WTF ASIA 185: Penguin (2020)

Halloween may be over, but that does not mean that I am done with movies about motherhood and kids in mortal danger.

Available in AustraliaCanadathe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Also on Einthusan in Tamil and Telugu, as well as dubbed into the other Indian languages. Approximately 132 minutes.

 

 

 

Hey, did you know that Charlie Chaplin was partially of Romani descent? That means that he has Indian roots. I learned that while trying to figure out if there was any metaphorical significance of…uh…this.

Oh dear. He’s going to kill that kid. And maybe that dog.

Oh, okay, it was a dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Rhythm. She is heavily pregnant and today is her 1-year anniversary. Her husband, Goutham, calls her to apologize for being away on business on such a special day. But, it

Interesting choices for reading material.

While waiting for her ultrasound appointment at the hospital, Rhythm thinks back to six years ago when she…uh…was married to a man named Raghu and had young son named Ajay. She is reading a story about a penguin to the boy, and I guess that that is where the movie’s title comes from. Raghu interrupts the story to tell Rhythm that an old friend, Bhavana, has just lost her father.

The family arrives at the funeral and, while Bhavana’s mother is wailing by the body, Bhavana is sitting against a wall off to the side, practically asleep. Rhythm goes over to Bhavana and begs her to go to her mother, but Raghu tells Rhythm to give Bhavana some space.

Raghu and Rhythm are walking away when Raghu asks her where Ajay is. Rhythm says that Ajay is with their friend Kathir, but Kathir says that Ajay had went with them. Rhythm starts to panic, but Raghu tries to make it so that they can search for Ajay without interrupting the funeral rituals. But her behavior alerts another friend Abhi, who follows her to Kathir again. Then a couple older men notice the discussion and start shouting it to everyone. Now that the secret is out, everyone starts searching for Ajay. Even Bhavana and her mother eventually leave the body.

Rhythm breaks down and cries to Raghu that their son is missing. Raghu scolds her, saying that she lost him and that she is responsible for this. Suddenly, someone shouts out that he has been found. They run out to the street to where a group of people are surrounding him. Did he get into a car? In any case, Rhythm picks him up and kisses him as he cries and cries. She swears that she will never leave him again.

But then Rhythm wakes up in the present and there is no Ajay.

 

 

 

There is, a little girl with a beach ball who plays peekaboo with her for a bit. But then she vanishes, leaving the beach ball bouncing on the floor. Rhythm goes over to where she was to see that her mother had picked her up and is carrying her away.

Rhythm walks further down and sees a…uh…lot of bugs on the underside of the ceiling. Not necessarily a good thing to keep around at a hospital. Also, it makes Rhythm anxious to the point of queasiness, giving her more flashbacks to…something.

Oh, right. The ultrasound. Apparently, the baby has a heartbeat, but is not moving. She taps on Rhythm’s belly to get the baby to wake…does that work? Well, I guess that it does. The doctor says that the baby is scared, probably because of the bees…well, maybe have a bee person move that hive elsewhere. Anyways, the doctor warns Rhythm that another blood pressure spike may affect the baby’s oxygen supply as well as endanger her own life. Rhythm says that she is okay with whatever happens to her as long as the child is okay, but the doctor tells her that both of their lives are important and that she should be cautious for the next two months. That means avoiding things that remind her of her past, especially that lake.

What lake?

Oh, this one. The one that she immediately drives to after the appointment.

 

 

So, six years in the past, Rhythm and Ajay are playing on a hill near that lake with a bunch of the families with kids around his age. Rhythm is just standing around gazing at the crowd when a girl named Pavi comes up to here and says that Ajay is not playing with her. She says that they heard a whistling sound from the forest and Ajay went looking for it. Charlie Chaplin was there with an umbrella. And that was the last that she saw of Ajay.

Sidenote: even though I speak neither Tamil nor Telugu…oh, dear, this kid’s acting is dead-faced bad…was she related to someone in the cast or crew? 

Rhythm goes running to a badly maintained fence and sees Ajay’s backpack on the other side. She screams for him, but he is gone.

Rhythm is distraught. She…what the hell is with this music? If not for the harmonium, this would be the most Westernized four chords of…okay, whatever. She is very sad. Raghu cannot console her. Her friends cannot.

There is a search for Ajay through the forest and the lake. Eventually, a cop finds…what the hell is that?

Whatever it is, it is swarming with bugs. Rhythm faints.

Back at home, a doctor explains to Raghu that Rhythm probably fears insects because she sees them as a metaphor for death. Raghu asks if this means that she cannot go outside. No, she can still go outside, and no treatment will be necessary as long as she does not get reminded of the bad things. What?

Well, Rhythm does go outside, handing out flyers day after day. After about a year with no leads, something is found in the forest. Rhythm is too terrified to approach the scene, but Raghu forces her to go. There is not much, it seems; just Ajay’s shoes, socks, and jacket…with blood on it. Raghu says that he thinks Ajay is dead, but Rhythm refuses to believe it. She cries into Ajay’s jacket…which will probably taint any evidence gained from it. Regardless, she will remember this for the next five years and it will haunt her dreams.

