My randomly organized stack of all the Malayalam movies owned by my library has finally turned up something from the past 10 years! And it even stars a guy I have seen before, Fahadh Faasil from Bangelore Days (and apparently in real life he is married to Nazriya Nazim? Who I love forever because of Ohm Shanti Oshaana). It was good, and definitely similar to the other modern movies I had seen, but just not quite as spectacularly good as they were. And that’s actually what I wanted, to experience something not spectacularly good.
Back when I was getting into Hindi films, I asked my friends and the counter guys at the store and everybody else for recommendations. And they gave me, basically, the “white people” picks. Or more accurately, the “all the young ABCDs love them” picks. So, I saw K2H2 and K3G and Main Hoon Na and Kaho Na Pyar Hai and Kal Ho Na Ho and Dhoom and so on and so on. And then I ran out of really really really good movies and had to start trying stuff like Yes Boss and Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani and Na Tum Jaane Na Hum. And then I got down to what one precocious 12 year old boy behind the counter at an Indian grocery referred to as “the really really bad ones.” So, Duplicate. Tum Mere Ho. And one dark day, even Sangdil Sanam.
(It is exactly the movie you think it is from this cover. Only worse. And apparently produced by Kajol’s Dad?)
The problem was, people were giving me the very very best options for one very limited category of film (Let’s call them 90s-2000s rom-coms, for lack of a better term). And then when I ran out of the very very best, I just kept going lower and lower in quality within the same category. It took me years to realize I needed to branch out, that maybe instead of watching every lame Shahrukh movie, I should try out a Priyadarshan comedy, or a Raj Kapoor classic, or an Amitabh action film.
The other problem was, I had a very limited idea of what “quality” meant. After two years of only watching rom-coms mostly set abroad, I thought of a “good” movie in terms of the slick song sequences, romantic gazes, and cute plot. I didn’t consider factors like social messages, script quality, original narrative, or even acting ability (beyond being able to really sell the love scenes). By this metric, I actually thought that Aap Mujhe Achche Lagne Lage was a better movie than Sarfarosh.
(Fun movie. Not a good movie)
(Not a fun movie. Very very good movie)
Anyway, now my goal when I attack a new area of film, is to try to watch a broad range of films, both in terms of quality and content, right from the start. So I don’t end up with a skewed perspective on the industry, and it doesn’t take me three years to try something outside of my comfort zone.
Which brings me to last night’s Malayalam film! Oru Indian Pranayakadha, which I think (and feel free to correct me in the comments) would slot in as a good solid modern rom-com, but not a stone-cold classic. The love story was a believable slow build, there were some interesting touches to the story, both the leads were likeable, the quality of the cinematography was high (good film stock, good lighting, good sets, interesting angles, stuff like that), but in comparison with the other modern movies I have seen (Ustad Hotel, Bangelore Days, and Ohm Shanti Oshaana), it just didn’t quite reach that level. Of course, I was very lucky with those 3 movies, because a wise friend picked them out for me as the films that I would absolutely love. And she was right!
I was tempted to watch Oru Indian Pranayakadha first when I brought my library DVDs home, but I am so glad I didn’t! If I had watched it before Vanaprastham or Aalkkoottathil Thaniye, I would have thought it was a really good movie. Like, really really good. Just because it had clever political/social commentary and a decent female character and a real-feeling relationship between the leads, all covered in the gloss of modern film techniques and standards. But now, having seen films that are better directed (within the limitations of their time period), better acted, and with stronger scripts, I sort of know where to put it. I think. Again, correct me if I am wrong!
Oh, and I also learned some interesting things from my googling of the film! Apparently, it was a sleeper hit that exceeded expectations by actually competing with the latest Mohanlal film Drishyam. If I remember the reviews of the Ajay Devgn Drishyam remake correctly, it is a kind of police/political drama-thriller type thing? So that is interesting, that a medium quality rom-com was able to challenge it at the box office, perhaps a sign of changing tastes in general from mystery thriller films to rom-coms? And from Mohanlal-Mamootty older actors to the new generation?
I also looked up the actress, and she is so young! And Nazriya Nizam is so young! I thought I was used to youthful actresses in the Hindi cinema, where they regularly launch at 19, but at least now, in Hindi films, there is usually a gap between the big launch film and when they really hit their top success. Like, Deepika launched in Om Shanti Om, but then worked as a second lead and in B movies and stuff that didn’t really hit for about 6 years until Cocktail made her really big. And she was already 21 in OSO. But my very very small sample size of Malayalam actresses hit the ground running at 19 and didn’t stop. But that could just be a problem with my sample size, or maybe it is something about the industry, if actresses have a very short shelf life, and are only viable between 19 and 24, that would explain why they start so young and so strong. Or maybe it is just that the whole industry is super young! At least the modern rom-com/social commentary films part of the industry.
Let’s see, do I have anything to say about the actual film? I found the cynical attitude towards politicians really fun and refreshing. I’m so used to the Hindi film attitude, where they are either saints or villains, never just sort of humorously venal. I found the attitude towards adoption super interesting, our Malayalam born-Canada raised-adopted by an older White couple heroine seemed to identify as Malayalam very comfortably. There was a brief nod to a Malayalam neighbor family as teaching her about the culture, but in general the film treated her like any other NRI raised heroine, not like someone raised completely within White culture. Little things, like immediately understanding that a daughter’s wedding is the most expensive challenge a family will face, and that the weddings are different in Kerala and North India, that is a really high level of awareness for someone raised by White people in Canada. I don’t know if this is good or bad, necessarily. In some ways, it felt disrespectful of her adoptive family to have her be so immersed in Malayalam culture, but at the same time it was refreshing that the film actually dealt with the conflicted feelings of an adopted child who belongs in both places at once, and neither.
Let’s see, what else? Oh! They had a song entirely in Hindi! That was fun for me, to actually be able to follow along a little. There were a couple of other Hindi things sprinkled in, I think our hero’s grandmother was supposed to speak Hindi at home a lot? Anyway, I have no idea what is up with that. Are they trying to reach the broader Indian market? Is it fun for the kids who are learning Hindi in school? Is it just a character touch, to indicate when someone is from outside Kerala? And isn’t there supposed to be A Thing about Dravidian films using Hindi? Or is that just in Tamil Nadu? Anyway, the song is pretty.
And that’s all I have to say, really. Which is my biggest indicator of quality for a film! When there isn’t really much to say, then it isn’t a really really good movie. When there is a lot to say, it is a great movie. When there is nothing to say, because I am still so breathless and over-whelmed by the experience, then it is a once in a lifetime movie.