Radiopetti isn’t the story of a radio set. It’s actually the story of a man who loves his valve radio to the moon and back. The title is a mixture of all the things the protagonist, Arunachalam (played by Lakshmanan), holds near his heart.
Hari Viswanath’s Radiopetti is filled with vacant monologues and silent repartees.
An old man, who seems to be a happy-go-lucky guy, meets with a disastrous outcome one day when his son, in a fit of rage, breaks his radio set. It shatters his world. All of a sudden, he’s pushed to the corner.
Hari doesn’t let us witness Arunachalam’s sufferings as the filmmaker doesn’t expand this scene. He moves ahead instead. With this as the prologue, the movie rolls on for a good hour-and-twenty minutes.
In more ways than one, actor Lakshmanan reminded me of Balu Mahendra’s blue-eyed boy, Chokkalinga Bhagavathar. Bhagavathar has appeared in Mahendra’s Veedu and Sandhya Raagam; yet, I remember him for playing Ramesh Aravind’s father in Sathi Leelavathi. I am bringing Bhagavathar to my piece to state two facts:
1. There’s a resemblance between the two actors.
2. Had Bhagavathar essayed the title role, the film would have sat on a higher pedestal. Nevertheless, Lakshmanan hits the right notes a couple of times.
Radiopetti climbs the ropes of a tragicomedy. The puck keeps moving within these two genres in a manner that’s new to Tamil cinema. The American series, Transparent, does that quite effectively. Transparent scores in its dialogues, whereas this Tamil drama scores in the lack of it.
Arunachalam isn’t just fond of his radio in which he sees his father’s memories; he has a tiny collection of materials (wallet, pencil box, and glasses) which once belonged to his dad. It’s interesting to see how he treasures his dad’s things when his son doesn’t give a damn about what he desires. The story makes us feel the pain of Arunachalam’s agony as it is structured in such a way. He’s the sort of man who tears up at the thought of his father. On the other hand, his egoistic son doesn’t even visit him after he’s fallen down a flight of stairs.
The characters (which are only a handful) walk into and out of the frames which make every scene look like a perfect wallpaper.
Lakshmanan cycles to work daily. The first time I saw him do that, I understood that the cinematography-style and music have added countless kilograms of finesse to the on-screen output.
When the film slips into a repetitive whirlpool of nothingness in the latter half (where the director tries to show us how lifeless Lakshmanan feels in a series of shots that would have become a montage for a song in another film), I began to look for Richard Ford’s score to fill me with wonder all over again. It happened in the final few moments. And I was never happier during those 80+ minutes of watching the movie.
Radiopetti is like reopening the pencil box you used to carry to school. It’s a nostalgic trip, albeit set in the future, as the protagonist is an old man who uses a hearing aid.
[The movie is streaming on Netflix.]
Written by - Karthik Keramalu