality that one has carved for themselves are commendable virtues. But in the long run, when these virtues are battling their worst enemies, an ally is your only weapon. And that is what the male character in this movie is to the female. An emotional crutch. To undertake such a massive endeavor (massive with respect to the financial strength) more than courage, you need encouragement and assurance of guidance. And thus, in this way, romance is handled in this movie.

This is also another reason the movie emanates a fading illusion of realism throughout. Romance as conventional Tamil cinema knows is a luxury for these characters. A moment to breathe is a fairy tale for them, Thus, a fairy tale love is the person of your life beside you through all the miseries for the magic of occasional joys. There are no separate dedicated moments of love here. It is all entangled with their struggle. There are scenes of them discussing the next plan of action for finances. Then both of them travel to different Govt. departments to complete all legal requirements. Then there is a sequence of them walking through roads inundated with water. This is a considerably long scene of them merely trudging through this water. It is perfectly alright to think this could have been trimmed. And doing so would not have ruined anything. But this is how the director maintains the deception of achieving verisimilitude. Without aggrandizing the supposed beauty of love, capturing the mundane albeit tumultuous life is the true brilliance of the writing. They have their misunderstandings which produce a flurry of harsh words. But swiftly they move past it. There is no ritual for reconciliation here. It is unsaid and is presented as a critical part of their successful relationship. With this abstinence from fantasy, we are privy to the middle-class lifestyle filled with the pressure to make ends meet while being stuck in a vicious cycle of income and debts.

Bureaucracy, corruption, and harassment are all causes and effects of each other in this film. How it all is dealt with is where the movie chooses drama over the capture of more of the mundane. While corruption is pervasive throughout the movie bureaucracy comes as its small precursor. The solution to these two and the gender disadvantages is processed in a comparatively more dramatic fashion.

The acts without any scruples are presented as being part of the system. There is no dramatic pause or sudden zoom into the faces of the character (which was prevalent in cinema during the time this movie was released). A sort of mutual acknowledgment of both the parties involved in the act of bribing is made clear.

The other depraved acts are filled with a little drama. The facade of realism begins to breakaway in the scene where the woman, who is bearing the brunt of having the audacity to desire materials which are beyond the social norms and economical norms, confronts a miscreant head-on. At first, he tries to prevaricate. When pressed on, he retaliates by accusing the woman of having a questionable sexual life and using it as a ladder to move up in her career. What follows this is an epic monologue with mildly rapid pacing of the words and staging it in such a way to make the viewer go from the initial shock to the final applause.

The one who delivers this monologue is not the woman who alleged of unprincipled sexual life. It is from a woman who is working at the construction site, mere daily labor carrying bricks and blocks of cement. She comes forward in defense for a woman who is socially and economically in a better position than her. This is why breaking the realism tone did not muddle the tonality of the film. Because whoever you are, irrespective of your status in society, if you are accused of immoral sexual behavior, you immediately become one. The facts come in second. Those who are sorrounding you come to a conclusion out of ingrained prejudices and judge you to feel better about themselves. Given these unfortunate unwritten rules, this scene has more power than it already showcases. In this particular case, the one who breaks forward to support the woman… Is another woman, which makes this far more powerful. Even though it seems implausible since she risks her job for something (from her perspective) relatively not worth risking, the point is served — there are some stereotypes in society that does not discriminate by class and you need someone by your side to rebuke it as you become instantly unreliable as soon as you’re stereotyped.

Although this scene was powerful, it lays the basement for the less realistic part of the story. It is a hyperbole to express the cash crunch but it still was a tad incoherent.

How the movie ends or rather, how it continues from this point forward is not going to be discussed. Because the previous paras have pretty much covered the objective of those scenes. So let us delve into the last part of this write-up; Music.

The composer of this movie is Ilayaraja. I am not going to indulge in writing a mini-biography of him. That would cross the word limit this blog service has set. So check the hyperlink and see for yourself. However much a genius you think he is, I can assure he is twice of that.

Ilayaraja was definitely in dire need of better sound mixing software. Unfortunately, time was against him. Similar to other concessions we as viewers provide for movies from times without the technological advancements of today, let us ignore this and move forward to the music itself. It would be criminally pretentious of me to write about the intricacies of the compositions itself. But let me talk about the decision to not use background music and also the utilization of the same piece for different scenarios.

Music can elevate the emotions of a scene. Sometimes it even has a placebo effect of invoking something out of nothing (an empty scene). There are instances where music can be a hindrance. The events that has been played out in the movie till that particular scene is enough to incite the much-needed sentiment of the scene. This is not a simple decision since we are so used to having music as a cue to feel something while watching a film. This is why it is such a brave move from the composer to restrain. And those scenes he chose not to have music in the background are excellent choices. The best example is the scene close to the end of the movie where their house is destitute of happiness. The camera moves and cuts to different sections of the house. Then, after discovery, the woman of the story starts crying. Up until that moment, there was music in the background. But when she starts bawling heavily, it stops and lets the sound of those tears linger. That is a testament to the brilliance of the composer.

He has used music from one of his albums for this movie. One particular piece is used in multiple places. Couples patch up after a fight, a montage of construction work, and an old man relishing the achievement of a dream he never dared to dream. Yes, I can extrapolate some miraculous far fetched connection between these three for the sake of a musical piece connecting them. But that is where my argument lies. The composition is so universal that it lures us into forging a connection between these scenes when there is none. I am going as far as to say birth, sex, death and this music applies to anyone and can forge connection to anywhere on earth.

This film is one to watch out for because it does not waver (almost) from that one line mentioned at the start of this post. That consistency and music of heavenly quality, it has a Veedu (house) in the all-time list.

Originally published at http://thevicariousview.wordpress.com on August 6, 2020.