Solo: One horrible twist almost destroys a fairly fulfilling film experience

Solo
Director: Bejoy Nambiar
Cast: Dulquer, Neha Sharma, Dhanshika, Sruthi Hariharan, Arthi Venkatesh

Solo’s fourth and final segment, World of Rudra, has the most outlandish twist I’ve seen this year. It ought to qualify as this year’s most ingenious comedy track, or its biggest plot miscalculation. I’m inclined to believe it’s the latter, given how it reminded me of the famous Goundamani-Senthil comedy track in Naatamai. It’s the sort of twist you’d expect to see in progressive international cinema, or perhaps in a K Balachander film like Apoorva Raagangal. The problem in Solo though is how it fails to set you up for such a twist. A filmmaker like K Balachander would typically set you up to ensure that you are able to empathise with the character’s plight when life, that master storyteller, strikes with a cruel irony — Brigadier Ramachandran (Nasser), when commenting about this, says, “Sila neram apdi dhaan nadakkum”. But when Bejoy Nambiar pulls the rug from under your feet, it feels unexpected, sure, but also hilarious. Given that the whole team seems to have bought into this segment (composer Sooraj Kurup has been inspired enough to create the beautiful Seetha Kalyanam), I can only speculate that the idea must have seemed fascinating in writing, but in execution, it only serves to make a theatre explode in laughter. It’s almost a cruel, even if befitting, response for a film which has some beautiful portions, especially in some of its other segments.

My favourite segment of this anthology is the World of Trilok. It’s a gritty, dark episode, the sort of film I wished were based on a short story, so I could savour its little details. The story opens with a young woman (Arthi Venkatesh) on a bicycle in a hill station. It’s the introduction scene of an actress, and so, she’s naturally smiling for no ostensible reason. Except, of course, she isn’t. There’s a reason for her grin. Later, a man gets into an accident only to be rescued by a doctor, Trilok (Dulquer), whose life is interwoven into his. At first, it seems like a forced coincidence, but then, as in all good stories, you realise this scene couldn’t have played out any other way. It’s not all perfect, mind you. For instance, I didn’t quite believe that a commoner could’ve done as much investigative work effectively. But even there, given how affecting the story is, I found myself making excuses for the film: Perhaps a man obsessed with something can be as efficient. I’ll remember this segment particularly for one lovely line, thrown nonchalantly by a Dulquer who carries each segment on his shoulders: “You seem like a good man, but sorry, you’re not good enough.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of Solo is the sheer technical craftsmanship on display. The sets, the shots, the editing, the music… it’s an absolute feast for the eyes and ears, even if not for the mind. In the fourth segment, World of Rudra, you’re shown a montage after Rudra (Dulquer) decides to reach out to his ex-girlfriend who’s disappeared for years. It’s a montage used to give you a quick glimpse of this girl again, to establish that she’s flooded back into Rudra’s mind. It’s a series of slo-mo shots of her intermingled with some gorgeous shots of clouds. Think of this as a microcosm of how delectable the film looks and how luscious it sounds. If you can make films that look and sound like Solo, you can almost be forgiven for not coming up with terrific stories. It must not have been easy to make at all, given that there are three cinematographers and almost a dozen composers used. It’s also not one of those lazy bilinguals. The lip-sync is never off the mark.

Given the eclectic crew on board, it must have helped Bejoy that the stories are not particularly connected. Even the genres are different. So, it is okay that they all look and feel different. I had no issues consuming four films in one, especially on a week when there are no other releases. But perhaps Bejoy felt that the general audience may look for a meaningful thread between all the four stories. Perhaps that’s why the Shiva connection. Perhaps that’s why they all seem to be paying odes to the elements of nature — fire, earth, water and wind.

All the homage to the natural elements, the thematic representation within the stories, is pretty evident. The first segment, World of Shekhar, opens with the lush sound of waves (again, did I tell you how satisfying the film sounds?). The introduction scene of Radhika (Dhanshika), the girl Shekhar (Dulquer) falls in love with, shows her dancing in water. The couple are constantly hanging around swimming pools, or by the lakeside. Should they not be surrounded by a waterbody, it’s raining in the background. The big problem in the story comes when Radhika delivers a child. Or in other words, after her water breaks. In what is supposed to be a moving scene, Radhika talks about an important experience in her past which happens at a… you guessed it, beach. Occasionally, it does seem a bit too much. The other stories too are connected to their other respective natural elements.

What I’m not sure though is if these elements have a bearing on the story itself? Is the revenge episode in World of Trilok (which is based on wind) about a gentle man, call him a breeze, turning into a vicious man, a hurricane? The world of Siva, themed on fire, is for sure about a fiery man, Siva (Dulquer, who doesn’t have a single line). The World of Rudra, which is about earth, is about an army officer (a fighter on land, if you will) losing his girlfriend after they get separated by distance. But after a while, this association becomes a bit too ambiguous for you to be too sure about. If Rudra’s story were about wind, for instance, we could easily conclude that it’s on account of the breeziness of their relationship. Perhaps the connections should have been less tenuous. But this issue pales in comparison to the colossal miscalculation for a twist in the final segment. Someone should have told the writer: Weak Twist, Friend… WTF, if you will. Which is how Dulquer and the entire audience look when the twist is revealed.

This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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