Am I correct that this is not the best movie? I am never sure with my Tamil/Telugu/Malayalam films, if I am missing something really subtle that makes it into a brilliant classic. I only picked this one because it had Prithviraj and was available through Netflix. While a good movie and one I enjoyed watching, it didn’t quite have that “BRILLIANT!” feeling. Although the songs were great. And the plot is delightfully complex
This is kind of a Valentine‘s appropriate post. Because this plot is both crazy, and strangely reminiscent of a romance novel. The same misunderstandings, and Cinderella-like heroine, and troubled hero. And with a happy ending all around! Well, mostly happy.
It’s also kind of interesting if you look at it as a deconstruction of a romance novel. Giving us multiple versions of our heroine and multiple versions of our hero. S0me imagined, some coming from stories of their past, and some dream versions of their future.
This only works, all these different versions, because it is so pleasant spending time with these actors. Prakash Raj, of course, is wonderful. But also Prithviraj. And our heroine, Saranya Bhagyaraj, is very likable too. Although it looks like this is her only real role? Is that right? She doesn’t have to “act” so much in this part, as emote. Make us feel her internal conflicts and emotions.
Really, that’s what makes this movie fascinating, how incredibly internal it is. Our central couple has maybe one real interaction. And yet through their imaginary world, and the images they build up of each other, they feel they are not just in love, but committed to each other.
That actually isn’t that unusual of a set-up for a filmi romance. The lightening bolt first meeting, followed by glimpses and fantasies and so on, until the final happy ending. But what makes this film unique is that it all begins BEFORE the first meeting! In fact, the time spent together in “reality” comes second not just in chronology but in importance to the time spent in anticipation of each other.
This is also where it relates to Paris When it Sizzles. I am guessing I am the only person on this blog, possibly on the entire internet, who knows about this movie? Certainly I am probably the only person who knows about both Paris When it Sizzles and Parijatham!
Anyway, Paris When it Sizzles, so far as I know, is the first film to use the multiple-stories-within-one structure. Our hero, William Holden, is a scriptwriter. His new secretary, Audrey Hepburn, arrives in his Parisian apartment to help him finish his script before his deadline in two days. Over the course of the film, he tries out multiple plot ideas and scenarios, imagining Audrey and himself within them. Occasionally Audrey makes her own suggestions. And we the viewer get to see all these scenarios play out.
In Paris When it Sizzles, the whole structure is just kind of an excuse for big stars to make random cameos, for Audrey to look gorgeous in a variety of costumes, and for there to be a lot of meta-jokes about the film industry. Secondary to that, by getting this glimpse of their conflicting fantasies, we come to know more and more about the two characters and they build a bond based on their shared dreams.
Parijatham is less about providing us with a variety of stories, and more about showing how by living in their imaginations, a couple can come to feel they have a connection. More than that, it shows how even being “imagined” together by someone else, and sharing that story, can make a couple come together.
That’s the thing that is really unique in this story, and unique to an arranged marriage society. That someone else can kind of seduce you into falling in love with a 3rd party. This is not the only film to deal with this concept, Pardes and Koyla, for instance, both considered the idea of falling in love with someone based on what you think you know about them.
I also think it is something that happens in real life, that is a human instinct, but is not often addressed in films outside of India. Getting a crush on your best friend’s brother based on stories she tells you, or falling for someone based on their Facebook page. How different is that from falling in love with your arranged marriage fiance based on stories told you by his mother? This film just takes that idea to its extreme conclusion, with a little mini-story included to alert us to pay attention to how reality and imagination are merging. But before I get into that, I have to get into SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
The first half of the film, except for a structural conceit, appears fairly straight forward. Our heroine, Saranya, is a sweet young woman who is hired to work in the big house of the neighborhood by the older woman who has just arrived to get it ready before her husband and son move in. Through various scenes showing her perfections, the older woman comes to realize that Saranya would be the perfect wife for her son. She calls her son and tells him about the wife she has found, without giving a name for her. And she tells Saranya that she wants her to marry her son and how wonderful the son is.
This is all fairly straight-forward. What makes it interesting is a couple odd breaks in the middle. First, his mother tells a story from Prithviraj’s college days. But, she says, she will imagine the girl in the story as Saranya, because Saranya is pretty like her. It’s a cute story, and it allows Prithviraj and Saranya to interact, to have a fight, to flirt. But only in his mother’s imagination, and in Saranya’s sharing of this imagination.
Later, Prithviraj’s mother asks Saranya what she is writing, and Saranya shares the plot of her novel. And she declares that she will imagine the hero and heroine as Saranya and Prithviraj. And then for almost an hour, the “real” movie stops dead while we watch the plot of the novel play out. There’s seemingly no narrative purpose to this, but further consideration does reveal some advantages.
(And here we have the two characters in the novel imagining themselves as two other characters in a fantasy song. It’s turducken of a fantasy!)
