Okay, let’s do this! Tuesday Tamil! Actually on Tuesday! My box office post is still going to be late this week, but at least everything else will be back on track. Plus, I am excited to talk about plot details for this movie. (no spoiler review went up earlier today)
Every story in this film revolves around a man spinning out of control when removed from the woman in his life. Or when even threatened with losing the woman in his life. And the only solution is to find a new center, a new woman of some kind. Did I not mention that this is all about Shiva? So we have Shiva with Parvati, Shiva afraid of losing Parvati, Shiva finding a new Parvati, and Shiva without Parvati and consumed with a cold rage. Because Shiva/Parvati, that’s what it is all about.
So, how does this actually work out story by story?
Dulquer is long haired and bearded with a stutter. A college kid striding through hallways to deliver a beatdown to a boy who beat up his friend. It turns into a huge fight, both sides claiming to be in the right. They are fighting over a girl, Sai Dhanshika from Kabali. She has spent time with both of them, they both think she is their girlfriend. So Dulquer announces they should ask her herself. She is blind, and a dancer. She explains that she didn’t like either boy, she was just spending time with them to learn more about Dulquer, he is the one she likes. Dulquer goes to talk to her alone later and she explains that she fell in love with his voice, he stutters but he always speaks out loudly. They date for 4 years, as shown in montage, and then go to talk to their families and admit that they are pregnant. Their families do not support them, but their friends do, and they plan to get married anyway. And then they learn that their daughter has inherited the same disorder Dhanshika has and will go blind by the time she is 8. Dhanshika tries to leave him, but Dulquer fights for her and says he will love their daughter no matter what. They get married. Dhanshika goes into labor, Dulquer paces at the hospital, then learns she has dies. He goes off on his motorcycle and tries to kill himself, before dragging himself back to the hospital, meeting his daughter, and slowly coming to terms with his grief by imagining conversations with Dhanshika. In the end, we jump forward several years, to see him calmer with short hair and glasses with a little girl on the beach, Dhanshika’s favorite memory of time with her father that she had told him.
So, first, I gave you that whole story chronologically, but that is not how it is shown in the film. We start with Dulquer falling off the motorcycle, then go back to their first meeting. Then jump forward to Dulquer in bandages meeting his daughter and promising never to leave her or her mother again and telling Dhanshika how beautiful she is. And we keep jumping like that, through the important parts of their love story, and then back to taking the baby home, and late night conversations over the crib. What only becomes apparent at the end is that this is all Dulquer’s perspective, this is him working through his grief. Remembering the good times and imagining she is still with him now. It is the ebb and flow of memory, like water, moving back and forth through his life.
Water is the constant visual in this story. And it has at least a little bit of plot justification. Dhanshika being blind, water is part of what she uses for awareness of space, her dance performances take place in a shallow pool of water, swimming is her main exercise, and so on and so on. But it is also there in places where it does not need to be. It lifts her up and keeps her going, which is the other theme of this story, who holds us up. It begins seeming like a love story between a man and a woman. But it’s not, it is between a man and his daughter. Dhanshika taught Dulquer about that before she died, the eloped without family support, but she told him how important it was that her father was there for her, her memory of seeing him watching her on a beach, knowing he would take care of her. It’s like the water holding them up as they float in a boat the night of their wedding, that’s what we see at the end, this happy smiling little girl, unafraid because her father is there to hold her.
Anson Paul and Renji Panicker are driving down a hill station road when they hit a female bicyclist. Renji Panicker is scared, because he has been drinking, he wants to leave her there. Anson Paul refuses, picks her up and takes her to the car. Renji keeps working on him. Anson is about to get married to Renji’s daughter, he can’t have this scandal, for her sake they need to get out of this. They are Christian and Renji argues that “Jesus” will take care of her. She stops breathing, and Anson finally agrees. They leave her on the side of the road. 4 years later, Renji has just died as a heart attack, Anson comforts his wife and takes care of his small daughter. He is the perfect father and husband. And then one day he goes to meet a client in a remote spot, the client doesn’t show up, and as he is driving away, his breaks go out and his car flies off the side of the cliff. He is rescued by Dulquer, a doctor, he rushes him to the hospital in his car. And Anson sees that Dulquer has a photo of the woman he left for dead 4 years ago on his dashboard. Anson is wracked with guilt as he slowly learns the truth from Dulquer’s casual comments and others. He is a nice young doctor who works with animals mostly. His wife died in a car accident 4 years ago and they never found the car that hit her. He is here now to take care of Dulquer, concerned and kind, worried over someone he sees as “his” patient. Anson can’t take it and decides to confess, tells his wife the truth and asks her to bring Dulquer to him in the hospital. He tells his story, Dulquer doesn’t seem to react, and then calmly checks his vital signs and explains that he knew all along. He tracked down the car through tire tracks. There were dozens of possibilities in the area, but he called each one until he heard the right voice. His wife was wearing a headset attached to her phone when she died. He heard Anson and Renji discussing leaving her behind and knows they were responsible. He was bicycling right behind her, trying to catch up, and couldn’t. That was the air he was floating on to give meaning to this story. It took him 4 years to track them down, he poisoned Renji’s food in a restaurant causing his fatal heart attack. He arranged for Anson’s breaks to go out and when that didn’t kill him, he took him to the hospital and waited for a chance to give him a fatal injection. Which he has now done.
