The town of Puducherry, dancer Leela Samson, a student from Rahman’s music conservatory, and a talented debutant director come together in this charming English-Indian film
Currently screening at the New York Indian Film Festival, Freddie’s Piano is a simple-sweet film about two stepbrothers and their deep concern for each other after their parents die in an accident. Set in the charming by-lanes of Puducherry, the story of Aden and Freddie is written and directed by debutant filmmaker Aakash Prabhakar, a Mumbai-based stage and film actor.
Suddenly unmoored from their parental anchor, life is difficult, but with touching stoicism the two continue the daily business of living. Twelve-year-old Freddie is a budding pianist, named after Frédéric Chopin. His mother was a skilled pianist, and the film opens with the lilting notes of the instrument being played expertly by the gnarled fingers of a woman, seen only partially. Hers is a presence that will be felt through the film, though she is no more.
From that dreamlike scene, the camera moves to a delightful one of Freddie, playing an imaginary piano and listening to the notes of a real one on his Walkman, while waiting for his schoolbus. His older brother Aden is hurriedly rustling up a bowl of milk and cornflakes for him. Playing both mother and father to Freddie, Aden doesn’t just make breakfast for his kid brother, he also has to find money to run the house.
Blend of emotions
The film is not a bleak one, however. Suffused with humour and a cast of warm characters, it revives your faith in human kindness. Aden’s friend, Roshan, fixes up a job for him at his father’s camera-repairing shop. Aden knows nothing about cameras, but is very good at repairing household gadgets as his father had introduced him to his toolbox when he was all of six. In no time, he wins over his friend’s sceptical father and the business expands into a general repair shop that brings in a bit of money, which the old man generously shares with Aden.
Then, there’s Mrs. Koshy, who pampers Freddie with dinner and encourages him to play on her keyboard, and Lisa, Freddie’s school teacher with a tendre for Aden.
Though these friends bring in sunshine, Freddie is unable to dispel the dark clouds of missing his mother and the music they made together. Alone, he visits her grave on her birthday and places an origami figure of mother and child over it. Then, he visits the church and plays the piano, lost in an aching yearning. When he realises that Aden has entered and has been listening to his music, he has an angry outburst. That Aden should have forgotten Ma’s birthday opens up the floodgates of an emotion he has suppressed all this while. “I will go to Chennai and live with paati,” he declares.
Now, Aden is shattered. Ridden with guilt that he has not nurtured his parents’ dream of making Freddie a pianist, he determines to gift his brother a grand piano for Christmas. Easier thought than done! For someone unable to pay Freddie’s bus fees, ₹5 lakh for a piano seems a ridiculous pipedream.
Like an O. Henry short story, Prabhakar’s two-hour English-Indian film leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling. The writer-director, who plays the 22-year-old Aden, says he took a leaf from his own life to write the story. “The story is very close to my heart. I started learning to play the keyboard when I was 12. It meant the world to me! When I asked my mother for a larger keyboard, I didn’t know then to what lengths she went to buy me one. It was only recently that I discovered how my mother had put together the money to fulfil my dream.”
Growing up, Prabhakar watched films avidly. And they clearly left their mark. You can see the influence of Life Is Beautiful and Children of Heaven in Aden and Freddie’s brotherly bonding that makes you smile and weep at the same time.
Pranav Mylarassu, who plays the introvert Freddie with amazing restraint, is a student of A.R. Rahman’s Music Conservatory in Chennai. This is his first foray into acting, but the young boy plays the perfect foil to the experienced Prabhakar’s Aden. All the supporting actors, including Leela Samson in a charming cameo as paati, make the film credible and engrossing. Especially charming is the Tamil accent pervading the English spoken by the actors — natural and authentic.
Puducherry, beautifully captured by cinematographer Sandeep K. Vijay, plays an organic role in contributing to the overall charm. The villas and cafés of this erstwhile French town provide the perfect backdrop to a small, domestic story that tugs at your heartstrings, gently.
The independent journalist
is the author of two books
on Madhubala and Dev Anand.
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