Another Malayalam Movie that I Really Really Liked: Thattathin marayathu (Yes, I am actually watching movies that you told me to in the comments, so keep the suggestions coming. Also, SPOILERS!)

Raghil in comments said that if I liked Ohm Shanti Oshaana, I should watch Thattathin Marayathu.  So I did, and I did like it!  Not as much as Ohm Shanti Oshaana, but it is definitely in the same family.

First, I liked it because I think I may be getting a bit of a crush on Nivin Pauly.  I am trying to resist, because it feels too soon to pick a Malayalam actor as my official star crush.  Really, I’ve just seen Nivin and Dulquer and Fahadh Faazil and a bunch of guys from the 80s and 90s who feel too old for me.  Oh, and Prithvi.  And Jayasurya.  Dulquer, Prithvi, and Fahadh were all fine, but somehow they weren’t just right.  Jayasurya was more likeable than swoony.  But maybe after I watch Classmates (DVD on order now, very very slowly making its way to me from India), I will feel differently.  But for now, Nivin Pauly looks like he might be the one for me.  But I’m not sure.

I guess I am waiting for what I had with Hindi, when I saw DDLJ on the big screen when I was 19, and BOOM, I’m hopelessly in love with Shahrukh for the rest of my life.  But maybe that only comes once in a lifetime, and I should just look for the sort of mild crush effect rather than bolt of lightening life changing kind of thing.

If I’m talking just favorite actor, without the crush part of it, I think it might be Nazriya Nizam.  She just blew me away in both Bangalore Days and Ohm Shanti Oshaana, took a character that could have come across as selfish or immature and made her lovable and complex.  So far (setting aside the older 80s actresses who I can’t relate to as easily), I haven’t seen anybody else like that.

That’s part of the reason that I like Ohm Shanti Oshaana better than this movie, that it was really centered on the actor I like best (so far).  More than that, it was centered on the female character.  This movie is like Ohm Shanti Oshaana over again, but with the normal gender roles.  The hero falls in love at first sight, stalks the heroine, finds out more about her, gets a random assortment of people to help him win her, and then goes through a whole series of challenges on the way to an engagement.  So it was cute and well-done and everything, but it missed that really exciting touch of making the heroine into the hero.

But Thattathin Marayathu was still a really really good movie!  That I really really enjoyed watching!  There were some things I didn’t like, but many more things that I did.  And actually, I am just going to get the stuff I didn’t like out of the way to begin with, so I can move on to all the stuff I did like.

So, stuff I didn’t like.  I had a really hard time with the main actress.  She was fine, I guess, they didn’t really give her much to work with in terms of character, which is another big part of the problem.  And I think it was her first movie?  So maybe she was nervous.  But I just felt like she was way too much of a blank slate, I never got a good sense of what she was feeling or thinking just from reaction shots.  The actress who played her sister, Aparna Nair I think, was able to build a whole backstory and character just in reaction shots.

The big problem I had with her though was just her appearance.  Our hero falls in love with her face, and goes on and on and on about how beautiful she is.  I found her face technically lovely, symmetrical, all that, but without personality.  Not actually that memorable.  Comparing it with, for instance, the moment when Anil Kapoor falls in love with Manisha Koirala at first sight in 1942: A Love Story, that felt believable.  Because Manisha’s face is really striking and unique and expressive.

(this moment)

I also felt that her face just looked too old.  I mean, the actress wasn’t old at all, she was just the right age for the part.  But she doesn’t have a round baby face, she has a high cheekbone older face.  If I were casting the movie, I would have looked for someone with more distinctive eyes, a mobile mouth, and a round soft face.  But that’s just me.

Not that this actress can’t do a good job, I just think she was miss-cast!  Only after I finished the movie, did I look her up and discover that I had actually seen her, and found her perfectly fine, in another movie.  She played a totally different role in Bangalore Days.  In that, she was the sophisticated modern woman who takes control of the relationship and intrigues our hero with her smooth style and classy looks.  Which was perfect!  She comes off as very confident onscreen, and looks great with modern clothing, and has the kind of naturally still expression which makes her believably mysterious (which was the point in Bangalore Days, that he fell in love with her face but never really understood her as a person).  By the way, was her Bangalore Days role supposed to be a reference to this film?  I know in the Hindi industry, the choice to cast previous hit co-stars opposite each other again is done as a sort of wink and a nod to the audience.  Is it the same in Malayalam?  Or is it just that everyone works so much that these kinds of overlaps are inevitable and not really planned out?

