ErosNow has added so many more Malayalam films! I got all excited, until I noticed that half of them don’t have subtitles. Oh well. But at least Meleparambil Aanveedu did, so I was able to watch that!
Shobhana is just so great. I got so much more interested in this movie once she showed up. The beginning bit felt a tad “seen it!”, with the all male household focused on practical matters, and the youngest son desperate to escape. Reminded me of everything from Hulchul (which, I know, is a Malayalam remake and I should see the original) to Pullipulikalum Aattinkuttiyum.
(But does Godfather have Akshaye Khanna rolling his eyes at Kareena Kapoor? And if not, how can it possibly be as good as the Hindi version?)
I did like the contrast between the father and uncle and brothers being more or less contented to work in the fields all day and then bath in the private pool at night and not want anything more out of life, and our hero Jayaram being desperate to escape to a good job with a company. It wasn’t necessarily saying that Jayaram was “better” than them, but that he had a kind of spark in them that was just missing in the others.
But like I said, everything kind of shined up once Shobhana appeared. Which worked in a kind of meta way, showing how very dull and plain the life was back on the farm and how much a new person was needed to shake things up.
I also liked the contrast between Shobhana being given everything by her father, but being trapped in her household, and Jayaram being not miss-treated, but somewhat ignored and abused by his family, and also being trapped in a household. That, I think, is kind of what attracts her to him, that here is someone who has clearly escaped from his home (since he is a Malayali in a Tamil speaking area). And she is impressed by that, and inspired to escape from her own home where she is being smothered by kindness instead of neglect.
I just wrote about Pokiri, and how nice it was that the danger of being a woman in India was neither brushed aside nor treated as unusual. It’s kind of the same here. Yes, Shobhana’s family is kind of overly protective, beating people up just for looking at her. But on the other hand, once she is in Jayaram’s house with no clear male protector, she has to put up with a ton of unwanted attention with no real recourse to avoid it.
But it’s Shobhana, so she can handle it! I like that she isn’t really scared off by all the attention, just sees it as kind of sweet. More “sweet” than I probably would find it!
This is my second movie with Shobhana and Jayaram as a couple (after Innale), they have a nice chemistry, but also in both films, Shobhana is allowed to take the lead in the romance, and the lead in protecting herself. Jayaram is just sort of there, being nice and supportive and following her around. Based on a sample size of 2, I really don’t want to make any sweeping conclusions, but is that kind of what Jayaram is always like? More the nice kind guy than the aggressive hero? I’ve seen a whole bunch of Shobhana movies now, and it does seem to be true that her characters are stronger and more aggressive than the usual heroine role. Which makes a more passive character a good partner for her.
But it’s also frustrating because, as we see in this movie, there is a limit to what even the most aggressive female character can do for herself. It makes me wish that either the world were different, so Shobhana characters could pick out the man they loved for themselves without worrying about family issues, or could go work for a living in a household without being treated as sexual objects; or that Shobhana had slightly more aware and supportive partners, who would protect her from these threats. But that’s not going to happen, because if Jayaram had just protected her from the beginning, it would be a totally different movie!
Which brings me to the SPOILER bit of the review. So, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
Jayaram manages to leave his house, with his bossy big brothers and father and uncle and poor complaining overworked mother, by getting a job with a transport company. Only, before he can take a full management position, he has to travel to a branch office and work underneath another manager. The branch office is in Tamil Nadu (or at least, a Tamil speaking area. I don’t want to make any assumptions). Soon after he arrives, he makes friends with the local Malayalam cafe owner, and learns all the local gossip, especially that the local big deal land owner has a beautiful daughter, who he dotes on and spoils, but also keeps under a tight rein, not allowing her out of his sight and sending his thugs to beat up anyone who so much as looks at her.
At a celebration in honor of her father’s birthday, to which all the locals are invited, Jayaram sees Shobhana for the first time, and is invited to sing a Malayalam song to entertain them while Shobhana dances. Naturally, many glances are exchanged while she dances to his tune. After a remarkably few additional meetings and exchanges of glances, she arranges to sneak out and meet him at a temple and declare her love.
Essentially, Shobhana here is playing the “man” in the relationship. She is pursuing, she is proposing, she is even the one who arranges the bullock cart and comes to get him in his rooms the night they are supposed to elope. And Jayaram is the “woman”, being hesitant, being flattered, resisting, and finally giving in.
