I’ve been doing the Sultan recap for days now, and it is such a manly movie. Not to say it doesn’t have really good female characters, it does, but over all it is about our male main character and how he interacts with other men. So I am going to take a break and look at a Malayalam movie which as all about women.
I spoiled myself on this movie, because I spoil myself on all movies before I watch them, and I was worried because based on the plot, it looked like our heroine was going to be kind of an idiot. But what is so brilliant about this film is that she doesn’t feel like an idiot, because the audience is being fooled right along with her. Which is also why it works fine even when you are spoiled in advance, because the twist is still so unbelievable. I honestly thought there might have been a flaw in the wiki synopsis I read (No! Wikipedia inaccurate! How could this BE?!?!).
There are so many twists and red herrings in this movie! But not in an exploitative or cheap way. They all arise natural out of believable experiences that our characters go through. Okay, there’s one moment at the end when a character from earlier shows up and I thought it was a bit too convenient, but even that I can excuse by assuming there are only a few movers and shakers in this particular town so it’s not THAT strange to have someone overlap in two separate stories.
Essentially, we open at the end, and then spend the entire rest of the film trying to figure out how we got here. And all along your guesses about what may fill in the gap between where our heroine is and where you know she is going to end up keep changing. All we see is a phone call between her and an unindentified (I think? If there is a name said, it is so quick that a viewer could easily miss it) man who is expecting to see her at home. She thanks him for “all he has done for her” and then hangs up and throws the sim card for the phone out the car window. So, some man did something to help her, and now she doesn’t want to talk to him again. It also seems kind of cold, the way she is warm and grateful on the phone, and then hangs up and immediately ends all contact. Is this some kind of heartless femme fatale who just uses and abandons men?
(Although, Kareena in Tashan isn’t really heartless either, right? You just think she is for a really long time)
And then seconds after the opening, we flash back and see her being the sweetest kindness most innocent girl of them all. So there is the added mystery, what happened to her to turn her from sweet innocent hair-straightening nurse, to curly haired dynamo with make-up at the end?
That’s, I think, what the title is saying. She’s a 22 Female Kottayam. based on comments in the dialogue, it sounds like there are dozens of these young women coming into the city from Kottayam to work as nurses. She is just one of many of them, just as sweet and innocent and ambitious and hopeful. But don’t underestimate her because of that, her sweetness and innocence can hide a strength you wouldn’t believe if the right circumstances bring it out.
Like I said, I spoiled myself before I watched this. But that only added to the suspense, strangely. Because I knew exactly what kind of a person she was supposed to be in the end, and I still just could not see how she was going to go from point A to point B!
And then you watch the whole thing, and by the time you come back around to the end, it makes complete sense. But to talk about how they managed to do that so well, I need to deal with the specifics of the plot, so, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
Like I said, we open with our heroine looking tough and upset and kind of angry. There is just a flash of her looking at herself in the mirror and trying to regain composure, and then she goes outside and hails a cab and has that phone call. What Happened?!?!?!?
And then we go back to the past, to see her looking all gentle and soft, in her nurses uniform, looking at herself in the mirror again. Rima Killingal was awesome in this, by the way. She manages to change her character completely start to finish of the film, while still making her recognizably the same person.
In the past, gentle and soft Rima is a nurse who loves caring for her patients, who lives with 2 other girls, who’s parents are dead but who has a little sister, and who dreams of getting her Visa so she can move to Canada. The film spends a very long time immersing us in her world, meeting her one roommate who is kind of childish, the other one who has a relationship with an older man who buys her things, her little sister who is more modern and fearless than Rima, her elderly patient that teases her, her love for her work and enjoyment in the challenges, all of it. And just one part of this life, is that she goes to an office for help with her Visa application. The agent is brusk, but agrees to help. On the way out, she bangs the door against an older man, a friend of the agent’s, who forgives her easily while she feels terrible for hurting him.
