Malayalam Film Review to Tide You Over Until Fan-Fever Passes

I feel bad, I know I have a lot of faithful readers who are more here for the regional stuff than the Hindi, and I’m not going to have time to watch another regional film for another few days, not until I’ve seen Fan several more times.  So I’m going to go ahead and post a review on a film I watched a while back and never covered here.

Bangalore Days was my first Malayalam film, and wasn’t that lucky?  Thank goodness, I had a wise friend who steered me where I should go (and now I am going to thank her by ruthlessly scavenging the emails I sent her afterwards so I can remember my initial reactions).  On the other hand, it did set a very high standard for me, you’ve probably noticed a lot of my reviews of other stuff have comments about “well, it’s no Bangalore Days!”

I read the plot description, and started the movie, and thought “Oh whatever, this is just another Dil Chahta Hai coming of age movie about that magical time right after college before you settle down and take up your responsibilities in society.”  But then about halfway through I noticed the big difference between it and Dil Chahta Hai (and Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na and Humpty Sharma and the first half of DDLJ and 3 Idiots and all the other “friends on an adventure” movies) is that those films were about a limited time in your life. This movie wasn’t about a magic brief moment, it was about a life that would continue on and on in the same way!

Which is really interesting in terms of Bangalore, which I think is the city that has grown the most thanks to the tech boom (yes?), which means young people are now making enough money to live on their own without any family support.  I was thinking of the title as meaning a nostalgic moment in time, “the days that we will never get back when we were all together in Bangalore”, but actually, it was saying “Bangalore today and for the rest of our lives because this is the world we live in now”   Let the old people stay in the village or move to America to live with the NRI relatives.  The young people will take care of each other just fine.
And then there was so much else I loved, like how the female character was clearly not ready for marriage, was so unready that she didn’t even realize she wasn’t ready, and it was all conveyed through her acting choices.  This was my first Nazriya Nazim movie, and it took me a while to realize how good she was.  At first I thought it was just a matter of her playing herself, a charming and young and enthusiastic woman.  But as the film went on, she went from naive and enthusiastic, to insecure and troubled, to having fought through and come out stronger and more sure of what she wants.  Her performance only seems simple at the beginning, because her character is simple then, we haven’t seen her tested yet, she herself doesn’t know that she has more inside than a simple happy daughter who just wants to get married.
I love the female character, but the two male characters are equally interesting.  I’m fascinated by how Dulquer’s character starts out looking like the “troubled” character, but then it becomes clear that he is actually in better shape emotionally then his “proper” cousins who are still trying to please their parents.  He starts out looking like he is the character that everyone else has to take care of, to give things to.  Nivin Pauly lets him stay in his apartment and supports him when he comes to Nazriya’s wedding.  But over the course of the film, it becomes clear that Dulquer is actually the strong one.  If you go back and watch the wedding again (as I did, having now seen it three times), Dulquer is being taken care of by Nivin, but he is only there to take care of Nazriya.  None of the other relatives want to talk with him or are happy he is there.  But he swallows all their comments and, with only the minimal support Nivin manages to provide him, is able to be there and be everything that Nazriya needs from him.  Later, he helps Nivin with his romance, and he is the first to notice that Nazriya’s marriage is troubled, and he arranges for Nivin to help her get home (a lovely quiet moment of sensitivity, Dulquer asking Nivin to take her instead, so her stressful return didn’t have the added stress of black sheep Dulquer bringing her).  His problem isn’t that he can’t take care of himself, it’s that he is so focused on taking care of everyone else that he doesn’t allow himself to be selfish.
That’s the problem with his romance, the only problem.  He is slow to make his move, because he knows that once he is in, he is all in.  And as soon as he believes that it might be best for her if he left her life, he goes away immediately.  It’s not cowardice, or an unwillingness to make a commitment, it’s that he doesn’t want to risk being a problem in anyone else’s life.  I mean, from what we saw, he wasn’t even part of his cousins’ lives until they all moved together to Bangalore.  Again, not because he didn’t want it, or was afraid, but because he thought he didn’t deserve it.
Although, Nivin’s character is pretty awesome too!  I should really watch this movie for the 4th time now, after having fallen under the Nivin Pauly spell.  On my first watch, he seemed nice, but kind of dull and dorky.  But even dull and dorky, I could still see how supportive he was.  Dulquer wasn’t afraid of anything, but Nivin was afraid of everything.  And yet, he still supported Dulquer at the wedding, and even later, every time he came up in conversation, “good son” Dulquer would defend him and his choices, the only time he would actively fight back against his parents’ opinions.
