A grumpy old man with a history of illness and a fondness for Orange Mittai; the intense, brooding emergency medical technician sent to fetch the old man to the hospital; his driver, the sidekick – and, an eventful ride to the hospital.
Orange Mittai’s premise is entirely new to Tamil cinema. A road movie with a twist, where a fatherless son and a lonely old man travel together in an ambulance. The desperation of loneliness coming face-to-face with the guilt of loss.
But the execution is as muddled as the premise is fresh.
This could have been one of those French movies. The ones where sad people try to act a little too happy. Their exuberance is the tell, the sign that a deep sorrow lies beneath.
Or this could have been a mushy, sentimental Tamil movie. The ones where dads cry, sons feel emotion, and people react when they are robbed.
But Orange Mittai tries to be a little bit of both and ends up being neither. Director (and screenwriter) Biju Viswanath turns the grumpy old Kailasam – played by Vijay Sethupathi – into an exaggerated eccentric. And as if to support that, Sathya, the medical technician, barely emotes.
Vijay Sethupathi – as good an actor as any in Tamil today – plays Kailasam and puts in an uncharacteristically off-key performance, perhaps because of the incoherent writing. This was meant to be an irreverent, naughty old man with a sad past. But the scenes that are meant to showcase his irreverence turn him into a clown.
He combs his hair with exaggerated care before going to a hospital for a heart attack. Tries to playfully convince the sidekick to get Sathya’s girl. And gets out of an auto and dances to Adiye Manam Nillunna Nikkadhadi. A frenzied, awkward dance much like the rest of the film. There is no knowing smile on Sethupathi’s face then, no awareness that he is being naughty. It is almost like the fake tummy that he sports to look older.
There are also almost no scenes that establishes a relationship between the two men, and when Sathya – in a rare burst of anger – tells Kailasam, “Nobody wants to have anything to do with a psycho like you,” you just want to agree.
Most scenes have a flat – almost amateurish – quality to them. This does not feel like calculated, deliberate slowness that builds up to a crescendo, this is just awkwardly slow.
That is not to say Orange Mittai does not have its moments. Some stretches are beautiful. The understated and very practical romance between Sathya and his girlfriend. The scene where Sathya confronts Kailasam’s hostile son, and tells him how he looks for his dad more than ever after he died. His matter-of-fact tone and dour face work brilliantly here. Also when Kailasam looks longingly at an old man being pampered by his wife and son…
Watching a vibrant human being wither away in old age is one of the saddest sights in the world. Almost as sad as watching a promising premise fall agonizingly flat due to execution.
The Orange Mittai Review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have an advertising relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.