Uh…

Rhythm is with Abhi and Bhavana. It is…unclear if she had considered jumping off that cliff earlier that day, but Abhi is trying to tell her to not commit suicide. Bhavana notes that Rhythm never looked this broken, even when they were kids back in the orphanage. She says that Rhythm was an inspiration for everyone in the school. What happened, Bhavana asks, as if she has not heard about Ajay. Abhi tries to tell Rhythm about Bhavana’s romantic troubles in college which…um…not quite the same level as one’s kid possibly being murdered, but sure. Then Abhi talks not losing hope even with not having kids after seven years of marriage to Kathir. Bhavana tells her this is not the end, and that she has a lot left to experience in life.

End of flashback.

 

 

 

Rhythm has been sitting on the bench by the lake all day, holding that one flyer for Ajay that she had kept in her bag. Does she do this every day? It is unclear, but now it is night.

There is a loud noise and a young man comes tumbling down the hill. Rhythm goes to see if he is all right, though it is clear that he is not. He says something about someone coming back, but Rhythm does not understand what he means. She tries to phone for an ambulance. But the man says that he saw him as well as the missing kid.

Which kid?

Uh oh…

The man tells Rhythm to run, but gives her his phone, saying that he took a picture. She runs off, not able to call for anyone before Umbrella comes to hit the man again and…cut out his tongue?

Oops. Rhythm’s phone rings and it is loud. She drops the man’s phone and runs off, unable to pick it up. Umbrella stops doing whatever with the man and starts walking after Rhythm, finding the man’s phone on the ground. 

Rhythm gets to her car. After struggling with her keys for a bit, she drives off. She makes her way to a police checkpost. She has trouble getting the words out, but eventually gives them enough information that they can go check the area by the lake. She also calls up the lead cop from…all those years ago. She thinks that the man may have been referring to Ajay, though the cop tells her that there is another missing child. He tells her to stay at the checkpost.

So, Rhythm sits inside the checkpost. A cop gives her a drink and asks where she is by herself around here at this hour. She changes the conversation to the missing kid. Her name is Anjana and she is eight years old. They have been looking for her since dawn. They are not sure whether she is merely missing or kidnapped, but she is the sixth child to have been gone missing in as many years.

The cop on the radio reports the discovery of a bouquet by the lake, which Rhythm recognizes as similar to the one from six years ago. And she takes off before the cop sees that she is gone.

Rhythm is speeding back to the lake, arguing with Goutham over Bluetooth about returning to the checkpost when a boy runs out in front of her. She quickly swerves the car to avoid him. The spins around for a little bit before stopping.

By the time that Rhythm can breathe slowly again, the boy has stepped in front of the car again. She gets out of the car goes up to him. Though he is not really responsive, she starts to cry. It is Ajay.

Well, that’s it then, right? The end.

Nope.

 

 

 

 

The premise hooked me into watching. A pregnant woman tries to solve the mystery of her first child’s disappearance. And, that is what the movie is. Sure, there are a few flourishes, such as Charlie Chaplin with the umbrella and the stuff with the insects, but it is fairly straightforward outside of that and I appreciate that. Anyone looking for some masala singing and dancing will be disappointed, though, as much of the music is that four chords of pop guitar stuff with only a harmonium and humming to make it not sound totally Western…even though the harmonium is an English instrument.

I like that the story looked at the grief of losing a child and what it does to people. Rhythm is destroyed. Her friends try to help her get through it, but they cannot truly get to her. Raghu is not a bad man, and he tries to be there for her, but he is also flawed and his concern over his son sometimes manifests as anger at her. While she cries, he is checked out. That their marriage eventually crumbles after Ajay’s disappearance and presumed death is sad, but not surprising. And when he does finally return to the story, he is a bit of a mess. In the meantime, Rhythm finds someone else, remarries, and gets pregnant again. But, despite insistence by doctors that she put the past behind her, she cannot…she will not.

The movie, of course, is also a bit of a kidnapper mystery with a terror-thriller aspect and a very mild dash of the possibly supernatural, I enjoyed it, though I cannot say that it was totally effective. Either you accept Charlie Chaplin with the umbrella or you don’t. Those parts may be a leeetle bit derivative and overdone, but I enjoyed them. The actual reveal is…a bit silly, relying a whole lot on contrivances and things that do not add up. The movie does this thing where it has to spell out everything (perhaps due to the extreme linguistic diversity of Indian audiences) while still not really making sense. And the bad guy acting can be a bit much. There is one major moment that involves blatant architectural inconsistency, but I just had to let slide to let the movie keep going.

And the stuff about motherhood towards the end is…quite cheesy. Like, it is almost obvious that this was written and directed by a man who was trying to show appreciation for how mothers have it rough, but it comes off as kind of patronizing. This may be a bit awkwardly amusing if paired with the less charitable depictions of motherhood in last week’s movie which, by the way, was written and directed by a woman.

These are all small things, though, and are pretty much overshadowed by the lead character. If I can rag on a kid’s forty-seconds of screen-time, I can say that Keerthy Suresh carried the entire film as Rhythm. She was in pretty much in every scene and I was there with her through the entire journey. She is traumatized, but unwilling to let go of the memories that bring about the terror, which ultimately leads to courageous actions beyond mere mama bear instincts. I am not entirely sure how the whole simultaneous filming in Tamil and Telugu works, but she works in both versions. And, ultimately, that is what matters most.

So, yeah, this may be a few days late for Halloween, but I finished writing this up on Halloween; that has to count for something. Heck, watch it anyways.

 

 

WTF ASIA 186: The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Japan: 2013, approx. 137 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.

 

 

WTF ASIA 187: Accident (Hong Kong: 2009, approx. 87 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.