I was sailing along through this movie, dum-de-dum, more or less seeing where it was going, and then BAM! The last half hour hits, and everything changes! Such an odd experience! Kind of like when you miss the last step on the stairs.
Not that the last half hour is bad, necessarily. In a way it provides some gravitas and meaning to what happened before. And this is a Priyadarshan movie, I should have known there would be a hint of tears under the laughter.
The happy laughter part was great though! Especially because, and I know this is shallow, but I think this is the thinnest and youngest I have ever seen Mohanlal look on film. At least recently. And beside my shallow obsession with physical appearance, it was also nice to see him with a little more flexibility and speed for the physical comedy parts of this movie. There was a lot of falling over furniture and jumping around things that I don’t know if he could do now. And I wouldn’t really want him to! I’d have visions of broken hips and bad knees and heart attacks that would take me right out of the movie. Not that I can’t still enjoy him in more of an active action role (considering seeing Oopham this weekend), but this kind of reckless self-endangerment for the sake of comedy, that’s a young man’s game.
I also liked the heroine Ranjini, and I don’t think I’ve seen in anything before? And, according to The Internet, this film set off a whole string of collaborations between her and Mohanlal. Is that a thing? Like, more than just a “hit jodi”, that a star would almost always co-star with the same heroine for a period of time? I vaguely feel like that is something I have read about, but it might just be because of Iruvar.
Anyway, she was great! Right there with Mohanlal with the physical comedy and commitment and, I don’t know, spunk? And it’s really her film more than his, which is super cool! She gets the opening sequence and the closing, it’s her problems that are the focus of most of the film, and the audience sees things primarily from her perspective. And her perspective is messy and complicated and human, not the perfect angelic female, or the female demon who must be tamed. I loved that!
I also really loved the two older men in the film. Nedumudi Venu was great. Really kind of charming, in an odd way. At the start of the film, I had a wild idea that maybe he would end up with Ranjini, and I was kind of okay with that! He seemed like such a nice understanding guy. He definitely gave the sense of someone who has become more open-minded and relaxed with age and experience, instead of more hidebound and resistant. After seeing him play the sort of humorous authority figure in so many films, this was a nice change.
Poornam Vishwanathan was a totally different kind of old guy, one who became more fragile with age. Not rigid, not selfish, just a little delicate. And sort of refined to a core of love. Normally in these movies, I resent the “we have to tell a lie for the sake of the elders!” plots. But in this case I could get behind it, because it didn’t feel like it came from a place of duty or fear, and it wasn’t a matter of him overreacting. I really did believe that this nice old man was too fragile to hear the truth.
Which is how the original film is. This plot set up, by the way, totally based on It Started With Eve, an old Deanna Durban movie. Which revolves around the twin poles of Deanna Durbin being super charming, and Charles Laughton being super adorable. Which means that everyone does everything to keep Charles Laughton happy, and in the process falls in love with Deanna Durbin because she is just so charming. Only in this case, Deanna Durbin is Mohanlal. Well, until the very end of the film, when suddenly it turns into Remember the Night instead.
(this is from some other movie, but here’s Deanna and Charles Laughton!)
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The reason I thought Nedumudi and Ranjini might actually end up together is because we start by seeing their life together, and it looks so nice! She is living with him, her father’s old friend, while her father is in America. She drags him out of bed every morning and gets him breakfast and forces him to go jogging. She nags him and chats at him and generally brightens up his home. And in return, he goes along with whatever she says with a cheery smile. It’s nice!
The first conflict comes up with Ranjini wants something that her father, Nedumudi’s good friend Poornam, doesn’t want. I was all set for the old man to line up on one side and the young woman on the other. But of course there isn’t really even a discussion about it, of course Nedumudi is on Ranjini’s side, whatever she wants is cool with him. Of course, he doesn’t like that his friend is so upset, but sometimes these things just happen. And maybe he knew his friend well enough to know it would blow over?
See, what happens is that Ranjini’s father wants her to marry the nice American boy he has picked out and come to America with him. But Ranjini is in love with her co-worker at her Indian job. So she stands up to her father, and Nedumudi backs her up, and her father cuts her off.
Only, twist, they go to the register office for the ceremony, and the co-worker has stood her up! He left a note, saying that he won’t marry her now that her father has cut her off, he has to marry a rich girl. What a jerk!
Oh well, at least she still has Nedumudi (this is when I kind of thought maybe they would get married to solve her problems). And she still has her nice life and job in India, and her father is all the way in America, she can explain it to him later. Only, not so much! They get back from the wedding that wasn’t to learn that her father of course immediately forgave her, and now is eager to come to India for a visit and welcome his new son-in-law into the family. Gah!!! What to do!!!
Not to worry, Nedumudi’s got this. He tells her he will fix everything and then, fortuitously, bumps into Mohanlal scrabbling for shelter and clearly in bad shape by the side of the road. Perfect! He offers Mohanlal several hundred rupees a day to pretend to be Ranjini’s husband for the length of the visit, and of course Mohanlal accepts.
And of course Ranjini dislikes him at first sight. After all, she is a strong educated working woman, of course she is going to look down on some loosy-goosy guy willing to pretend to be her husband for money. And she also just made a huge mistake and had her heart broken, of course she’s going to be just a tad defensive.