Let’s see, what else didn’t I like?  The same sort of broad and deep bench of characters and backstory that I am seeing as the norm in Malayalam films happened here, only it wasn’t fully resolved (like, the whole political and factory stuff, we didn’t really really need to know what happened with it, but it was odd how it all just sort of went away without a big final scene).  In Bangalore Days (sorry to keep referencing it, but I just haven’t seen that many films yet, and it was so well structured!), there were all these little side stories woven into it, but they all got resolved by the end.  But then in Oru Indian Pranayakadha, they had the same sort of random side stories coming up, and they weren’t all resolved (like, there is a mention of his sister maybe getting engaged, but then that gets dropped).  Like the scriptwriter ran out of time or forgot about them, or never really had a plan but just threw in some dialogue because they thought it sounded good.  It’s not a huge problem, it just drops the film down from awesome-amazing-spectacular to just really-really-really-good.

(Awesome-Amazing-Spectacular)

And then the big thing I didn’t like, was just this very very very faint tone of exoticizing the Muslim women.  For the most part, it felt like our hero in particular had a thing about women in veils.  Which is fine, we all have our things!  But when it crossed over to him actually opening a Purdah shop, that was a little hmm.  Also a little hmm was the way they seemed to be drawing our heroine and her sister as restricted and confined and forced into marriages and all of this, as though it was a standard part of their community, not just the way their family worked.

Which brings me to the stuff I liked!  Because one of the biggest things was that this whole concept was upended at the end, mostly!  It is sort of gently indicated through family relationships and comments about their family all along that the girls live in a house with their father and uncle, but their uncle is the one who is really in charge of the family and makes the decisions.  And then in the last twenty minutes, suddenly it is shown that the uncle is just Evil!  Like, capital “E” Evil!  And their Dad is just a little weak and used to doing what his brother says.  Which turns it back into a primarily okay message about Muslim families.  Their Dad is loving, their mother was loving and supportive and free-thinking, if she hadn’t died it is possible their whole household would now be fine.  And when the chips are down, their Dad is able to speak up and defend his daughters and make the right choices.  So it’s still just a little bit that Muslim women are more forbidden and sexy, but it is mostly that this particular guy is Messed Up.  And taking advantage of the situation of his family (his sister-in-law is dead, his brother is naturally a little weak) to pass that messed up-ness on down to everyone else.

Let’s see, what other stuff did I like?  I loved loved loved all the people who helped our hero with his romance, just because.  It felt like it was a great pro-romance message, and also a great anti-communalism message.  That everyone was totally “rah rah, go marry that girl from another religious community!  We support you!”  And I also loved that all of their support came with the caveat of “also, you should really talk to her and get to know her as a person and make sure she feels the same way as you.”  Even our hero’s horndog best friend gave him a bit of a look a few times when he felt our hero was  being a bit too forward and needed to back off (I’m thinking of moments like when he actually touched her scarf on the bus).

Speaking of that, I loved the multiple parallel romances we got to see, and how they didn’t all work out, which again supported that just because you love a girl doesn’t mean she has to love you back.  There was the great flashback sequence in his old hometown with the friend who was in love with a girl from afar and beat up the guy she was riding around with.  And then it turns out that the girl ended up married a third person, a wealthy NRI, and both boys were probably lucky they hadn’t committed so young.  And at the end, we had our hero’s sister and Hamza, the Muslim relative of the heroine they get to pass letters.  We see just a quick glimpse of his love story, seeing the sister, following her around, finally approaching her, having her tell him off and threaten him with her brother.  I kept waiting for it to come back at the end and get some kind of big romantic finish, but no!  He is just a guy who has a crush on a girl, and she has no interest in him, start to finish.  And it doesn’t turn into something super violent or dramatic, she just kind of ignores him, and it all sort of goes away.  So there is an acknowledgement that this whole dramatic stalking and watching from a distance and so on sometimes just turns into nothing and life moves on.  It’s only if you get a response to it, then you are allowed to go completely insane and run away from home and upend your whole life over it.

