I finally watched Ennu Ninte Moideen! After people telling me and telling me that I should see it. It was SO FRUSTRATING! But I’m not sure if I was frustrated because that’s how the filmmakers wanted me to feel, or if I was maybe a little more frustrated than they expected.
I understand this is a true story and they had to show it as it actually happened. And that the filmmakers wish it hadn’t been like this. But I’m not sure if they expected me to be yelling at the screen “WHY ARE YOU ALL AWFUL?!?!?!?”
I assume the story is fairly well known, but I am still going to worry about spoilers a little, because I think the film was constructed so that the audience wouldn’t necessarily see what was coming. Even though we start with a flash-forward, so we sort of know what is coming, but not everything. In the very very opening, the radio is talking about a Naxalite attack (I assume this would give the Indian viewers an idea of the time period this scene is taking place in), and an old bearded man walks into the police station, throws a knife on the desk, and says “I killed him.”
My immediate thought is that this very dignified older man killed his son because his son was a radical Naxalite. I’m not sure if that is the assumption the filmmakers wanted me to have, but I think it is interesting if it is. That they wanted us to go into this film thinking there would be a big public political statement happening, and in the end it was personal. Showing that the personal is in fact the biggest political statement you can make.
And then, DDLJ! No really, our first glimpse of our hero is playing soccer in the rain, just like Shahrukh playing rugby the first time we see him in DDLJ. And, just like Shahrukh, Prithviraj scores a goal! The crowd cheers! He’s our hero!!! And, like Shahrukh, he’s kind of a rebel and a wastrel, specifically working with the local communist party against his father, an old Congress man. Oh, and this is “25 years since independence”, so I guess 1962?
Our heroine has a really interesting introduction. Again, going back to DDLJ, Kajol in that had a very traditional heroine introduction, showing her within the home and the family, the “proper” places for female work. Situating her as “home” and Shahrukh as “abroad”. In this, if anything, Prithviraj is more “at home” than Parvathy. He is in their home village, fighting with his father, while she is off at school, fighting with the nuns. This introduction serves a couple of purposes, first showing the fire within her, secondly showing what a matched set they are (both questioning authority), third making us like her. And fourth, showing how she belongs in the world, how she has such promise and ability to effect change there. In contrast to how Moideen is best at confronting his father within his home, effecting change there.
And then the love story starts without us even seeing it start. It is just there all of a sudden. He sees her on the bus back to school, and she gets a coded message from him when she arrives (a book with words underlined). But it’s not the first time she has received such a package, the nun mentions it, and she seems to know how to read it. So, what’s up with that? Especially when it is followed by a love song that seems to weave in and out of time, never clear as to when was their “first” meeting.
I think it is on purpose. The filmmaker never wants us to see them as separate people, wants us to understand that in ever scene so far, even when they were separated, Moideen and Kanchan were already united, already together, already committed.
This is especially important since there is a 3rd leg of this triangle, Parvathy’s cousin. We see him in the background, watching her, mooning over her. But it is too late, no matter how much he loves her, he can never be with her. It’s like Lamhe, at least the first half, with Sridevi and Anil. Sridevi is already totally committed, she will never consider anyone else, no matter how much Rishi loves her, it just cannot happen.
And since we come in at the end, the culmination of the romance happens very quickly. They decide they cannot be separated and agree to let their families find out, and then be married. It feels like the happy ending is within our grasp, just a few minutes away.
And then the film pauses at that same “almost to the happy ending” point, never quite moving past it. And now I can get into spoilers! SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
The brilliance of the structure of this film is that it is purposefully repetative. Because that is their tragedy, that nothing ever changes. Right at the start, Moideen announces that he cannot agree to the marriage his father has arranged, because he is in love with Kanchan (a Hindu). Moideen is thrown out of his house. Meanwhile, at Kanchan’s house, when the news arrives, her traditional and autocratic uncle declares she cannot leave the house until she agrees to forget Moideen. That night, Moideen easily sneaks over the wall to visit with Kanchan through the window. They share an apple, and agree to leave things as they are for now, until they can be together without bloodshed. But they are cheerful about it, there is a sense that it is only temporary, surely her family will come around, or his, and that will be better than to run off now and leave everything they know, or stay and risk their families coming to blows.
I love how these early moments are set. On the one hand, the pain is so much stronger, including physical pain when Kanchan’s uncle tries to beat the love out of her. But on the other hand, they are both so young and cocky and happy about putting one over on everyone! Kanchan, when she dresses as a widow in front of prospective grooms, Moideen when he figures out how to communicate through car horn honks. Everything is fresh and magical and full of possibilities, even their current situation feels like it could change at every moment.
But then, it doesn’t change. Ten years later, her uncle is dead and her more progressive brother is the head of the household. But she is still locked up. And Prithviraj runs for political office, starts a magazine, and comes up with elaborate ways to communicate with her, but he is still unmarried and unable to go home.
This is the big that was SO FRUSTRATING for me. And, as I said, I think it is supposed to be a little frustrating. It goes back to how the two characters were introduced. It’s not just that Parvathy can’t marry, it’s that she can’t be in the world, can’t contribute. She was going to be a doctor, she was going to effect change in the world, she was going to do great things. And instead, she is locked up inside.