This is the super fun part of the movie. Mohanlal enjoying making Ranjini’s head explode with rage, and Ranjini taking bitter pleasure any time she is able to get her own back. And, to make it even better, we get to poke some harmless fun at village traditions in the process! See, Poornam wants them all to go back to his ancestral village for one last family time together. And to put his new daughter and son-in-law through all the old traditions of the village. Like, burning her hand. Or the two of them being tied together for a whole day. Basically, lots of opportunities for them to interact and play games with each other.
Okay, so it pokes harmless fun at these traditions, but it also kind of reinforces them, right? Because that’s the point of all these ceremonies, to make the husband and wife work together and share something. Which, inevitably, is what happens. Even more so since they are working together already in fooling everyone else. They even have a common enemy! Sreenivasan, the jealous relative who wants to drive a wedge between Ranjini and her father so he can inherit. It leads to lots of moments like pretending love talk in their shared bedroom while actually brushing hair and clipping toe nails.
And, of course, eventually Ranjini is slowly won over. By Mohanlal’s effortless singing and tabla playing. By his enjoyment of her strong character. By his determination not to let her down, even if it means lots of humorous diving and pratfalls and so on.
And, because it’s Priyadarshan, it doesn’t feel like the fell in love because the script told them to or it was time or anything like that. It feels natural and kind of lowkey and real. Like, Nedumudi realizing Ranjini is in love because he suddenly flashes back through a series of times when she has called them in to dinner, going from “oh, and bring that guy too” to “bring Mohanlal” to “bring Him”. Sure, Mohanlal eventually realizes he is in love too through that tried and true method of “take back the money and see if he stays”, but it doesn’t feel contrived, because the rest of it was built so carefully.
There’s a bit of a rough patch, it looks like her father may not approve, but they have a love song, and decide they will be together no matter what. And then her father accepts it all after all, and life is awesome! Nothing can go wrong! But wait, there’s still half an hour left in the movie. What the heck?
Fair warning, if you want to watch a happy rom-com with some great physical comedy and a fun romance, stop at this point. They are in love, they are happy, everything is great, everything is resolved, no loose ends. Just turn it off and pretend the movie is over. And stop reading this review too.
(LOOK! Happy ending!)
Okay, who’s still here? The brave hardy souls who can handle Priyadarshan’s version of a screwball comedy? You ready for the twist? The horrible heartbreaking and yet still remarkably resonant with the rest of the film twist?
Mohanlal escaped from jail to enjoy life in the last 2 weeks before his execution. Gah!!! Did not see that coming, right? Plus, you ready for why he is being executed? Because he accidentally killed his beloved wife, mistaking her brother for a lover. But why didn’t she explain, you ask? Well, because his wife was mute! Yes, he killed his beloved handicapped wife because of a tragic misunderstanding, and now he is about to be hanged just as he has found love again. It’s the saddest thing ever!
And in case that wasn’t sad enough for you, the only reason he agreed to this charade was because he needed to raise the money to get his 3 year old mute son who is living in an orphanage the operation that could let him speak. Oh, and his jailor, who respects him in spite of himself, has tracked him down and insists on bringing him back to face his sentence.
But, see, this all kind of part of the rest of the film. The rest of it was so frantic and comic and crazy, but it was just like that because Mohanlal was enjoying being frantic and comic. Just as the audience was entertained by this crazy situation and game playing and so on, so was Mohanlal, taking a last minute to do something a little silly and fun before his death.
And he needed that frantic and silly fun, and this crazy married-but-not-married situation with Ranjini, before he could let himself forgive himself and learn to want to life again and love again. And now he does! He has a heart to heart with his jailor and explains that, when he confessed and plead not guilty, even though it was an accident, it was because he was so sad, he felt like nothing really mattered anyway. But now, he wants to live! He sees a future, he sees happiness! Can’t he have another chance. And the jailer tells him, sincerely, that he can’t. It’s too late. These things happen.
There is another chance, Nedumudi! Who set this whole thing in motion, who can always “fix” things! He actually pulls a gun on the jailor, threatens to kill him, tells him that they can hide Mohanlal away forever. And the jailor is sincere and calm and tells him that life doesn’t work like that. Law doesn’t work like that. Other people will come, they will find Mohanlal, there’s no way out of it.
In any other movie, this would have worked. There’d be a last minute reprieve of some kind. But not here. That’s really all it was, a wonderful two weeks of love and laughter and happiness. His son will have his operation, and Ranjini will take him out of the orphanage and raise him. And they will have their memories. And that’s more of a happy ending than most people ever get.
That’s the lesson, I think, in the film. And that’s where the title comes from. “Picture”, right? “Chithram”? Mohanlal in the “present” always has a camera, and a big part of their love song is him taking Ranjini’s pictures. And in the past, we learn, he fell in love with his wife while taking her picture. And their happy life together flows through his mind in a series of the pictures he took. And now he has another “picture”, one perfect fragile moment in time. And we should learn to appreciate these perfect moments in time, even if they don’t end up “happily ever after.”