But then they are caught, and I get all distracted thinking about Panchayats. I mean, what the village is talking about here is an honor killing. Do I want it to be treated as a terrible horrible unusual thing? Because that would indicate that it is unusual, that Panchayats aren’t called in to decide what to do when a grown woman of her own free will chooses to run off with a man everyday without anyone thinking twice about it. But on the other hand, does this normalize it too much? Making the completely reasonable characters we have been watching for hours talk about it like an expected thing? I mean, the Panchayat/Shobhana’s father does eventually come to the right conclusion, that Shobhana should be able to do whatever makes her happy. So really I shouldn’t waste too much time thinking about it.
This is also, I believe, where Jayaram’s odd position as management-in-training comes into play. And being from so far away. If I was following this correctly, Shobhana’s family might be slightly wealthier than Jayaram’s, but it’s not exactly a “princess and a stable boy” situation. More like “princess and a duke who is doing an internship in the stable” situation. So their romance had a tinge of the forbidden, but now that the marriage is accomplished and done, it’s not exactly like she has thrown away her life, it’s reasonable for her parents to think she will go on to have a fairly comfortable married life in her husband’s home.
But that’s just because they don’t know her husband is a coward! A loveable coward, sure. Even an honest one, he tells her right upfront what’s up, that he is afraid of his family and they won’t accept his marriage. But still a coward who is bullied into taking his new wife home with him, and then so scared he can’t bring himself to tell his family that she is his wife, and introduces her as the new maid instead.
There is a touch of the Chupke Chupke in this set up, a newly married couple who gets to share this little secret under the noses of their family. I’m thinking this is also a very specific fantasy? The beautiful maid living right in your house that you can flirt with?
(Also a specific fantasy: Dharmendra in a white uniform)
And it’s not like she is treated that poorly. Jayaram’s mother is a sweetheart and doesn’t make her work too hard, is even persuaded to give her a nice big room on the ground floor. The boys all get crushes on her, which she seems to find enjoyable and funny instead of threatening. And really, she is doing exactly what she would be doing anyway as the new daughter-in-law of the house.
Well, except for having sex. Which is why it is such a problem when they find out she is pregnant! And again, love sucks for women! She is in huge trouble, and it is assumed that one of the boys got her pregnant, but there is no discussion of marriage or taking responsibility or anything like that! No, the solution is to send her away as quickly as possible. I mean, it’s not like they are throwing her out on the streets, they want to send her back to her family, but they also aren’t talking about taking responsibility for the kid!
And this whole thing is never quite resolved! I think because the scriptwriters realized they had written themselves into a corner. Either Jayaram’s family really is terrifying and would never accept the marriage, or they get over it after a little conversation and Jayaram is a coward and this whole thing could be avoided. They have been steering into “truly terrifying” this whole time, but then if that is actually true, this wouldn’t exactly end up as a comedy.
So instead they go with the circling-the-wagons-in-the-face-of-opposition solution. Randomly pulling up an antagonist from back in the Tamil village who shows up to kidnap Shobhana, getting Jayaram to finally man up in order to rescue her (hey, this is also what happens at the end of Pullipulikalum Aattinkuttiyum!), and then of course his brothers dig in and fight along side him, because they may bully him a bit around the house, but that doesn’t mean anyone else can!
(my favorite example of this trope. Which is pretty contrived here too, what would Shahrukh have done if a bunch of eve-teasers HADN’T just happened to show up at just the right time? Or did he just assume that since it was India, an eve-teaser would always be available?)
And then I guess you could say that the battle unites them more closely, and gives Jayaram enough bravery to tell his family the truth, and when Shobhana’s father arrives right in the middle of this tricky moment, the suggestion that Jayaram’s family isn’t “good enough” for his daughter is enough to unite everyone again, and lovingly welcome Shobhana into the family once and for all? But, really, you have to make several large leaps to get here. It’s not exactly a moment of “ah yes, the subtle character notes that have been playing out all along pay off, I could see these changes and moods coming a mile away!” It’s more a moment of “gee willikers, we have to finish this movie somehow and we’ve written ourselves into a corner! Let’s put in a fight, and everyone arriving at the same time, and then a big happy family moment!”
The pregnancy, by the way, DOES feel like a “ah yes, the subtle character notes….” kind of thing. There was a big deal about when they finally had sex, way back when they first got together Jayaram said something about “after we have kids, they will forgive us” (or maybe it was implied, anyway it was in my mind), and a young bride getting pregnant is kind of a normal thing to happen. But instead of going with that, having Jayaram be inspired by his impending fatherhood into finally taking responsibility for his family, or Shobhana being scared by her condition into wanting to go back to her father, or something else that could kind of naturally arise out of the situation, they went with this elaborate series of coincidences.
Oh well, it was kind of that sort of movie all along! A nice fun funny comedy of errors, with a classic Shakespearean kind of mistaken identity and masquerades kind of plot. Makes sense to end with a classic Shakespearean confluence of events and characters.