Oh young Mohanlal! Why are you so wonderful? One of my first Malayalam films was Aalkkoottathil Thaniye which is mostly a Mammootty film, but in his two scenes, Mohanlal stole the show for me. And now with them as equal actors, I am even more convinced that Mohanlal is the one for me. At least, in the 1980s. Haven’t made a decision yet for the other eras.
I know this isn’t a classic-classic, I just picked it randomly because I was in the mood for 80s Malayalam, because it’s hot and I wanted something pleasant and lowkey and thoughtful to watch, in which people take lots and lots of baths (strangely cooling to watch someone else swimming). And this gave me everything I wanted! Plus Shobhana, that was a nice perk I didn’t realize would be there!
It’s a really interesting idea for a film, two romances start to finish that are not the same in any way, except they happen to involve people who are related to each other. Both of them are end in marriage, but that isn’t the “end”, marriage is just the beginning. And not all marriages are the same either, but that doesn’t make them good or bad.
Well, the film says it doesn’t make them good or bad. For me, I would much much much rather be married to Mohanlal than to Mammootty. But the film argues that they are equally good, some husbands are different than other husbands and some wives are different than other wives and everyone has to figure out how to live together.
The film also argues that most things are different but equal. The country versus the city, having children versus not having children, men versus women, religion versus no religion, everything. And that’s what marriage is, understanding that two people are different, but neither of them is necessarily right or wrong.
Oh, and it’s also about sex. In a very mature way. Nothing is explicitly shown, but it’s clearly a major part of these marriages, as it would be for any marriage. Especially at the beginning. It’s what bonds them immediately, the secret thing they have between each other, the special thing they share with no one else. It isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. And the film doesn’t shy away from that.
The topic is mature, but the actors are young. Mohanlal is only 25, Mammootty 9 years older. Shobhana is only 15!!!! If her official age can be believed? Anyway, young! And in one of her first films as a heroine.
I feel petty pointing out that way way back in the 1980s, Mohanlal and Mammootty really were something close to the age of the characters they were playing, unlike now. But it makes a difference! The movie has a different meaning watching these visibly young men try to figure out how to make their marriages and lives work out. I can forgive a lot of their miss-steps when I look at them and have a visual reminder of how young they are, how foolish and untried.
It’s not just the actors’ visible age that lets me forgive, it’s all the other ways in which the film is strangely “realistic” about things. The living quarters, the other actors, the clothing, everything feels like actual places and people, not perfect movie people. And so when they mess up, it feels like regular people messing up, that’s all.
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There’s an interesting flow to how the characters are established. We see Mammootty go through 3 separate households, Shobhana through two, and Mohanlal and Kavitha Thakkur (who doesn’t seem to have been in anything else) each share one of Mohanlal’s first two households, before breaking off and forming their own.
Mammootty is where we start, in his home in the village, with his traditional grandmother, father, and young sister Shobhana. It’s a happy household, he loves and respects his grandmother, and spoils his sister. But it’s also a traditional household, there are prayers and visits to the temple, and no discussion of a future for Shobhana beyond a marriage.
And then Mammootty goes to the city where he has his second household. A shared bachelor household, with an older widower as their big brother type, a parental nagging servant, and the older landlord of the house. And Mohanlal, who quickly establishes a teasing friendly/brotherly relationship with Mammootty.
This household is what makes the film a little different from what it would be otherwise. Mammootty and Mohanlal didn’t go straight from their parents’ house to setting up their own household. There was an interval where they were just themselves. And that’s the interval in which they arranged their marriages. Not as part of a formal extension of their original households, but as an outgrowth of this new household.
That informs everything that comes after. For one thing, they were able to meet their wives before they were their wives, or even thought of that way. Kavitha came to the house to meet Mohanlal, not as a shy retiring potential bride, but as a confident pants wearing modern woman. So confident that the household assumed she was Mohanlal’s girlfriend or some other form of “loose woman” and disapproved of her. Once her identity as Mohanlal’s sister is discovered, it is just enough to tip her back over to being “respectable” for the rest of the household. And that’s how Mammootty first knows her, as the almost not respectable out there modern woman.
And she first knows him as the somewhat rough roommate of her brother. In fact, the first time she comes to the house, she mistakes him for a servant because he is dressed for cooking. In her world, a respectable upper class man would never be seen dressed like that, or cooking.
Meanwhile, Mohanlal first sees Shobhana as simply the shy village girl younger sister of his friend. Not in a formal “bride viewing” situation, but because she is in the background at the house when Mohanlal travels there with Mammootty because Mammootty’s grandmother is ill. She is first the sister of his friend, and only a potential wife second. Or, I guess, a better way to put it is that she is a person first, and only a wife second.
All of them are people first and husband-wife second. Mohanlal and Mammootty, with their little comedy tracks at their jobs and their shared home. Shobhana, being the dutiful daughter and sister in the village. Kavitha, being the modern woman in the city. They have their own identities, and the challenge is going to be putting those identities together and forming a couple.
Which is what the second half is about. Two very different couples. Shobhana and Mohanlal are the “primary” couple, and the “good” couple. Mohanlal fell in love with her at first sight and suggests the relationship. The families agree, but Shobhana’s grandmother wants Mammootty to marry at the same time. So, in order for Shobhana’s marriage to take place, which both families want, they also decide to marry Kavitha to Mamootty. Both Kavitha and Mammootty admit to “liking” the other one, but no more. They don’t mind the thought of marriage, but it isn’t a big desire for them like it is for Mohanlal.
And for Shobhana! That’s the twist, on their wedding night Mohanlal is moving around, talking to her, trying to charm her, and she looks super nervous, finally cries when he touches her. He asks her straight out if she is sorry she married him, if she likes him, and she admits that she does like him. Which is when he realizes she is crying tears of joy at being married to the man she wanted.