And then there’s Moideen. Sure, he gets to run for office and open a magazine. But we saw at the beginning that his greatest triumph and joy was in sparring with his father. He could have stayed at home, slowly changed the minds of the leaders of the village like his father, he could have made change in his own village instead of traveling the state. But instead, he is made into a wanderer, removed from his natural place.
And in both instances, it is SO FRUSTRATING!!! For them individually, yes, feeling trapped away from their potential. And for them as a couple, separated from each other. But also, for the world! Which has just lost these two amazing people from their natural places. And that, I think, is why they were introduced so specifically. Privathy is the hero of the village soccer team, but now he has been removed from that “team” and sent away into isolation. Parvathy is at school, acting as a champion for her classmates, making the world a better place, and now she has been locked away from any chance to make a difference.
So, that’s the intentional frustration, that these people are prevented from giving to the world, from living the life they are destined to have. Even destined by the rules of film narrative! We always see the couple run away together (Bobby). Or die (QSQT). Or be married off to someone else (Devdas). Or all three (Rockstar)! But either way, the situation is resolved, it doesn’t drag on and on and on for years and years in character-time and hours and hours in film-time. And just as the characters get tired of waiting, so do we, in the audience, get tired of every time they almost escape, they almost get away, and then are prevented at the last minute.
It’s the “prevented” part of it that I am not sure if I am seeing as the filmmakers intended. There are two ways it can be interpreted. Way number one, it’s a tragedy. A classical tragedy, where they are never fated to be together. Whenever they come close, fate intervenes. They were meant to fall in love, meant to be apart, meant to be kept apart, and all the people that get in their way are just acting as a hand of God. Indian film is big on this with the “taboo” love stories. Devdas, Bandini, even Jai and Radha in Sholay. Or, heck, Krishna and Radha in the original myth! It shows up in Western literature too, Wuthering Heights, Gone With the Wind, Sam and Diane on Cheers. There’s an inherent drama in longing and frustration, in the sense that a love is too beautiful to ever be, to special for society to accept it.
Depending on how these stories are done, I think they can be lovely, and can also effect social change. Romeo and Juliet, for instance, does not end with Romeo and Juliet dying. It ends with them dying, and then their families making peace as they realize what their anger has wrought. Yes, the love story was doomed all along, the hand of fate kept them apart, but it also lead to a good resolution, taught a lesson to society, the “happy” ending is that we (the audience and the characters onscreen) all saw what needed to be changed to make things better. Dil Se would be another one like that, there was never going to be a happy ending, but the point isn’t the characters losing their happy life, it is to think about what brought us to this place, why they could never be together.
But in this case, it is a real story, and it is a recent story (from the 60s through the 80s), and, for me, I did not buy it as “fate” that was keeping them apart. Instead, they were kept apart by specific people, who were so short-sighted they couldn’t see past their own nose. Her uncle isn’t just a “behind the times, traditional” kind of guy, he is actively evil. He locks her up and threatens and beats her. And every other male in her family who goes along with him is evil as well.
I’m not blaming the women, because I am sure if they objected, they would be beaten and punished as much as Parvathy. But why doesn’t her brother speak up? Or her father? I understand that they want to keep peace in the family, that her uncle is the head of the household, but what exactly would be the worst case scenario for them? Is confronting the petty backward dimwitted leader of their household and risking a break in the family, or a banishment from the village, really worse than watching your sister/daughter die by inches? And by the end, her brother seems to be the head of the household, and he is just keeping his sister a prisoner because of, what, habit? A gesture of respect towards dead relatives? Every man who goes along with her torture is complicit in it, taking the easy path of abusing the powerless and enjoying the fruits of their own unfair privileges.
It’s like, did you know that George Washington freed his slaves in his will? He was raised in a time and place of hardcore plantation style slavery. The abolition movement would not really get going until after his death. And yet, through thinking and reading and seeing, by the end of his life he had realized that slavery was wrong, and it was on him to do what he could to end it by freeing his slaves. Okay, he waited to do it until after he died, but he still did it!
So I don’t buy into this “oh, they were trained by society, they couldn’t see it was wrong” excuse. I think, certainly, society does train you to believe certain things, that you can have a blindness to right and wrong because of it. But there is also a level of evil that is so blatant, so obvious, that no society training can hide it from you. Slavery would be one. Locking a woman in her room and beating her for 20 years would be another. Especially when that woman is your own sister or your own daughter. How could her family not see that this was just wrong?
And in the same way, when Prithviraj’s father learns of their attempted elopement and stabs his own son, how does he not know this is wrong? How is this something that can ever be anything but the act of an unrepentant villain?
That’s what I am not sure of. Am I supposed to be watching this thinking “I cannot believe how WRONG people are! I want them all to be arrested and thrown in jail, or better yet into re-education camps!”? Or am I supposed to be watching this thinking “ah well, it’s fate, so sad, I guess it wasn’t meant to be”?