And then she sees the agent again, out in the world, while her sister is visiting, and all her friends tease her because he is so attractive. It’s Fahad Faasil, I still don’t quite see him as like “movie star charisma” (although I came close in Annayum Rasoolum and Iyobinte Pustakam), but in this case I think that works a little better. He is attractive, sure, but he doesn’t come off as like Greek God handsome, so charming girls will throw themselves at him, anything like that. More like just a nice looking young guy she met, and she doesn’t meet many guys, so her friends are trying to encourage her to go for it.
And then Fahad calls her up and tells her to “buy mittens”, because the Visa came through and she is going to Canada! This is the first moment when I thought “oh, okay, I get it! That phone call at the end/beginning was her thanking him for helping her get her Visa!” Only, then the movie keeps going, and she still doesn’t have the curly hair, so I know there must be more to it, but what?
He takes her out for a meal and orders lots of drinks, and keeps asking her questions, and at the end of the night, he is the one with the massive drunk and she is fine! Because “they had a bottle of wine on the table with dinner every night” when she was growing up. It’s cute, a little subversion of our expectations. She carefully drops him at his home and then leaves, and the next day he calls, and then there are texts, and then more calls, and it is all flirty and happy, but also very noncommittal because of course she already has her Visa and is leaving for Canada in a few weeks. Finally, after a cute song that I can’t find ou youtube, showing all those phone calls and texts, he surprises her at her apartment and invites her for a drive, and her friends shove her out the door to go with him on his bike.
Which is when she confesses to him that she is not a virgin. There was a boy in her hometown who worked at the medical supply store, she went there a lot for medicine for her mother, they were in love (she thought), and then she found out he was already married, and the whole town found out about her affair. She gives him this whole speech, not aggresively, but sort of like she has psyched herself up to it. And he thinks a moment and then says “there is something I need to tell you too. You say “faa” and it should be “bhaa”” (I’m guessing this is an accent joke? Is it that she is Malayalam and is speaking Tamil, or the other way around?). It’s the perfect response! Taking this big shameful confession and treating it as the nothing thing it really is.
So, now they are really in love, another love song of spending time together, talking, seeing his apartment (very messy, he’s embarrassed), and having sex. And finally, he says to her that she may be leaving very soon, but he wants to spend every moment together until then. So, with the cheerful help of her roommates, she moves into his apartment and turns it into a shared space with pictures of Jesus and candles and flowers and stuff. Life is perfect!
And then one night they are out at a nightclub, and a guy keeps bumping into her shoulder. Fahad asks him to stop, but the guy doesn’t seem to take the request seriously, and Fahad follows him into the bathroom and beats him up, and then grabs Rima and drags her out of the club and back home. The next day, Rima can’t reach him at any of his numbers, she had to leave for work before they could talk, and he still isn’t home when she gets back. Thank goodness, that nice older guy she met the first time she went to his office drops by! Nice older guy explains that Fahad got into a fight, and the guy he hit was politically connected. So he is hiding out at nice older guy’s country place for a couple of days until it all dies down. She can even talk to him on the phone! Nice older guy calls, they exchange “I love yous” and “It will all be fines”, and then she hangs up and nice older guy says “Will you have sex with me?” Just like that, in English.
It is SO SHOCKING! Especially the way he says it, like a nice normal request, like “can I have a glass of water?” And he keeps saying it like that, over and over, even while he is beating her up and raping her. Love the rape scene, by the way. I mean, don’t “love” it like I actually want to watch it over again, but “love” it because of how it shows rape as something painful and horrible and terrifying for the victim, not tittilatting for the perpetrator. It’s the same thing I liked about the rape scenes in Udta Punjab, it’s all focused on the woman’s fear and pain and anger, not on the man’s excitement.
And then we go straight to the cover up. Because that’s the common aftermath of rape, right? The cover up? Fahad is back in town, but the hospital administrators don’t want him to make a fuss, it will be embarrassing for Rima, and also, as Fahad picks up on, the hospital. No one wants to go to a hospital where the nurses were raped. Rima doesn’t want to make a fuss either, she just wants to go home and try to rebuild her life. Which, again, feels like a fairly common response at first, to just want to try to recover and forget.
