I missed Monday Malayalam, because I was completely impractical and not time effective, and I went to see Dulquer’s new movie in theaters at the 8 o’clock show on a work night. Because it’s Dulquer! And it’s cold and grey and depressing, and Kerala is so pretty. And I was hoping to write the review when I got home, but it was midnight and my brain finger typing thoughts not coming.
First of all, this movie is soooooooooooooooo similar to Jacobinte Swargarajyam. Or maybe they are both based on some other movie I haven’t seen yet that set up this plot style and everyone else is imitating it. But I like Jacobinte a little better I think. Because of a whole bunch of things, but mostly the ending.
(Also, I kind of like the songs better)
The opening, I think I might like this better than Jacobinte. Our hero is established as sweet, loving, and very very spoiled. Kind of soft, kind of innocent. But in his family, that might be a good thing. Everyone else, his uncle, his sister, his brother-in-law, his older brother, they are all about money and practical and getting an angle on the world. But Jomon isn’t good at any of that. He’s just good at being loving.
His recurring phrase to his father is “I still love you!” Every time it looks like he is about to get yelled at or get in trouble, he just smiles his smile and kisses him on the cheek and says “I still love you!” And it’s so charming and confident, that you just can’t stay mad at him.
It also works really well because the two actors have great chemistry. Dulquer is slightly miss-cast, just because he has become too mature looking. His smile is still boyish, and his eyes are still innocent, but his shoulders and the way he walks, that’s all grown up. Mukesh is great. I am sure I have seen him in something before this, but I can’t think what. According to The Internet, he is known for playing kind of sharp conman types. Which works great with his role here, because he’s kind of a grown-up conman. I believe the two of them as a father and son with their own jokes and their own ways of interacting, which involve more jokes and tricks and lies than honesty and decency. But still has a lot of love.
The big lesson of this movie is that the love is the important part. The money and luxury and everything else, even respect and common sense and all the things that Dulquer lacks and his family yells at him about, none of that matters. Because he has a big heart and he loves more than the rest of them. And when it comes down to it, it is that love which can save them all.
Okay, ready for SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS?
Like I said, this movie is very very similar to Jacobinte. In the first half, we get to know a family that is very wealthy and happy and powerful. And then through a series of random occurances, they lose everything at intermission. And suddenly the son has to step up and take care of everything and grow up.
But there are a few big differences. For one thing, the family isn’t actually that happy to begin with. They are rich, sure. And mostly happy. But they might be a little too concerned with being rich, and not worried enough about being happy.
The oldest sister, Muthumani who I recognized from How Old Are You?, is married to an accountant and always running around bossing people. The oldest son, Vinu Mohan, is a doctor, but only because his father bought his way into med school, and he is more focused on getting patient fees and his side business in real estate than on treating the sick. The youngest daughter is getting married, to a prosperous engineer. And then there’s Dulquer. Who still hasn’t finished his MBA, and spends his days running errands for everyone else.
We are introduced to this family on the day of the youngest sister’s wedding. Everyone is leaving work early and rushing around and picking over the wedding saris and so on. And they keep mentioning Dulquer, who is supposed to be picking things up and organizing cars and all that. Everyone is rolling their eyes about how unreliable Dulquer is.
But, as the movie goes on, maybe Dulquer isn’t that bad? He’s not there to help prepare for the wedding, but once he does show up, he is the only one who seems concerned with the bride. He gets arrested and misses the wedding, and the first thing he does when he finally gets there is to find his sister and give her a hug and best wishes. Not in public, not with a lot of flair and flash, but just because he loves her.
He keeps messing up like that, but then making up for it by just loving people. And it doesn’t feel transactional, like he is doing it so they won’t get mad at him. It feels like two separate things. He isn’t very good at anything, and that’s his problem. But separately from that, he really does sincerely love people.
The first time his world view really comes into conflict with the rest of the family is when he falls in love for the first time. He sees a beautiful girl at church, Anupama Parameswaram from Premam who really is beautiful, and falls in love at first sight. But his family immediately turns it into a monetary transaction, identifying her as the daughter of a rich mother, and therefore someone they want in the family. In fact, they explicitly talk about how finally Dulquer is doing something useful, how he is paying dividends. They know that all he has to offer is a big heart, and they have managed to turn even that into something that can be used for money.
And then it all goes wrong! Mukesh over-extends himself for a big construction project, and then they lose their building permit. He had borrowed money with his house and businesses as collateral, and in one moment they lose everything. And Dulquer isn’t even there. Everyone else is there, gathered around, talking about leaving the house and what they will do. And Dulquer is gone.
It’s not even mentioned by the characters onscreen, they have gotten so used to him being useless they don’t think about it. And as an audience person, we don’t really notice either. Because he is there for love and romance and being cute, not serious things. Which is why it is such a shock right before the interval when he suddenly shows up in the middle of the night and tells his father that they have to leave right now, he has a place for them to hide from their debtors until the situation is resolved.
See, while the rest of the family was focused on the legal and the business and the money part of it, Dulquer was working on making sure that Mukesh himself was taken care of. That is what motivates him, love.
Which is why the second half is so much more interesting. Because we see that, when Dulquer has a reason to work and do something, he can. But that reason has to be love, not money.
We also see that, possibly, the things that appeared the most irresponsible in the first half, buying a ridiculously expensive motorcycle and selling the store his father gave him, were actually practical. He was trying to raise money to invest in the garment business where he really wanted to work.