(Speaking of stalkers who go a little too far and should really have just given up…)

His sister reminds me, I loved our hero’s family!  We only had a few minutes to get to know them, but those brief glimpses were perfect.  We saw him having a nice and easy conversation with his mother, in which it comes up that his parents also had a love match and are closely bonded to today, and in which she says that he needs to forgive his father and come home, because it is breaking his father’s heart.  Again, no big dramatic confrontation over it, he just moves back in.  And, of course, we saw them being super welcoming and loving towards the heroine, despite her religion being different from theirs, and it being a love match rather than arranged.

In general, through out the film, I loved the clever little throw away touches.  Like, working with the police to sell bike helmets.  Or the jokes about 6 pack abs.  Or the secret stencil language.  All of them could have been left out, and the film would still have been fine, but I appreciate that the filmmakers took the time to sort of put a little frosting on the cake.

Oh, and I really liked all the meta comments when he is first telling his story!  Giving the standard version of the wedding meeting followed by how it actually happened, talking about a flashback within a flashback, all that stuff was so clever!

And I really really liked our hero.  Both the actor and the character.  They did such a good job making him an actual person, not a saint.  Sure, he’s a dedicated Party worker.  And he brings his Dad tea and the paper every morning.  But he also wishes his parents were wealthier sometimes, and he does poorly in his classes, and he can’t really talk to the girl when he sees her in person.  And he doesn’t really have a plan for his life or even the next few days, until other people push him to come up with one.

And I really really liked how all of those weaknesses were integrated into the love story.  She notices him and everything he does for her, and she loves him because he loves her, and cares about her happiness.  Not because he is handsome or strong or anything.  She even says, one of the things she liked was that he was ready to make a fool of himself out of jealousy, instead of holding back and playing it cool.

So, yeah, definitely a winner of a movie!  Which I will be highly recommending to various people.  And now, I have to figure out what to watch next (after Tere Bin Laden 2 in theaters tonight).  It might be time to start working through the Midukki list!

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31 thoughts on “Another Malayalam Movie that I Really Really Liked: Thattathin marayathu (Yes, I am actually watching movies that you told me to in the comments, so keep the suggestions coming. Also, SPOILERS!)

  1. Dulquer was my entre into Malayalam cinema, so he holds a special place for me. He’s just so darn charming and cute. But I have to say Nivin Pauly is really winning me over, too, with his strength as an actor. He really has range. If you see Premam, where he plays three phases of life of the same character, that’s the one that really showed me how good he really is. There’s a reason Kerala is going crazy for him.

    Adding this one to my watch list. Sounds like my catnip!

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    • Okay, Premam is definitely next on my list! I am kind of tempted to try to see Action Hero Biju before it leaves the theaters, but there is only one show left, so I don’t know if I will be able to make it.

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    • I am really excited about Classmates, but I have no idea when it will get here. According to my tracking info, it left Cochin a week ago, so I’m hoping any day now? As soon as I get it, that is going to the top of my list. But while I wait, I think Premam might be my next one. And then maybe I will make myself go back and try something a little older again.

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      • Thanks for considering my suggestion. Classmates is a good movie and songs are really good but i am afraid that since you cant understand malayalam, you may not get full feel of the movie.

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      • Action hero biju is a good movie. it does not have a clear story, it shows that how a Inspector’s live will be. its getting mixed response. if you get a chance watch Maheshinte prathikaaram.

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  2. heroine is a mumbai model isha talwar and in bangalore days during the first meeting, bgm from this movie and certain references were used…about the pardah /veil thing i really loved it since now a days a lot of criticisms about it is being raised frequently . here they looked at in another pov abt how beautiful it is…it was certainly a relief for some…and thattam(veil) became a sensation among boys here after it….and its somewhat true that women in this community is lacking some freedom compared to others especially about their careers and marriage and the film is addressing this issue and the final simple dialogue of her father is a powerful criticism about it…..the highlights of the movie were the melodious songs and there visualizations ,the bgm and the cinematography…u but never mentioned these…and u were little unfare and harsh about Isha…she was really beautiful in those thattam and we loved her..and was our sweetheart for sometime.(now it is malar and celin from premam.)