There is the thesis statement of the film, for one thing. The novel has a bittersweet ending, and when Prithviraj’s mother objects, Saranya says that there should always be a bit of sorrow in a love story. It also lets Saranya and Prithviraj both spread their wings a little as actors. The hero and heroine are much naughtier and more romantic than Saranya and Prithviraj are allowed to be in their “real” characters.
But more than all that, the purpose of this novel sidetrack is so that Prithviraj’s mother can make the argument when it is over that she is legitimately upset by what happened, as she was imagining Prithviraj and Saranya as the hero and heroine and it became real to her. That is what the rest of the film is about, how sometimes what we imagine and expect and plan can feel more real than what is in front of us. Can be more real than what is in front of us.
Here’s where that bit of sorrow comes in. Before Saranya and Prithviraj can meet, and Prithviraj’s mother can fully reveal who the girl is that she has picked out, the mother dies in a freak accident! Placing all involved in limbo between what their expectations were and how to accomplish them.
Saranya has fallen in love with Prithviraj based on the stories she heard and her expectation of being his wife. However, she has never in reality actually spoken to him. And her access point, his mother, has been taken away. She is in a social limbo, unable to move forward with her hopes.
Prithviraj has the social position to do as he pleases. But he is lacking the knowledge he needs. He has also fallen in love, based on the little he heard from his mother about this unknown woman, and his knowledge that whoever she is, she was the choice of his beloved mother. And so he is also in limbo, in love but not in love, ready to move on with his life but without the tools to do so.
(This is also when we get the big hit song from the film, which really is wonderful. Like, stop-what-you-are-doing-and-try-to-buy wonderful)
The complications are added on when outsiders try to shake this love story based on imagination. Prakash Raj wants his son to be saved from this limbo by marrying someone, anyone. He has no patience for Prithviraj’s love for a woman he has never even met. And so he attempts to slot in the woman he has found to that place.
Meanwhile, Saranya’s father wants her to marry a real person, someone she has known since childhood and likes, rather than continuing to spend her time dreaming of a man who does not even notice her. Surely it should be easy for a real person to take the place of a false relationship.
And then there is the complication that neither party in the central love story, Prithviraj or Saranya, appears to be how they “really” are at this moment. Prithviraj following his mother’s death has turned to drink. And Saranya is humbly playing the servant, not revealing the educated formerly wealthy woman who Prithviraj’s mother got to know. While they are dreaming of each other, they are dreaming of a version of each other that is not presently visible.
And they are not the only dreamers either. Saranya’s suitor wishes to marry her because of how kind she was to him as a child, when he was poor and she was rich, he sees her that way. Prithviraj’s potential fiancee dreams of marriage to a man she has never met, going so far as to ask her maid servants to see him and report back on his appearance. No one is seeing each other in reality any more, they are all living in a fantasy.
Or, to put it another way, they are all trying to fit their vision of the world onto the reality of the world. And this is the tragedy and the pain, because that vision does not quite fit the reality, so long as Saranya and Prithviraj are kept separate. Prithviraj can sense that the woman his father wants him to marry is not the woman his mother picked out. And Saranya can sense that the life she is living, as a maid in the house where she was to be mistress, is not the life she was fit for.
The only character who can see through all these false stories is the one who spent 4 years living a false life himself. Bhagyaraj (who I am sure I have seen in something before, but from his filmography I cannot see what it would be) appears suddenly midway through the movie. He seems to be a nice middle-class older man, but Prithviraj treats him with great respect, which seems odd. It seems odd to Prakash Raj as well, who reveals several scenes later that he had Bhagyaraj investigated and learned he has just finished 4 years in jail for drug dealing! At which point Prithviraj reveals that Bhagyaraj only went to jail to save Prithviraj from that fate. That he lied for 4 years and took the blame, after the “real” drug dealer framed Prithviraj.
Like Saranya, Bhagyaraj suffered through living in a way that was untrue to himself (pretending to be a drug dealer just as Saranya pretends to be “just” a maid). And so he is able to spot the signs and see through her pretense to understand that she is the real woman Prithviraj should marry.
Bhagyaraj is also the only one to fully understand Prithviraj, both the weakness which made him fall in with a drug dealer in the first place and the goodness which lead him to promise to stand by Bhagyaraj for the rest of his life in gratitude. Perhaps he is the only one to understand Prithviraj in the same way as his mother did. Her story of Prithviraj that she told Saranya was similar, he miss-behaved with a female student, but then made up for it in so complete and generous a fashion the next day, that it didn’t matter. And so Bhagyaraj is able to understand that Prithviraj does not need a wealthy beautiful bride, but rather a humble loyal sweet and intelligent one.
And then it ends with not one but two couples coming together based on what they have heard of each other. Prithviraj and Saranya finally learn their “true” identities and are married. And their respective fiances decide to marry each other, based on knowing that they had both chosen to step back and allow the “real” couple to marry each other. That fact alone, again without meeting, was enough to make them fall in love.
As I said at the beginning, I don’t think this is a “great” movie. And I am probably over-thinking it quite a bit. But sometimes it is these lessor films which lead me down the most interesting paths.