I am a little irritated with Puta Thirugisi Nodu when it begins.
The film opens with a set of interviews in which Bangaloreans are asked about the games they played as children, and I find myself counting how many men and how many women are interviewed. I scowl at the screen when I realise that the women are never on their own; their smiling husbands stand behind them as the women talk in past tense about the sports they once used to play.
But it is difficult to hold a grudge against Puta Thirugisi Nodu for too long. The film goes out of its way to show you that it is actually on your side, and that you must not hate it only on the grounds of accurate representation. When there is only one woman playing cricket – who is benched when the competition between the Public Grounds Team and the Hostel Team begins – I ask myself why I stopped playing basketball after I came to Bangalore for college.
It was never a conscious decision. It just seemed like the most normal thing to do and no one questioned it. Friends who would come watch me play never asked why I wasn’t playing anymore. My mother was never concerned about it the same way her voice becomes tentative when she senses that I haven’t been writing. I don’t ask myself why, either, and Puta Thirugisi Nodu made me uncomfortably aware of it. “If there is a reason there is only one girl playing cricket, it is not my fault,” the film was telling me.
As the film progresses, I realise that it is difficult to look at the women on the screen. There is too much happening all at once, and it is impossible to focus on their faces or their bodies. Music, camerawork, and dialogue work together to push the audience away; to take your gaze and force you to do other things with it. When Nikhila and her mother argue about who should make Nikhila’s coffee, or when they go shopping, you are left blinking at the screen in an attempt to concentrate on the two women.
On the other hand, it is easy to look at the men in the film. The music resumes its place in the background, the camerawork becomes calmer, and the dialogue acknowledges the pauses and rhythms that you have come to be accustomed to. When the members of the Public Grounds Team lean against the ground’s fence after a match, or when Mohan has tea with one of them late at night, there is something extremely purposeful about how these shots are framed. The camera moves out so that you are looking at a picture; it gives you the time to take in what men being men can look like, and the image is vastly different from those that you are used to. Mohan is not particularly confident or funny or decisive. He is allowed to be just Mohan drinking tea.
Perhaps this is what also allows him to be in love differently than other men. Nikhila sings to him in an apartment they have gone to see, and he looks down at his hands, shy. After they have fought, he spends an entire match looking at his cell phone while his team steadily loses. He is incapable of being unaffected at his own command, but the same time he isn’t the kind of guy we have come to know as the ‘soup boy’ – the Romeo, the Dhanush, the boy who sees it as his duty to embody tragedy and exact pity from everyone around him. Mainly, I find myself falling for Mohan because he never looks at Nikhila in a way that suggests he wants to make babies with her because she is the ideal woman. In fact, Nikhila is rather unapologetic about how complicated she is and Mohan does not seem to have any idea of how else she might be.
The film is also made of moments that are so intimately Bangalore that I found myself actively not laughing at good humour, for fear of turning into the offensive outsider. One of the men from the Public Grounds Team says, “This is our ground. We play here every day. We’ll give up our lives before we give up our ground,” and the room around me erupts into laughter. I don’t laugh, because although the logic might seem so childish that it is funny, I am reminded of every time an auto-driver rejects my Hindi request, or of how long it took for the shopkeeper outside hostel to acknowledge me when he hands me my change. In these moments there is frustration on both sides, and I simultaneously reject and accept that I am its reason and deserving victim. So when a joke is made about new buildings taking away open spaces, I tell myself not to laugh. Under what seems like childish reasoning, something is being said, and I feel like it is being said to me.
Finally, the skies break open and Puta Thirugisi Nodu is drenched with rain. A woman once told me that Freud said that any film that ends with a rain scene is a good film. Apart from what a liar that person is, maybe in terms of this film she wasn’t entirely incorrect. There is no reconciliation better than that which takes place in the rain, under a big tree whose leaves become indignant when you expect them to protect you. Nikhila and Mohan find each other again, and you know that they will lose and find each other many more times, just like the rain in Bangalore comes and goes as it pleases.
Photo Credit: ofindianorigin.co.uk
This piece won the first place for the T.G Vaidyanathan Film Review Contest at Meta 2016