How many actors in their 30s (or 40s) can you think of that played the role of a man in this 50s and did it convincingly? At the moment, I can think of two names – Marlon Brando and Kamal Hassan. And now, I’m going to add the name of Vijay Sethupathi as well. Orange Mittai (Orange Candy) is one of those rare films that have the ability to make you laugh and cry in equal measures without resorting to melodrama. Directed by Biju Viswanath, the film marked Sethupathi’s first turn as producer. Not only did he produce it, he also served as a co-writer along with Vishwanath. Set in a remote village in Tamil Nadu, the actor plays Kailasam, a lonely and reclusive old man who stays in a dilapidated mansion with no one to take care of him.
He reminds one of Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations minus that character’s heightened eccentricity. His life becomes intertwined with that of an emergency medical technician named Satya (played by Ramesh Tilak) who gets a call one day to assist Kailasam, who suffers from a heart attack. Upon reaching his home, Satya and his driver Arumugam (played by Arumughan Bala) realize that they are dealing with an unusual and difficult man. When asked about the number of attacks he has suffered before, he replies: “27 times”. The impatient and loud-mouthed Arumugam starts to dislike the man’s dismissive attitude and overall demeanor. It’s the patient and level-headed Satya, who is adept at handling Kailasam. On the way, Kailasam learns from Arumugam that Satya is in love with a girl named Kavya (played by Aashritha) and that there is some trouble brewing between them.
Earlier, Satya had gone to Kavya’s home to speak to her father regarding their marriage and despite her father giving the approval to Satya, he begins to have second thoughts about his future with Kavya and asks for a day to think things over once again. Later we learn that Satya’s father had passed away a year back and that this loss bothers him from time to time. The journey to the hospital with Kailasam proves more difficult as each hour passes by. Even though he is a heart patient, Kailasam’s situation is not that serious and he doesn’t behave like those other heart patients. Meanwhile, he gets into trouble with people on more than one occasion, including a cop and as usual, with Arumugam too. Despite his stubborn nature, Kailasam also turns out to be a man with an astonishing sense of humor.
When asked about his son’s whereabouts Kailasam doesn’t provide much information other than the fact that he is a journalist. However, when Kailasam becomes too hesitant about calling his son and informing about his condition, we realize that there is something wrong somewhere. As Satya is without a father and Kailasam’s son not being interested in visiting him, it’s at this point that this becomes a father-son story of sorts, with Kailasam being looked at as a surrogate father by Satya and Kailasam seeing Satya as the son he wished he had, although everything is not spelled out. This is one of the best qualities about the film: it doesn’t spell everything out for the viewer. There is subtlety in every frame and every reaction. These facets are revealed without the use of dialogue but we can sense everything that is below the surface.
The film is quite underrated and has acquired something of a cult status among ardent cinephiles and, of course, Vijay Sethupathi fans. Those viewers who disliked the film have asked questions like: “What is the point of the film?” or “What is the meaning of their journey?” I thought everything was obvious and the film, its title and its tagline are all metaphors for life itself. I guess the title Orange Mittai was kept because an orange candy is bittersweet and this is the nature of life itself. And we also see Kailasam walking around with a box full of orange candies and occasionally popping one into his mouth despite his diabetes (Live life to the fullest, perhaps?). In one scene, he holds a candy towards the setting sun and we see a slight resemblance. The film’s message is accentuated by its tagline: “The journey is the destination”.