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Film Review 'Pebbles': An Observational Tale Simmering With Heat and Rage
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Film Review 'Pebbles': An Observational Tale Simmering With Heat and Rage

Review of Tamil film 'Pebbles' - India's official entry to the Oscars 2022.

Updated
Movie Reviews
3 min read

Pebbles

Film Review 'Pebbles': An Observational Tale Simmering With Heat and Rage

PS Vinothraj's Koozhangal's (Pebbles) triumph lies in the fact that it's deeply observational. Frames that linger on, raw long takes and a near absence of music make the narrative so real that you forget you're watching something that's been rehearsed and is being enacted. Much like Arun Karthick's Nasir which premiered at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam, Pebbles, which won the Tiger Award at the festival is a meditative 'a-day-in-the-life-of' reflection of the everyday anger surrounding us, except that while in Nasir, the fury is hidden till it explodes in the climax, in Pebbles, the rage and violence is out there, simmering throughout.

Filmmaker PS Vinothraj's story revolves around an enraged and drunk husband Ganpathy (Karuththadaiyaan) who goes to get his wife back from her mother's home after yet another squabble they've had. Accompanying him on the journey is their little boy, Velu (Chellapandi). Pebbles essentially captures their journey to her home and back. The arid landscape of Aritapatti and the scorching heat that beats down on it also play a major role in the story.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>A still from&nbsp;<em>Pebbles.</em></p></div>

A still from Pebbles.

(Photo Courtesy: Rowdy Pictures)

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"Do you like me or your mother?" growls Ganpathy at the beginning of their journey, setting the tone for what's to come for Velu throughout the trip from his foul-mouthed, bidi-puffing, drunk father who gets into scuffles at the drop of a hat. Their trip to Shanthi's home by bus at first and the punishing return on foot is captured unwaveringly by Vignesh Kumulai and Jeya Parthiban's camera. Just within the bus, the camera lingers on an unhinged pole that shudders as the bus bumps through the rocky terrain, water splutters around from pots filled to the brim stored aboard, Velu's red balloon lights up the dry canvas outside the bus as he playfully holds it out of the window.

A fist fight with his estranged wife's brother drives Ganpathy mad with rage and he threatens to kill her on returning home. But Velu of course will have none of it. The little boy's impromptu plan has his father trudging back home on feet and it's a walk under the smouldering sun that cools him down. The journey interspersed with moments of mischief, wrath, magical realism, and danger leads to an unexpected climax, unexpected because the build-up deliberately fizzles out. For Velu, the unintended trip gifts a puppy that he shares with his baby sister and affords him another pebble that he adds to his collection - a stack that signifies several such intended and unintended wanderings through the blazing grounds around his home.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>A still from&nbsp;<em>Pebbles.</em></p></div>

A still from Pebbles.

(Photo Courtesy: Rowdy Pictures)

As I said at the start it is the observational quality of Pebbles that wins. There are stories hidden within scenes - like the young mother cradling a baby who gets off the bus in the middle of nowhere, a family of that catches and eats rodents, Velu's newly wed teacher - all characters we meet along the journey, offering perhaps even a gendered reading of the film. The actual dialogue script of Pebbles would perhaps be just 2 pages - that's how minimalist it is. Even Yuvan Shankar Raja's background music is sparse, but the film's lingering study of humans and relationships is all heart.

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