While Shobhana and Mohanlal are enjoying love triumphant on their wedding night, Mammootty and Kavitha are enjoying “like” triumphant. Which is much less stressful. Kavitha casually takes a birth control pill, Mammootty casually invites her to come to bed with him, and they laughingly embrace.
By the way, there is A LOT of birth control pill talk in this film, and it bothers me because it’s not strictly accurate, and I feel the need to provide a little PSA. You don’t take the pill like GasX before a meal. It alters you whole body chemistry, it needs several days of routine usage at least before it is effective. If Kavitha got a prescription as soon as the engagement was settled and has been taking them every day at the same time for the past few weeks, then yes, it would absolutely work. But if she is taking the pill for the very first time right now, not so much. Plus, later, there is a huge fight because she ran out of pills and couldn’t take it that day and so doesn’t want to have sex, and Mammootty tries to convince her it wouldn’t be terrible to have a child now, and so on and so on. Ignoring all the rest of it, if you miss a day that doesn’t mean you don’t have sex that day. It means you are at a slightly increased risk of pregnancy for several days, because it is a cumulative dose. If Kavitha was really serious, she would either tell him no sex without another method for several days, or else she would never ever have run out of pills. Plus, there’s the fact that you actually are supposed to be off pills for 4-7 days a month, which is the gap in which you are supposed to get a refill. You don’t exactly run out in the middle of a month. This whole thing is just very odd, is what I am saying, unless India has some magical “take before sex to prevent pregnancy” kind of pill that the rest of the world doesn’t.
But the larger point is that Mammootty and Kavitha have casual happy sex with an acknowledged plan of no children for a while, because Kavitha has taken control of her own body. Meanwhile, Shobhana and Mohanlal have shy scary exciting sex with no talk of birth control at all. Seemingly, Kavitha and Mammootty have the more mature marriage.
However, it starts to shift a little the next day. Remember that I mentioned we get to see all of these people in different homes? Mammootty and Kavitha, for their honeymoon period, are staying at his village house. In their bedroom on their first night, everything is easy and wonderful. But once the family and world intrudes, it gets difficult. Not because the world is trying to break them apart, but because Mammootty reveals a sense of priority in terms of what happens outside the bedroom which does not put Kavitha first. He wants her to respect his grandmother’s wishes, to find a way to make everybody happy. It’s a nice little scene, where he pretends to take his grandmother’s side and be ready to hit and punish Kavitha, which of course causes his grandmother to speak up and defend Kavitha, thus solving their dispute. But ultimately, he kind of IS taking his grandmother’s side! Or at least, avoiding standing up for his wife. Instead of this elaborate show, he could have stayed out of it and let his wife and his grandmother fight it out. Or spoken up in support of one or the other of them. Instead of not directly taking a side, but ultimately proving that he thought his grandmother’s opinion, and the opinion of the village at large, mattered.
Meanwhile, in the Shobhana and Mohanlal household, Shobhana has similar adjustment issues. She wants a prayer room in their house. Mohanlal tries to talk her out of it, but ultimately gives in, even though he doesn’t agree he can see it is important for her.
We saw Shobhana in her village household, as did Mohanlal, he knows how important religion and tradition are to her. And we see Kavitha in that same household, which shows how alien these concepts are to her. And we saw both men adjusting in a shared bachelor household before marriage. The real test of all of this is when both couples move into their own households, a modern woman and an increasingly traditional man, and a village girl and a modern man.
And this is where Mohanlal shines. Or, more accurately, we learn that it is the man who controls the household and therefore the more flexible man will lead to a happier wife. When Shobhana makes her requests for a prayer room, for him to not drink at home, he gently adjusts his life slightly for her. Of course, Shobhana isn’t strident about her requests. But then she doesn’t need to be, Mohanlal agrees before she has to be more emphatic. Because he is willing to do what she wants so long as it doesn’t interfere with what he wants. And he doesn’t want much.
Meanwhile, Mammootty refuses to let his old friend drink in his house, to let his wife work, to go to parties with his wife’s old friends, or to even briefly consider taking a job overseas. And he refuses to consider or listen to his wife’s feelings in these matters. You see why I say Mohanlal (unlike Mammootty) is THE BEST?
The end message of the film is that, ultimately, both couples are good. The romantic couple who got pregnant right away and adjusted to each other and had no major blow ups. And the other couple, who had a marriage of convenience, agree on almost nothing, and constantly fight. Both couples have a healthy sex life, both couples enjoy each other, and both couples end up coming closet-to-breaking-but-not-really at the end. Mammootty and Kavitha have a literal knock down fight, he hits her and she falls, and she moves back in with her parents. Mohanlal, upset about his sister and very upset when he learns that Mammootty isn’t even willing to go talk to her, takes Shobhana back to her family home as well.
As soon as Mammootty makes any effort to bring Kavitha back, she happily returns. It wasn’t a huge fight after all, it just looked that way because they were newly married. But, the surprise is, Mohanlal confidently goes to take Shobhana back now that the other couple is happy, and Shobhana is the one to stubbornly refuse this time. And again, we think this could be the big fight. Even the seemingly happy couple has troubles. But, again, it is all easily resolved in a few moments, Shobhana’s grandmother has to simply take her seriously and suggest that Mohanlal return to the city without her and with their baby, and she comes around.
And so what we end with is the lesson that all couples are both the same and different. Different in how their marriages work (or fail to work), in how they get together, in what they want from their shared lives. But the same in that there is a bond which forms, that they want to be together, and of course, that they have sex.