The first thing that crossed my mind when I saw the title of Geetha J's debut feature, Run Kalyani, was a 1998 German film, Run Lola Run, by Tom Tykwer – a thriller. The one common point between Lola and Kalyani is the two women's motion and mobility. Both are forever on the move, though for entirely different reasons. While Lola keeps running (in a work which presents several versions of one particular incident) to help her boyfriend, Kalyani's brief is to cook for two households, and earn her livelihood. But a good part of Geetha's 100-minute movie – which had its world premiere at the ongoing Kolkata International Film Festival – is all about her protagonist's (Garggi Ananthan) walk, to work and back home.
In a way, this does get repetitive, as we see Kalyani travel through the same landscape day in day out. The buildings are all same, even the man who stands at a street corner (maybe he thinks that this is his Hyde Parker in London) mouthing his opinions and sometimes Shakespeare! Kalyani's daily work routine is also mundane and without any distractions.
She wakes up in the morning and gets to her aunt (Sathi Premji), giving her a cup of coffee before cleaning her up and preparing her food. Kalyani wears a crisp cotton sari, bids goodbye to the older woman and begins her walk on the same Thiruvananthapuram roads (one of them has a wall with the names of literary figures), passing by the same security guard before entering what seems like a bachelor's pad.
She cooks for him. The man there, Vijayan (Ramesh Varma), is balding, writes a love poem on a piece of paper and hands it over to Kalyani, who then delivers it to a middle-aged woman, Nirmala (Meera Nair), at a flat in a neighbouring building. The woman is the battered and bruised wife of a top executive in a multinational company. Nirmala hands over her love note to Kalyani, who delivers it to the woman's lover, Vijayan, the next morning. Between the love notes, the man gets to his balcony and the woman to her rooftop, and they stare at each other. Call it longing or futility but can a woman in modern times be so helpless.
Run Kalyani does not have much of a story, a couple of curves, yes – a death, an elopement and a gift. But I could see all this coming, and so there was not much of a surprise here. The plot needed much more meat, and Kalyani's daily walk and chores are done with such singular uniformity that the run time of 100 minutes begins to seem a yawn.
There is some soft soothing music by Sreevalsan J Menon, a well known Carnatic vocalist, but it does not push the narrative, and often sounds like a disruption. Yes, Ananthan is subtle, subdued and even controlled, but her smile every time she picks up a love note does get a trifle unnatural. In fact, except for veteran actor Madhu essaying a small role who infuses marvellous levity, the others appear too wooden. And this includes Nair, who hardly conveys tha angst she must be going through.
Honestly, Run Kalyani did not grip me.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic)