What an interesting movie! I mean, of course it’s an interesting movie, it’s a Priyadarshan comedy. There’s more human tragedy and quiet despair in a Priyadarshan comedy than in a whole Sanjay Leela Bhansali epic.
I had the hardest time getting into this movie. It feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be about. There’s an impressive army Colonel (Mammootty) and a village girl (Priya Gill) and the colonel’s orderly (Dileep), and something about a divorce and longing lovers and also Kashmir? And I just don’t understand how it all fits together.
In some ways this could be on purpose. All of these characters are in their own little world with their own problems, not able to connect with each other and see how they are part of a bigger pattern. And in the same way, the movie is all over the place, jumping from village to cantonment to flashbacks, all mixed together.
And then it starts to click into place once we get to the village. I love Priyadarshan’s villages. They are different from urban places, not better or worse, but different. There is gossip, there are locked minds, but there is also enormous charity and hospitality and beauty there.
Most of all, there is familiarity. Everyone in the village knows everything that happened to everyone for their whole life. There are dozens of small stories that were started years ago and are continuing today. And Mammootty is dropped into this unfamiliar space and has to learn how to navigate it and understand all these little stories around him.
It takes a while, but eventually I figured out (I think) the point of all of this, going from the cantonment to the village and so on. It’s about breaking Mammootty down. He is a character who is so stubborn and so confident in his vision of the world, he needs to be dropped into a place where there are all these things happening that he doesn’t know about, that he doesn’t even know he doesn’t know, in order to have his world upended.
And to see how it feels like to be out of control, to be unsure and out of place. He keeps trying to bend things to happen as they should, and he thinks is “right”. But this isn’t the army cantonment where he is all powerful, this is a village filled with old hatreds and hurts that he can’t fix so easily.
Which brings me to the character that made it all click together for me. We are first introduced to his ex-wife (Pooja Batra, who I know from Kandukondain Kandukondain!) through Mammootty’s prejudiced vision of her. She is heartless, careless, and just plain wrong in all she does. I was a little uncomfortable with this early vision, because it seemed pretty one-sided, making everything her fault. But then we get more time with her, and I started to realize that it was supposed to be one-sided. This is how Mammootty saw her and their life together. He could never admit her innocence, because that would admit his fault.
(Yes, I know this is Tabu, Pooja Batra is the other girl)
But in the later flashback, we got a little more detail of their life together, and suddenly it all clicked. This is the character, the ex-wife, that I was most interested in. Because she was the one who stood up to Mammootty, who he couldn’t control, and who didn’t really make sense in his vision of her. I was intrigued, I wanted to find out more, I wanted her to have a happy ending and I wanted to get her vision of their life together.
I don’t think this is the character that is supposed to be the most important in the film, I think she is just one of many possible entry points. There is the village girl who endures and passively rebels, there is the Colonel who thinks he knows everything only to learn he doesn’t, there is the orderly who drinks and complains about his boss, there is even old Sreenivasan with his middle-aged dreamings of Priya Gill and petty revenge. Priyadarshan always makes sure that every character is a little wrong and a little right, that they each have their own view of what is happening and the audience can enter the story through whichever perspective speaks most to them.
But to talk more about these perspectives, I have to get into SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
Like I said, I was completely confused in the opening parts of the story, but this is what I was able to piece together later. Mammootty is a respected army Colonel. The new commander of his camp is his father-in-law, who has brought along his estranged ex-wife, who is clearly falling for another man. Mammootty sees her dancing with the other man, and sees it as a slight to him, that she is clearly looking at him over the other man’s shoulders and doing it just to make Mammootty unhappy. He drowns his sorrows with his orderly, Dileep, who also gets drunk and complains sometimes.
At the same time, part of their group has been ordered to Kashmir and there is this layer of danger and uncertainty to their army life. With this backdrop, Dileep is given leave to go home for a month. Which is when we first see Priya Gill, with no context, receiving Dileep’s letter and dreaming a love song of them together in the village.
But it won’t happen, because it doesn’t fit Mammootty’s plans. He decides he needs to take leave now to recover from his broken heart and the complication of having his ex-wife there, and instead of Dileep getting leave, Mammootty takes a month off and borrows a house from a friend which just happens to be in Dileep’s village? Maybe there was some connective tissue I missed there to explain this coincidence, but Dileep doesn’t even seem aware of Mammootty going to his very same village, which is a bit odd.