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    • I liked the songs and the visualizations, but since I am just starting out with Malayalam, I’m not comfortable making judgement calls on them! That is, everything looks and sounds equally good to me, so I can’t really tell yet what is really really good, and what is just average. Give me a few months, and I will be better about appreciating that aspect.

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  3. u havent watched premam yet???!!!!!!! Entire south india is addicted to it…kindly watch it before the first remake releases…it will spoil that experience…Premam is an experience that should not be missed…

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  4. Isha is our own Malayali Katrina Kaif. Very beautiful, classy and a little remote.But lacks serious acting chops.This movie was pretty much a one-time watch for me.To be fair the makers do not intend the movie to be anything beyond the superficial.WYSIWYG.

    As for the strict Muslim family set up, the purdah thing became more common in the last decade or so. The fashion came from the Gulf where a huge number of Malayalis work.In the 80s it was more common to see many Muslim girls without any scarf or head covering whatsoever. It is more common in Northern Kerala which is where this particular movie takes place. As for Muslim families being very strict that stereotype is true to some extent.That stereotype is again used in the case of the heroine in Ayalum Njanum thammil (Between him and me) which is more serious and introspective than this one.

    Nazriya is a very natural actor and sets the bar high for her contemporaries.I think you might like Namitha Pramod. She’s more of a methodical actor but has a penchant for wasting her time and talent in silly masala movies. She’s good in Pullipulikalum Aattinkuttiyum, Law Point,Vikramadithyan (with Dulquar). Now all these movies are sort of feel good one-time watch movies.

    Speaking about Namitha you can’t miss her first movie Traffic. It’s an ensemble piece and she has only a few scenes as a sick child.But the script and the performances are outstanding.

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    • Thanks for the background! Especially about purdah. It felt somehow different than the version I had seen in other novies, even going back to the Muslim socials of the 50s, and if it comes from a gulf tradition instead of indian, that would explain it.

      I’ll add your suggestions to my list!

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  5. Rajesh Pillai the director of Traffic (which I mentioned earlier) died yesterday.He’s an amazing director who had done just 3 films.He’s spoken about as the person who initiated the new-generation wave.Traffic, his first movie is already being spoken about as a classic.It coincidentally stars Vineeth Srinivasan (director of Thattathin marayathu) and his father among an ensemble cast.The second movie Mili(not as successful) is about an introvert girl (Amala Paul from Oru indian pranayakadha) who comes to her own.Nivin Pauly also plays an important role in the movie.

    You were right in that the first time Nivin’s character meets Isha in Banglore days, is a sort of wink and nod to Thattathin marayathu which was popular at that time.The BGM is also from Thattathin marayathu and Nivin gets the impression that he had seen this girl before.

    I’ve noticed that Classmates is on your queue. Lovely movie, but you might get annoyed by (yet) another burqa clad Muslim girl who’s from a conservative family and hardly speaks a word.But she pours her heart out in her poems.

    Speaking about Muslim girls who are spitfires, Nithya from Ustad Hotel might qualify. But it is implied that her family is very conservative and she hides her musical performances from them.So I think she she’s a closet rebel at best.

    However Anushree in the movie Rajamma @ yahoo is perfect as the smart and sassy Muslim girl Naziya (Nessi to her boyfriend).She manages her idler boy friend (Asif Ali) beautifully and in fact persuades him to study further and get a job.She tells him frankly “If you plan to live on my dad’s pension after our marriage, we had better say goodbye now.” The movie is mediocre but Nessi takes it to another level.

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    • Thanks for the ideas! Traffic definitely sounds like something I should check out.

      I really liked the heroine of Ustad Hotel, it felt like she was following her family’s wishes out of respect and love, not out of fear. And that if she really didn’t want to do something, she wouldn’t. And she was defined by more than just her religion, she was a fully realized person.

      Amala Paul didn’t really blow me away in Oru Indian, but she was fine. I’d be interested to see what she does with a different part.

