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.
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.
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!