Anyway, Mammootty leaves for the village and immediately takes a dislike to Priya Gill who is set to welcome him on behalf of her family, and vice versa. He goes to complain to her grandmother, and we get a little explanation of Priya’s family and their status. Her grandfather was the estate agent for the landed family. And as Mammootty is using the house of the landed family, they consider him their guest and it is their duty to welcome him. See, this is one of those nice things about villages! And Mammootty appreciates it properly, he basks in the warmth and concern of these good people, and also enjoys a little bit that they are treating him as he thinks is “proper” for his status.
Except for Priya Gill. Who laughs at him a little and teases him. Which he finds even more appealing, because she is ultimately still under his control. Doing whatever he orders her, keeping him company when he requests it, being “modest” as he wants a woman to be.
Mammootty isn’t the only one to be attracted to Priya’s beauty and docility (mostly docile). Sreenivasan is the village theater owner and he is also attracted to her. He gives saris and gifts to her uncle, who keeps them for himself and continues to string Sreenivasan along. And this is what I meant about the village being not so nice. Sreenivasan is trying to take advantage of his position and wealth to buy Priya, her uncle is taking advantage of Sreenivasan’s infatuation, and poor Priya has to pay the price as Sreenivasan’s jealousy and frustration with her ignoring his gifts increases. If this were a city where they weren’t all so locked into their roles, then Priya and Sreenivasan could talk directly and this toxic cycle wouldn’t continue. Or something would happen to interrupt it and the world would move on.
Which is what happens here, only because Mammootty arrives. He doesn’t understand the rules and the rhythm of the village and so, unknowingly disrupts them. He goes to the movies with Priya, and thus reveals that she is not interested in Sreenivasan, and turns this slow burning injustice into an explosion. Sreenivasan arranges for Mammootty’s house to be robbed, all his fancy clothes are taken, and he has to walk around in a lungi. He finds and beats Sreenivasan, but injures his foot while doing so.
It’s a nice little metaphor. Mammootty loses all his surface powers and goods, and only then is he left open to injury. And in this state, he falls for Priya Gill. She nurses him and cares for him, feeling responsible for the injury, and Mammootty decides he will marry her. Without consulting with her, or her family, of course.
And coincidently before he has a chance to broach the subject, Priya casually mentions her cousin, Dileep, who she has been promised to and in love with her entire life. The family objects, but it doesn’t matter, she will happily live her life unmarried waiting for him. And someday he will come for her.
It doesn’t feel like Priya is telling him this to warn him off or anything, just that it came up naturally on conversation so she mentioned something about it. Again, it’s a village! She would have assumed that everyone else already knew her situation, no need to make a big deal about it. And Mammootty is Mammootty, so he assumed that he already knew everything there is to know and would never have considered asking anyone for more information.
And this is what makes him spin out of control, confronted with his own assumptions and blindness to what was happening right around him. It takes a while to land, he starts out thinking he can still control it, but the cracks get bigger and bigger. Which is where my favorite character Pooja Batra comes in!
We got just a glimpse of her earlier, seemingly cold and heartless and flaunting her happiness in front of Mammootty. And then we got a few flashbacks from his limited perspective, his mother warning him not to marry her after receiving a letter describing her personality from a friend. Mammootty declaring that it would all work out, not to worry, he knows what he is doing. And a happy love song which does seem all fine, even if it is mostly in overseas locations and casual Western wear type situations.
But then, we finally get the follow up flashback. They are married and living on the base. She wears her house shoes into his prayer room and only offers a casual “sorry”. She is late for an event because she is playing tennis. Mammootty sees all of this and tries to “correct” her, and she objects that she can’t be the pliant village bride he wants. And finally, when she shows up late and still in tennis clothes for the fancy event, he slaps her.
This was the moment when I went “wait, what?” Because I know Priyadarshan, or I thought I did, and this did not seem like behavior he would be okay with from his “hero”. Especially when Mammootty’s follow-up argument is that he lost his head, but after all, she had humiliated him by being late. We saw that party, and I didn’t really see the humiliation. Sure, Mammootty was increasingly on edge, but it wasn’t like the director was showing us people coming up asking constantly for his wife or laughing at him or anything. In contrast to slapping her right there in front of everyone, which is definitely humiliating. And Mammootty’s solution for all of this is to send for his mother, who didn’t want him to marry this girl in the first place.
His mother gives her the family jewels, and tells her what she has to eat and drink every day while she is pregnant (this is the first time we get confirmation that she is pregnant). And then she loses the pregnancy. A sudden collapse while folding her husband’s shirt.
By this point, I was completely on Pooja’s side in this flashback. She did a great job of looking kind of honestly surprised and hurt by each of Mammootty’s “corrections”. It’s not just that he was treating her disrespectfully, it’s that her reaction makes it seem like this might have been the first time he even indicated he felt so strongly about these things. What to him seems like a conscious disrespect of his feelings, on her side was a legitimate lack of awareness that he even cared about these things.
