What a cute movie! Which charmed me so much that I had to put up a post yesterday describing the whole thing so that people could see how perfectly it could be remade as an SRKajol movie. Or really, in any industry with any star couple. There are so many talented mature actors, and so few scripts for them!
You know what I like best about this film? There are good people and bad people and we know the good people because they try to do good things. And we know the bad people because they don’t even try. And that’s it. Personality, background, behavior, it’s all meaningless, so long as the goal is clear.
Oh, and I also like that Mammootty got a wonderful small role. Not a big “Star” kind of role, although it takes a star to sell it. He isn’t the hero saving the world or The Last Honest Man in India or anything like that. But we still have to care about him and believe in him, so he has to be charismatic and lovable and believable and look good in a fight. And he has to perfectly combine “guy we can believe our heroine would dislike on first sight” with “guy we are rooting for to win her over because he seems like a good match”. Which works! Even with him actually playing his own age, we want this 50-something guy and this 30-something woman to be together because he is just the bestest possible husband she could have.
(See? Just kind of looks “right”)
This all also works because it is such an incredibly feel good story. One of those stories that feels child friendly not because there are kids in it, but because it is the kind of story you would tell a child. Or a child would tell you, people are good and kind, motives are simple, and the story is complicated (kids can handle complicated stories), but the people are straight-forward (kids can’t handle shades of grey people).
Most of all, the people are mature! These aren’t young lovers running off half-cocked. They are slow to agree to marry, and slow to change their minds once they have. A decision to marry isn’t just about themselves, it is about their kids and their families and society and the future. And that doesn’t mean it isn’t still romantic! It just means it is quieter, slower, calmer.
I’m making this sound like some kind of art film, and it isn’t. There’s big action scenes, and comedy bits (often the two are related). The only masala ingredient it doesn’t have is the love scene, which sort of works, since this is the story as a child would tell it, and children don’t really like love scenes. Well, I didn’t. Not in movies. At least, not in movies where the people are parents, because Moms and Dads don’t have love scenes, EWWWW!
But even if they don’t have love scenes, they do have feelings and go through changes and aren’t the same people all the time. They are good parents and they love their kids, that never changes. But what they have to do to be good parents, and what they want as people not just parents, that changes. In wonderfully refreshing ways. That I can’t get into without SPOILERS.
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I feel kind of silly summarizing the plot, since I literally JUST did that. But that was in the context of “wouldn’t this be a great movie for SRKajol to remake?” Whereas this is in the context of “Let’s give enough info to start this discussion.”
The overriding question of this film is what makes someone a “Rascal”. Our hero is not a perfect guy. He himself knows he is not a perfect guy. He looks up to his father who is more educated, wears suits, does all the talking in investors meetings. He looks up to his son, who is “decent”, peaceful and gentle and sweet. And eventually he looks up to his heroine as well, who is “classy”, speaks English, dresses nicely, etc. etc.
But our hero is also too old to try to, or want to, change himself. He got ahead in life by beating up his enemies and playing dirty in the streets. He doesn’t think it is the best way, but he thinks his way has value. And he knows, within his own limitations, that he is doing his best to help and not harm, be a good person as he understands it.
There’s a misunderstanding early in the film, Mammootty’s son is being honored at an event where the chief guest is Isha Talwar (how have I gone from not liking her to being sneakily fond of her? Is it just because she was the best actor in Tubelight, not counting Shahrukh’s cameo?), and somehow rumor gets out that Mammootty is dating Isha. Isha calls and speaks to his father explaining that this is causing problems in her personal life, because she actually is seriously dating an older businessman single father, and now he thinks she is two-timing him. Mammootty, being a decent man, wants to solve this problem. Twice decent, first that he takes responsibility for it even thought it is no fault of his own, and second that he believes the actress and worries about her romantic life, instead of just writing off her concerns. So he goes to speak to the other man, only it rapidly turns into him dragging him out of his office and trying to beat him into listening. Because even when he is trying to do a right and gentlemanly thing, he has to do it in a gunda manner, because that is just who he is.
And see, that’s the “conflict” through out the film. Mammootty always wants to do the right thing, and in fact is doing the right thing, it’s just his manner that is wrong. And everyone in his life, including his own son, has to understand that.
Although at first she hates him most of all, it is Nayanthara who is best able to understand the difference between manner and intent. She starts off by giving her daughter half of a story, to teach her a lesson about why the manner in which we do things matters, not just the intent. She tells her that it was wrong to fight in school, even though she was defending a friend and was in the right, because they are women alone in the world without defense, and bad things can happen with even the best intentions. And the story to prove this is the story of how her father died, after Nayanthara lost her temper on a group harassing her in the mall, yelled at her boyfriend J.D. Chakravarthy for not defending her, which goaded him in to going back and beating them all up, and being shot. And that was the father of her daughter, dead before she was born, because anger lead to unintended consequences. It’s not that her actions were “wrong”, but they were dangerous and you have to think about the potential risks involved.