So, a very different kind of film! A lot of stuff that isn’t there in the first film. Some interesting religious meaning, for instance. Anson’s name is “Justin” which is pretty close to “Jesus”. Dulquer and his dead wife were living in this remote hill station on the run from their families who disapproved of them for marrying outside of their religions (I guess two different brands of Hindu?). None of these religions are any better than any of the others, which is I think the point. The Hindu wife died suffering. The husband turned to vengeance. And the Christians put up a show of religion (talking about Jesus, planning his daughter’s baptism), but do not follow the clear precepts that have been laid down for them. The sanctity of life should be paramount.
We also get to see some themes that will carry through all the films at this point. The wife and daughter as a necessity, a weakness in this case. In the first film, his love for his daughter dragged Dulquer out of his misery. In this film, it is Renji’s love for his daughter and therefore the man she wants to marry, and Anson’s love for his wife, that drives them to the initial crime. And which keeps Anson silent until he can be silent no more. And this Dulquer, meanwhile, cannot survive without his wife. Turns from a man of peace to a man of vengeance. And the film is careful to show that this is “bad” vengeance. Renji, sure, he kind of deserved to die. Renji is such a great actor, in only a few minutes onscreen he manages to draw the picture of a man who has no moral center. He barely hesitates before encouraging the death of a young woman in order to save himself. But Anson, the script is very careful to show, is worthy of forgiveness. He resisted until he thought the woman was already dead before he left her behind. He only stayed quiet for the sake of his wife. Now that her father is dead and cannot be embarrassed, and he is confronted with the results of his actions, he is ready to confess and make amends. But Dulquer, driven made with loneliness, grief, lack of his “Parvati”, does not discriminate, kills them all.
Oh, and there’s another theme, the recurring imagery and backwards and forwards timelines of the story. In a comment earlier today, Mrs. Perfect pointed out that the women of the films, while central to the stories, do not really have anything to do for themselves. That is the point of the back and forth narrative. We are watching things from Dulquer’s eyes, in every film. Dulquer, or sometimes another male character. But never a woman. It isn’t necessarily a huge flaw, not in these small short film type stories. But I suspect it is a general weakness of Bejoy Nambiar, I’ve seen his Wazir, a full length film that in theory had loads of space for a female character to share the narrative. And yet it did not. But I don’t really mind it as much here, these stories are so small and focused on certain characters, in this one for instance all that matters is that we understand Anson and Dulquer. No one else around them, man or woman, is really important. And that is why the images and timelines move. Because we have to see things as they saw them.
A woman, Asha Jayaram is being pulled away from her home by her brother. She has a bruised face, and a sullen scary husband. He takes both her sons from her, the older one (a teenager) glowers and refuses to go with her. The younger one, her husband holds on to. Years later, the younger has become a street tough delivering beatdowns. While the older, Dulquer, is the “shooter” for a gang. His boss assigns the targets, Dulquer kills them, his friend takes pictures to prove the kills. He lives with his younger brother and a woman, Sruthi Hariharan, and her baby daughter. In the middle of this semi-stable life, everything is thrown on end when their father is killed. Dulquer had left home years earlier, and 4 years ago went back to rescue his little brother before he was beaten to death by their father. But now their father is dead, all of that is forgotten and they are both ready for vengeance at all costs. They learn the killer was a powerful connected businessman in Bombay and travel there from Chennai/Madras. The younger brother Rohan Manoj stows away with them. And they find help from a local gangster and his girlfriend. They attack at a religions ceremony, a prayer service for Shiva, and it all goes terribly wrong. Most of the gang is killed, they fail to kill the target, and Dulquer is killed. His brother survives and waits his chance to steal a gun and go off for his own vengeance. He breaks into the targets house, and is surprised to see his own mother there. And then the target, who he shoots. As he lays dying, he explains that he hated his wife’s first husband, and her sons who she cried for. So when he saw the man coincidentally in a bar, he shot him. Dulquer and Rohan’s mother watches him die, then tells Rohan to run. And that’s the end, Rohan trying to run away and suddenly flashing back to the last happy Diwale as a family.