And as the flashback continued, you could see the toll this life was having on Pooja. To Mammootty, she just seems increasingly unpredictable and impossible. But in her eyes, we can see that she has lost the ability to think for herself, to do anything for herself, because she is so afraid of disappointing her unpredictable husband. Even something as simple as whether or not to take a gift from his mother, she looks to him for permission first. And so, of course, the act of folding his shirt and smelling his scent would cause stress that makes her lose the pregnancy.
Do you know what one of the top causes of death for pregnant women is? Worldwide? Murder. Because it is a very stressful time, and a very angry time. Abusive partners get more abusive, any stressors are increased, and sometimes it seems like the easiest thing is to just make the problem go away. Or, alternatively, the future child is so desired, that suddenly anything seems permissible to protect it. And either way, the woman’s body is suddenly seen as just a vessel for this promised child, not as a person.
Which is why I am SO MAD at Pooja’s doctor! Who pulls Mammootty aside and tells him that the bleeding and collapse was from complications of an abortion. This is exactly the kind of information that leads to women being hurt or killed, which is why it is exactly the kind of information doctors are not supposed to share with anyone else, ESPECIALLY the woman’s husband!!!
And secondly, I am SO MAD at Mammootty for not talking to Pooja about this! No matter what happened, this was an emotional experience for her and, more than that, a violent experience for her body, she was just rushed to the hospital in an ambulance! The whole idea of the patriarchy is that you are supposed to “take care” of your women, right? Well, he’s not doing a very good job of it.
(See, he should have been doing this! Also, Happy Birthday Week Salman!)
And then I am really really mad at all the men in the world for not listening when Pooja tries to tell them that it wasn’t an abortion, it was a miscarriage. It’s her body, she should know best what happened to it, not the doctor or her husband or anyone else. And even if the doctor is honestly mistaken, her husband should believe his wife over a doctor.
Altogether, by the time Pooja walks out on him in the flashback, I am entirely on her side and waiting to see what happens to her next. And, because she is part of their story, it makes me care about all the other characters too. I want to see Mammootty learning how wrong he was, I want to see Priya Gill escape the same fate as Pooja and marry the man she loves. I even care about Dileep now, because I want to see Mammootty realize that Dileep is the better man for Priya, because Mammootty is not the greatest partner.
Which is what happens! Pooja walks back into his life after he has driven everyone else away. Left the village after trying to make Priya doubt Dileep, returned to the cantonment to make Dileep’s life miserable and get drunk alone every night. And now, finally, Pooja is here to explain why he is doing all of this. He has to be in control, and the more he loves someone, the more he controls them, until finally he drives them away.
And boom!!! Whole movie clicks into place! It’s about Mammootty, a guy who is really messed up, going on a journey to learn more about himself. His friend didn’t want him to marry Pooja because it would be bad FOR POOJA, Mammootty would just try to change her into something she isn’t. Mammootty’s mother was against it because she wanted a daughter-in-law she could control, and who her son could control, because that’s all their family could handle. Priya is there to tempt him with the vision of the perfect obedient wife, only to show him that even the “traditional village girl” of his dreams has her own desires and won’t fit right into what he needs her to be. And Dileep is there to show him the darkest level of his powers.
Poor Dileep! Back in the early bit of the movie that confused me, they were best friends, like brothers. But when he returns, Dileep is completely at his mercy. Not just a servant, not just an army underling, but a combination of the two. And a friend as well, someone who has his heart broken by all this behavior in addition to struggling with the unfairness of it. And Mammootty hates him for it, for his weakness and his poverty and all of it, because it feels like an attack on Mammootty, that this weak and poor little soldier is the one Priya Gill loves instead of him.
It’s only when Mammootty finally stops making this about himself, finally is able to think about Dileep as a person on his own, who has desires that are just as valid as Mammootty, that Mammootty really grows into the hero he is supposed to be. He gets Dileep leave and brings him back to the village, Dileep who is the lowly forgotten soldier as Mammootty knows him, turns into a hero on his homeground, going off to get Priya Gill back. But Dileep can’t quite do it on his own because he is still trapped in the village mindset, he can’t see his way through to breaking the cycle. Which is where Mammootty comes in and uses his “superpowers” of only seeing things they way he wants to see them to find a way out. He arranges for Priya to fake her suicide, which is enough for the rest of the family to regret how they have treated the lovers.
And in the end, Mammootty goes off alone, ready to start a life, a real life with a real woman. The movie isn’t about Priya and Dileep falling in love, or Mammootty and Pooja getting back together, it’s about Mammootty going on a journey to become the kind of person who has a hope for a real love story.