      I’ll prepare myself to be disappointed in Classmates, at least in some ways. But even if one character or one part bothers me, I’ll still enjoy the movie! I liked this movie a lot, and, thanks to the comments, I learned a lot about Kerala culture and society.

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  6. Oh, you won’t be disappointed with Raziya’s character in Classmates.She’s a bit of a dark horse and you feel for her. But so repressed and taught to keep it all to herself which has consequences later.But I was disappointed with a minor character (female) who opened the door to the girls’ hostel for Prithvi and his friends to play a nasty trick on Kavya.I’ll stop now.Don’t want to spoil it for you.

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  7. So glad you commenters recommended this movie. I had not heard of it before Margaret’s post about it. Just finished watching it and I LOVED it! SO good! I loved the positive message of the movie, and the music in it was fantastic. I found the quiet dignity of the actress very appealing, and I always love Nivin.

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  13. I think I would have liked this movie more, if I haven’t watched OSO and Premam earlier. It is good movie, I really enjoyed it but I’m not enchanted. Mainly because I haven’t found Aisha interesting. She was always in her room, doing nothing, or waiting for letters. And Nivin too, he was in love, but if not for his friends,
    he would never be with his love. They made him earn some money, open the shop, and write the letters to Aisha. Maybe I’m just too old to enjoy “I love your face, so let’s marry” kind of romance. But I really enjoyed Thattathin Marayathu as a comedy. And I absolutely loved Deepak Parambol as Manoj. It’s scandalous that he is not even mentioned on imdb, and doesn’t have wikipedia’s page. I fell in love with his character – he was the man amongst all those boys. And he is so sexy. I must watch other his movies, even if he only does cameos and small roles.

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    • I forgot about the Manoj character! But now that you mention him, you are absolutely right. I loved the way he mentored his younger friends, but didn’t spoil them. They had to earn his help.

      I agree with your reaction to the film, a good movie, an enjoyable movie, but not “enchanting”. When you watch Bangalore Days, the Aisha actress has a small part, and I didn’t even recognize her. Partly because it is a completely different kind of role with different styling and all, but also because she has an actual personality and dialogue in Bangalore Days! Unlike here, where she just sort of sits around and looks pretty.

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  14. Now that I have become a huge fan of malayalam movies lik everyone around because of nivin and dulquer (mainly bcos of nivin). I saw Banglore days (for dulquer) more than a year ago and now watching all nivin’s movies after watching premam few weeks ago… I likes OSO, Jacobinte swargaragyam and thattatin marayathu way better than premam mainly because of the message it gives, even though nivins acting is at its best in premam…
    Speaking of thattatin marayathu I agree with all the points that you mentioned and wanted to add something to it.. I just realized even though culturally our ideas have changed and broadened we r still surrounded by the pressure created by the society and our family… I feel sad to say that even though inter-cast and inter- religion marriages have become more prevalent than before there are still a large group of people who are against it.. and the worst part is the parents choose religion and caste over their children’s happiness… In the cases that they accept, it is because of the drastic steps taken by the kids… parents please remember one thing nothing can replace the happiness you get when you are wit your loved ones no religion or caste can give tat happiness and no one can better understand it other than a parent..
    And youngsters of this generation (including me) we are becoming too practical and give up on things easily or we chose things in such a way that is easily acceptable to our family and society.. there is huge difference between marrying someone because you love them and love someone because you married them… I likes OSO and thattatin mainly because they overlooked the cultural differences and give priority to ones feelings rather than society and the message is said in a subtle tone rather than like enforcing or posing it as a message…
    sry for long post and it is purely my opinion and is not to hurt anyones feeling

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    • Yay, another Nivin fan! I am trying to remain impartial and not turn this into a Nivin vs. Dulquer thing, but it is really really hard. I can’t resist that little thrill when I find another one of us.

      I love the same-but-different way that Malayalam films deal with inter religious relationships. There doesn’t seem to be quite as much bias as in other part of India, not in a kind of “I hate Hindus/Muslims/Christians” sort of way. But just an understanding that while both communities are equal, they should not intermarry. Which is still wrong and leads to stories like this one. But it is a little clearer that, like you said, it is simply about parents thinking they have the right to decide for their children, no other issues.

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