Film Review: Little Wings (2022): The cruel and amiable quirks of fate
Dipankar Sarkar writes that though the film ends with a ray of hope, it still leaves us with the concern that the life of the female protagonist might have blossomed under better circumstances.
Noted Indian film critic and an alumnus of FTII, Pune, Dipankar Sarkar reviews the short film Little Wings by Naveenkumar Muthaiah.
Based on Tamil writer Kantharvan’s story ‘Saturday’s Corpse’, filmmaker Naveenkumar Muthaiah’s short film Little Wings is an interesting film that addresses the all-pervasive societal perniciousness of patriarchy with an adept touch. The young filmmaker's style is precise and concise, and its judicious balance of comic and serious-minded approaches organically emerges within the narrative. The twenty-minute viewing experience is governed by the filmmaker’s relentless observation, tempered by a sharp sense of irony. Without being didactic, the film depicts the pitiful plight of a rural woman struggling with her husband and society for a respectable life and helps to raise consciousness about how the efforts of women for their families go undervalued.
Image: Film Still
The drama unfolds in the outlying regions of rural Tamil Nadu and illustrates a woman who is the breadwinner in a house where the husband is a good-for-nothing sort of individual. The principal characters in the film have been leading lives of squalor because they are constrained by the social conventions that are thrust upon them. The pangs of hunger and the entitlement of a chauvinistic attitude are the two driving forces of the narrative. The female lead, Manimegalai, battles to provide for her basic requirements, support her family, and take care of her husband, played by Nitharsana C. Kalidoss. He is disabled, jobless, and in need of his wife's care. But at the same time, he is jealous of this departure from societal gender expectations, where a man feeds a woman in a married relationship. Despite the fact that there is barely enough money to cover his food costs, he desires to have a meal served with chicken. The woman has a pet rooster, and the husband targets the poor creature to satisfy his ravenous appetite. As a result, conflicting situations arise between the couple that end with a detrimental outcome.
Naveenkumar has a knack for subtle details as well as the acumen to portray a female character whose natural warmth and energy have been muted by trauma and social isolation. She puts money away and makes investments for the next meal, while the haughty and enraged husband is fixated on establishing his authority and getting his fulfilment. The male protagonist, despite being crippled and being cared for by his obedient wife, is unwilling to give up the throne that patriarchy has ensured for him. Thereby, the filmmaker gives a thriving, honest portrayal of a woman as a wife and breadwinner, and her act of refusing to succumb to her husband’s order is a brave and empowering act. Hence, the film delves deeper into the ongoing hardships of an Indian lady living in a rural area, set against a backdrop of sexist distrust. The downbeat yet radiant cinematography of Saravanamaruthu Soundarapandi and Meenakshi Soman also helps the film bring authenticity to the milieu. Whereas the editing by Philominraj lets the scenes flow smoothly and rhythmically, contrasting hope and despondence in a pleasing way.
Though the film ends with a ray of hope, it still leaves us with the concern that the life of the female protagonist might have blossomed under better circumstances. But we are assured that she will learn to manage it anyway. Whether she will succeed is a big question, of course, but Naveenkumar’s triumph as a filmmaker is hardly in doubt.
At the 14th International Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK), Little Wings won the award for Best Short Film.
Image: Film Still