Sidenote: the garment business scenes were fascinating! I was sitting there thinking “okay, everything I am wearing was made at a place like this”. Large unairconditioned rooms with sewing machines and people working away and shrink wrapped stacks of fabric and all of that. And a whole town that was focused on just this one industry, with everyone working as a buyer or seller or maker.
And then his initial investment is a disaster. His friend has cheated him, the factory is about to be closed, he has lost everything.
Which is when the movie finally gets good! Because Dulquer doesn’t give up. And I don’t know why we ever thought he would. We saw all along that he will do whatever is needed to take care of the people he loves. Taking his niece and nephew to the doctor, wishing his little sister on her marriage, nagging his father to exercise. It’s just that his “emotional labor” type work wasn’t appreciated by his family since it didn’t result in money. And he was never driven to do more and different work, since there was no emotional need for it.
But now, he is his father’s sole financial support. There is finally a reason to work that actually matters. And this emotional purpose is what drives him through out the second half. First to get and keep a job. And then to try to build his own business, not for himself, but for the traditional textile artists who it is supporting.
And Dulquer discovers the value of work not through the money it makes for him, but for how it can help others. And how love can give meaning to it. Which is also what makes the second half romance so so so so so much better than the first half.
In the first half, his romance was remarkably superficial. He fell in love with her because she was so beautiful. And his family, with money on their mind, worked together to get the two of them together. And then we have a love song in which they never really talk, it is all just looking into each others eyes and existing on a pink cloud.
In contrast, in the second half, he meets Aishwarya Rajesh, who I have seen in Attakathi but barely remember from that. Very different character than she has here. He doesn’t fall in love with her beauty, he doesn’t fall in love with her at all. She is just another person he has to deal with as part of his day. And he is able to see her not through the “love goggles” he has for girls in the first half (love the part when he becomes a bus driver just because he likes all the female passengers), but as a person. And it is as a person that he comes to appreciate her. They finally connect over a long conversation that lasts all night. And then, slowly, come to be friends. She helps him with his business, not because she is “out for something”, but because she thinks he is a decent person and deserves to do well. And he loans her money, not because it is a “commission” like his corrupt politician uncle used to always demand (famous comic actor Innocent plays that role, this is a really stacked cast), but just because he knows she needs money.
What is more telling is her response to the loan. She takes it, and then admits that she really does need money at the moment, but didn’t have any friends in town because she is always working. And, of course, friends would be the only place to get money in an emergency. Meanwhile, Dulquer’s family only sees money as something to be squeezed or tricked out of people. Not as a gesture of love.
So, all of this I kind of like better than Jacobinte. Jacobinte‘s opening section was all right, but it was also just the slightest bit saccherine, everyone was just too nice. And our hero was also slightly dull. I talked in my review about how clear it was that Renji Panicker was the hero of that first half. Nivin just faded into the background, the quiet kid who hadn’t really grown up yet or even gotten a personality. Dulquer is right here as the centerpiece from the beginning. You know he is going to do something special, you just aren’t sure what.
There’s also a clear through line. Jacobinte, disaster happened because it just did. International markets fell out, money was suddenly gone. But in this, we can see that the lifestyle of overreaching and doing anything to make money was always going to fail at some point. They had lost track of hardwork and human decency. And they were too confident that nothing would ever fail. The crash, when it comes, doesn’t quite come out of nowhere. And like I said, Dulquer’s rise to the occasion isn’t quite as surprising either. We always knew he loved his father, of course he would take care of him when there was no one else.
But the ending is a little disappointing. In Jacobinte, the ending was a bit of a low note, but it fit better with the rest of the film. You can’t just erase all that time and all that sadness. Things can’t go back to how they were. Any time there is a movie about overcoming adversity, it’s always strangely sad when the adversity is over, you know? The lesson is always that “all we need is love” and “the human spirit will rise to the challenge”. But then the challenge is over and we go back to not needing love any more and not being challenged.
What’s the worst of all is when it ends with a complete reset. Because then it’s like “well, what was the point of that? Nothing changed!” Which is exactly what happens here. Dulquer works and works and builds this really nice relationship with Aishwarya based on them working together, and Mukesh cooks for them and takes care of the house and makes friends in the neighborhood. They build a whole life, based on love and hardwork and human decency. And spread that around, hiring traditional artisans to do their work and all of that.
And then Dulquer’s big order comes through, and he buys back their old house and they move back to their hometown and there is another big family meal with all their grasping and ungrateful family who resented having to fight their father’s court case and complained about it. So, what was the point? Why did we even do all of that? Did we learn anything from it?
The worst of all was the ending of the romance. The reason Aishwarya was working and wanted money was so she could build a small home for herself and her father in the city. And we see their housewarming party, where they are so proud of their small conveniences, a fan in the bathroom, steel shelves in the kitchen, all of it. And you can see they are proud because they had to work for it, because this is something they dreamed about for years.
And then at the end, SURPRISE! They have moved into a big house down the block from Dulquer and Mukesh’s old house in their old home town. So, all that dreaming and work and patience for the small house, that is just erased by this windfall which has given them the bigger house.
It feels like the whole point of the movie is being erased. If it is supposed to be about how love and care for others is more important than money, well, it is nice that Mukesh is planning to grow things instead of build on his valuable property, and that Dulquer is planning to stay invested in his small traditional artisans factory. But ultimately, they are choosing to move back into their big mansion and spend time with their grasping relatives, instead of staying in their smaller house and smaller town with their smaller friends.