The rest of it feels “real” too, that Fahad has a harder time with it than she does, that he tears apart the bedroom in anger, that she ends up comforting him instead of the other way around. But then he pulls it together and somehow manages to care for her, to start nursing her back to health. And then the rapist shows up again! He is suddenly there in her bedroom when she wakes up, it feels like a nightmare but it isn’t. He says he is “sorry”, offers her flowers, explains that he has a “condition”, he can’t sleep, but he slept so well after the last time, “can I have sex with you?” She screams and screams for Fahad, and he doesn’t come.
In the end, Fahad finds her all hunched over and sad after it is all over, and she says that she doesn’t want to forget it any more. She wants a new life, with him, and she wants to make sure that the rapist doesn’t do this to anyone else. So, no more Canada, no more keeping quiet and not rocking the boat.
So, when the Rapist comes back into the apartment and finds Fahad alone in the living room, you are already for a fight, right? Fahad was crying and screaming about how he just wants to kill him, Rima isn’t ready to forget any more, time for the big macho hero to fix things. And then after he fixes things, she will call him and say “thank you” and that explains the ending scene! But, Nope!
Fahad was in it all along! And he is warning the rapist that the plan didn’t work this time, this girl is different, she actually wants to prosecute. And if she does, the rapist is on his own, because what does he have on Fahad? Fahad is standing with her, not with the rapist. The rapist suggests that they kill her before she can talk, Fahad says no, but indicates he will take care of it.
Okay, pause here, you know why this structure is brilliant? The usually thing you think whenever you hear about a woman being seduced into prostitution, or marrying an abuser, or any of those other things is “well, I would be smarter than that! I wouldn’t be tricked!” But in this case, the audience was tricked along with Rima. We saw the whole romance, start to finish, and it felt natural and accidental and magical, just like romances always do. She wasn’t stupid for believing him, because we believed him too!
(Just like when you get tricked by Shahrukh in Baazigar!)
Even better, now that we know the “truth”, everything that happened in the first half still kind of makes sense and can be neatly sorted into “planned” and “accident” files. He was running a Visa agency, the perfect way to meet young women and learn everything about them. He picked her out because he knew she was alone in the world, he knew she had no money or power, he knew she was planning to leave the country shortly. Heck, he could probably even have called back to her home town and learned the rumors about her and her married boyfriend! He knew she was not just young and beautiful, but vulnerable.
After that, running into her and her roommates at a mall, accident. Her inviting him out to dinner to celebrate getting the Visa, accident. Getting drunker than her at that dinner, accident. Calling, texting, taking her for bike rides, sleeping with her, inviting her to move in, all part of the plan he must have run before on other girls. And then you simply come up with a reason to leave town that seems legitimate, let your friend do the dirty work, come back and pick up the pieces, and then send her off to Canada. No muss, no fuss.
If everything had been completely perfect and magical, it would have felt suspicious. But he was an improvisational seducer. He had his main points he had to hit, but he was fine with playing around in the open space between. It also means, despicable though he may be, he could have really cared about her, at least a little bit. Maybe. I mean, the rapist is just horrible all around and sees women as bodies to use for his own relief and then discard. But I think Fahad’s character is ever so slightly better than that. He doesn’t actually try to kill Rima. Instead, he puts drugs in her bag and then leaves her to be arrested while he walks off.
The jail sequence is so interesting here! It starts out seeming terrifying and horrible. She is brought in, forced to strip, told there will be no bail for drug traffickers, and that she has to share a cell with a pregnant killer. And her only companion is a sort of nutty seeming young woman who really is a drug trafficker and only speaks English.
But then, over and over again, people say that jail is “safe”. It’s the place that all these women have come because the world was too hard on them. Rima’s pregnant roommate killed a couple men, in revenge for them killing her husband. And she would have killed herself, only she was pregnant. Now, she is cheerfully awaiting birth in jail, “safe” from the relatives of the men she killed, and planning to hand over the baby to her loving family that visits her and thanks Rima for caring for her. The drug trafficker is grateful, because other countries would have just executed her. Another woman is there because she killed her husband after he raped their daughter, and then failed to successfully hang herself, leaving her mute. She is just happy to see a pregnant woman and feel the belly.