This a good lesson and her daughter Baby Anikha (the main reason I watched this film, by the way, after enjoying her so much in Yennai Arindhaal) absorbs it. But it is also only a half-truth. Which is perhaps why her daughter sees through it a bit and does not fully adjust her behavior. She will avoid getting into fights, but she still sees Mammootty, a natural fighter, as also a good man. Sometimes, even seeing all the consequences, it is still worth while to stand up for yourself and deal with what happens next.
Which, it turns out, is what the hidden second half of the story tells us! Nayanthara told a little lie. She didn’t leave town and start a new life because her boyfriend died, and she didn’t cause his death through getting him into a fight. Her boyfriend was a criminal, his intentions were always bad start to finish. Even when he did a good thing (like stick around and plan to marry her), it didn’t matter, because his life was too bent and crooked for this one good thing to make a difference.
And when he shows up at the interval point, very alive, it doesn’t actually change anything. Sure, Baby Anikha knows the truth now, that her father wasn’t a hero. But Nayanthara still doesn’t like him, just saying he “loves her” and wants to be a good father doesn’t erase what he did in the past. Not even what he did in the past to her, but what he did in the past in general, he was not a good person and should not be forgiven.
And it doesn’t erase these new bonds! Anikha loves Mammootty as her father because she senses the goodness inside of him. And Nayanthara, even when she didn’t much like Mammootty, always trusted him. She let him spend time with her daughter, let his son into her house and heart, she knew he was a good person even if his manners were a little rough. Someone showing up from her past, someone with perfect manners but bad intentions, that has no effect. She is who she is today, not who she was then.
There’s a special kind of wisdom in this maturity. You are able to see your flaws and strengths, and also able to see how far you can change them. Mammootty knows to what degree he can and cannot change. He can put on a nice suit for a birthday party, but he can’t stop talking like a gunda whenever he opens his mouth. And Nayanthara knows that about him, that he will always be like that. And she knows about herself that she will always be herself, quick to anger but hesitant about physical violence, slow to trust people, slow to let people in. The question is, can someone as unchangeable as her find a middle ground with someone as unchangeable as Mammootty?
This is a romance that takes place primarily while the lovers are not talking. Because it’s not about butterflies in the stomach (although there are a few of those moments later), it’s about thinking on the other person, who they are in relation to who you are and what that all means. And, slowly, making up your own mind about whether you can live with that person.
Mammootty and Nayanthara have two meetings and immediately take the measure of each other. He borrows her phone, uses it to shout abuses, then is rude when she asks for it back and tells him he shouldn’t use such language on school grounds. A few days later, their children get into a fight with another boy, he defends her daughter’s right to fight using quick wit but poor language, and the reasoning that anyone should have a right to defend themselves.
Nayanthara can see that he is smart, loves her daughter (and vice versa, they have an immediate connection), but also has an attitude toward the world that does not match her own. She is more likely to run and avoid the fight than to seek it out. And Mammootty can see that she is a beautiful classy woman, of the type who will probably not appreciate his behavior. She loves his son, and she is raising a daughter he adores, but she will not like him as he is.
And so while the children cheerfully try to move this relationship forward at lightening speed, eager for the parents they have chosen to be married, the adults move at glacial speed. Trying to work out, inside themselves, if this is what will make them happy, if this is something they can live with.
But then, once this decision is made, it is unbreakable. Mammootty agrees to marry Nayanthara because she is in trouble, and he likes her and likes her daughter. Nayanthara agrees to marry Mammootty because ultimately she trusts him. The marriage may not happen, because life gets in the way, but the trust is still there. Nayanthara will defend him and his son from verbal slurs, Mammootty will defend her and her daughter from physical attacks, without needing the actual marriage to happen. Just having made the decision is enough. Just as Nayanthara’s decision to leave her boyfriend is unbreakable, she is not a foolish girl to take him back after a few apologies. And Mammootty’s lack of interest in Isha Talwar is unbreakable, he is not going to suddenly veer from Nayanthara to this other woman just because she is young and beautiful and available.
And, in the end, that’s what makes both Nayanthara and Mammootty “Rascals”, and not Rascals. They try to find the answer that is right for themselves and the people they care about and causes the least hurt. But they can both be ruthless in how they get there. Mammootty will fight, and Nayanthara will lie, and they understand that about each other and can forgive it. Because the intention was good, no matter what the manner of execution was.