I think part of the reason Nivin’s character seemed weak, is that he was standing in for the traditional patriarchy.  Not that he was bad, just unaware.  Seemed to think that everything would work out as he wanted, just because he was a man and it always had.  He would inherit the family house, he would marry a beautiful and traditional girl, he would never have to think about how much work went into the “traditional” lifestyle.  But this movie did know how much work it was!  The female characters were so strong, and there was such an awareness of the female spaces that a man would never really understand.  The amount of work it takes to keep a household running, learning how to make dosas, fighting with the maid, all of that.
Plus, I loved the attitude towards older men!  They were all useless!  Or at least, not worthy of respect.  Not like they were bad or villainous, but usually there is a sort of default attitude of respect towards an older upper-caste Hindu man in films.  In this, we have Dulquer’s Dad who wasn’t capable of parenting and isn’t needed in his life and never even shows up onscreen, Nivin’s Dad who ran the family farm into the ground and then took off, and Nazriya’s Dad who is completely under the thumb of his wife.  It felt very much like a female perspective on these guys, rather than a male one.  They may make these big impressive pronouncements and think they are running things, but actually they are just getting in the way of the women, the ones who have to actually keep the house going and make the marriages work and all the other truly “important” things.
Having seen a whole bunch over Malayalam films, I am interested in how well this one integrated a more “realistic” style and a traditional Indian form.  There was only one real song sequence, everything else was just a sort of music video in and out of dialogue kind of thing.  Usually with the more “realistic” films, I feel this kind of tension between the Indian film style they are stuck with and the western film style they want to be working in.  But in this movie, it felt very organic and natural to have the realistic bits where the plot kept moving, and then sort of pause for reflection and emotional inventory in a song.
One thing I think that a lot of those “realistic” films reject is the sort of dreamy pacing of an Indian film.  This one took its time setting up the plot, it had a fair number of twists along the way, it wasn’t afraid to go down side alleys and include a lot of plot.  I mean, if it were a Western made film, we wouldn’t have had time for the whole stewardess sequence, or Nivin’s father running away, or the complex romance for Dulquer PLUS his whole motocross story, or Nazriya going back to school.  Or even the way her husband and she kept coming close and then backing off again.  It would have been all straight lines and cause-effect.
It’s hard to explain to people sometimes what makes an Indian film different beyond the songs and the colors and the fantasy of it all, but this one really showed that.  It looks just like an American film, but it is still so Indian.  Which is why it was such a perfect first Malayalam film for me to watch!  From my vast experience of ~20 films, that’s what I like the most about them.  That they use a whole different kind of cinematography, acting, and script, but at the same time are still so Indian.  It’s not that they want to be Hollywood, or want to be Hindi, it’s that they have found a middle-way between the two.
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8 thoughts on “Malayalam Film Review to Tide You Over Until Fan-Fever Passes

  1. Yes, Yes, YES! Malayalam film for me also still has that innate Indianness, but also a unique incorporation of some more elements of Western style filmmaking. A little bit more natural acting style, usual more music video montage song sequences (but we still have songs!). But what I absolutely adore is the focus on women’s stories. This movie is fantastic because we just get SO much. I adore each and every sub plot, and it’s so masterfully woven together. You’re so right that a Western movie would not have bothered with even half of the side stories. But the totality of all of them is what makes this such a wonderful film.

    Also, I agree with you about Dulquer’s character. You are led to believe from his introduction tagging with graffiti that he is the troubled one, but you gradually see how he is the more mature character who has dealt with his own issues, and spends his energy caring for others, but not caring what others think of him.

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  2. it is the first malayalam film for a lot of non malayali friends i met in internet….my favorite character was fahadhs…a troubled and serious character who is very caring and innocent deep inside….

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    • It’s a wonderful first film, besides being really really good, it also seems like a good intro to the whole genre. Lots of familiar stars, plots, all of that, just done better.

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