(It was just like this! But in color instead of black and white. And I liked it a lot better, I HATE the ending of Bandini)
Rima finds her place too, caring for her cellmate and helping her give birth, and then hanging over the new baby along with all the other prisoners and enjoying this new life in the world. It’s a pretty obvious message that is eventually conveyed, all of these women were abused and destroyed by the men of the world, and now they are “safe” because they are in a world ruled only by women. Rima herself repeats the “safe” mantra when her little sister comes to visit her in jail, telling her not to worry, she is “safe” now.
Not that all men are bad! Just that the world out there can let the bad men have way way more power than they should. For example, Rima’s elderly patient dies and leaves her some money and a lawyer recommendation. It’s a little convenient, the money and lawyer coming just as she is ready to leave jail. But I still like it, because it comes out of Rima’s innate personality, as a good person who cares about others, and after being “punished” for that over and over again, she is finally being rewarded.
And then, finally, vengeance! This is the part that I felt was a little pat, that the guy her cellmate sent her to for help on the outside just happened to be her roommate’s old boyfriend, the older man who used to give her money and presents. It is a little pat, but I also kind of like it. Earlier, she had avoided this guy, not wanted to spend time with someone who would pay for sex with much younger women. But now, he doesn’t seem so bad! As he says, “sex is good! But only if the woman is willing.”
Besides that, he is always open about the transaction. Maybe he is paying for sex, but isn’t that better than Fahad getting her confused and emotional about what was, for him, mostly a business transaction? Rima has learned the difference between the morality that makes you look down on this man for paying for sex and her roommate for giving it, or the morality that made her old hometown look down on her, and the people who really and truly use women and don’t care. Or, maybe they just had a limited number of actors and decided they might as well use this character twice and I am working way too hard to find a deeper meaning in it.
And then there’s the vengeance part, which is supposed to be the “pay off” for the film, but I am much less interested in it than I was in everything else that came before. If she had stayed in jail and built her own little woman’s clinic on the inside, I would have been just as happy, if not more. The point of the film, for me, was for her to learn not to blame herself for what happened in any way, and to regain her self-respect, and that could have happened any number of ways.
I mean, it’s nice vengeance. She traps the rapist at the same remote house where Fahad was stashed while he attacked her, and she uses (I think) her cheerful drug trafficker cell mate as bait. And then when he thinks he is about to beat up and rape a prostitute, she turns the tables on him and has her goons attack him, and then ties a bag around his leg with a snake inside. Terrifying death! Very satisfying. Also nice that she doesn’t have the usual “I learned martial arts in jail!” kind of confrontation. She has no additional skills, just additional ruthlessness.
And then she tracks down Fahad, running another “vulnerable young women” business, a model agency. She uses the same guy who tricked her and took her virginity back in her home town to be the front, to convince Fahad that he knew a girl who was “desperate” for a chance and willing to meet him in his apartment. Again, nice! Using all the things that have hurt her in the past to gain her revenge. And then she meets him in his apartment, he recognizes her immediately, but she is able to convince him that she doesn’t want revenge, she still loves him. And then she drugs his drink and cuts off his penis.
I like the consistency in her using the two weaknesses we already knew about for this character in order to defeat him: his belief in his abilities with women, and his inability to hold his liquor. It’s the scenes after the penectomy that are so interesting. She doesn’t leave right away, because she doesn’t want him to die. And while she is caring for him, their interactions range from the loving to the hateful. Because there relationship was both. Yes, he arranged her rape twice. But their little couple jokes and their time together, that was a real thing that happened too. Both of them love and hate each other in a crazy mixed up way. Which is why the penectomy is the perfect revenge. Besides making sure he can never hurt another woman, it also means he will have the same mixture of love and hate every time he thinks about her as she does for him, instead of love and pity or guilt (it is possible he arranged for her to be arrested for drugs because he knew she would be “safe” in jail from any attempt on her life, which makes me think there was a little guilt already mixed in).
And then we are back at the end/beginning and she is throwing the sim card out of the phone after thanking her friend’s ex-boyfriend for helping her. He treated her decently and fairly, but he still wanted sex, and she is done doing things just because someone else wants them.