It’s just too much! Is what I think. The simple idea of two brothers who live in violence but crave a family, that is interesting. Dulquer has brought this woman into their home not for herself, but for her daughter. When he returns after being gone for 3 days, he picks up the baby and locks her out on the steps. It’s slightly heavy handed, what I find much more touching is a moment when Rohan wakes in the middle of the night, realizes that Dulquer and Sruthi are having sex, and looks down to see Dulquer’s gun and wallet left forgotten on the floor. He passes by the gun, and the money in the wallet, all he wants is to grab a chance to look at the faded family photo hidden inside the wallet. That is what both boys crave, a family, a mother. Crave it so much that Dulquer went out and brought home a mother and daughter for them.
But then there is more stuff added on top. The death of their father, which brings up interesting themes of the family and honor and ties that you thought were dead but were not. And then we go to Bombay, and there is the shoot out, and we meet like a dozen new characters, and it’s just too much! I would have preferred more of a slow consideration of how the two boys try to deal with their grief, how Sruthi (who really gets short shrift in this plot) tries to help them, and then a simple confrontation in Chennai, instead of elaborate action scenes and all that.
The one moment that we did get out of the whole Bombay sequence that was remarkable relates to their local connections girlfriend, a tough madam of the hotel/brothel where he hides out. She rushes to take care of him when he is injured, and arranges beds for Rohan and Dulquer’s one remaining gang member as well. She goes into their room to get the doctor, but Rohan suddenly grabs onto her, putting his head in her lap. It’s such a lovely innate moment of mothering. Rohan is a little boy at heart, he just wants to put his head in his mother’s lap. And this hard bitten woman can’t help but respond to this need, something inside of her has to mother him. So that is almost worth the whole trip to Bombay. But not quite. It’s still too complicated.
And it’s also kind of too predictable. After all, we saw the section start with their mother leaving, we knew she would come back in some way. We heard a woman scream and saw Dulquer freeze and hesitate right before he was killed. We had the build up of some mysterious reason that their father was killed. It’s easy to put it all together, long long before the characters do.
Oh, and there are so many loose ends! Sruthi tells Dulquer she is pregnant, that’s never resolved. Not to mention her daughter that Dulquer was taking care of. We never see the Bombay gangsters again, or the rest of Dulquer’s gang, just go off to follow Rohan. And then even Rohan just runs off into the distance and flashes back to his past. There’s open endings that feel purposeful, like the audience should be lost and trying to find a way forward. And there’s open endings that feel like they just didn’t think the whole thing through and added on a lot of complications to hide that.
Dulquer is a cocky young soldier in training. His father and his girlfriend’s father are both commanding officers at the same camp. They are trying to keep the couple apart, but Dulquer and his girlfriend Neha Sharma don’t care, are wild in love. Neha’s father wants to send her to study in Australia, she agrees to go but tells Dulquer she will always be his. And then we flash forward 4 years to find Dulquer telling this story to his squadron (lead by Dino Morea). He never spoke to Neha again. She went to Australia and cut off all contact. He tried to see her, followed her there when he had leave, and she didn’t even turn to look at him. And now he has just received an invitation to her wedding. Dino declares they can’t leave it like this, his squad will help infiltrate the wedding, he has to talk to her and find out what happened. They get into the wedding, Neha is clearly upset to see him and still feels something deeply, but will not tell him what happened. That night they come back and Dulquer challenges the groom to a fight, just as he challenged a cowardly suitor back in the past. But the groom is tough, he agrees to fight, and at first even seems to defeat Dulquer. Until Dino orders him to get up and fight, and Dulquer wins. Neha runs in to stop the fight and finally tells Dulquer that it was his own father, Nassar, who broke them up. Nassar begged her to leave him, to swear never to contact him, because Dulquer was about to be thrown out of the service. That is why. And after years of agony, she had finally pulled him from her heart and moved on, and now here he is at her wedding. Dulquer and his squad now go to confront his parents. He yells at his father at the dinner table and his mother (Mrs. Mani Ratnam, Suhasini) finally explains to him. His father and Neha’s mother had an affair, years ago. And then Neha was born. They don’t know if she is Dulquer’s sister, and they don’t know if she isn’t. None of the parents have ever talked about it, but surely at least Neha’s mother has the same concern as they do, even if her father doesn’t know. Dulquer confronts his father, asking “why her? Why Neha’s mother?” and Nassar can only point out that he asked Dulquer the same thing about Neha. The next morning, Dulquer goes to the wedding and signals a blessing to the couple. Neha is smiling and happy. But in the last shot of the film, we focus in on her fist just as her thumb snaps out, the same symbol of “something about to happen” that we have seen Dulquer give throughout the film.
The last one, I said the ending felt lazy and messy. This one, it feels purposeful. Neha’s thumb snap, that’s the kind of thing you can debate for hours. From two angles. First, is this confirmation that they are related? That she and Dulquer have the same specific hand tic? Or is it just to show their continued closeness, she still loves him and is tied to him?
And second, what is she about to do? Dulquer lets his thumb flick out right before landing a punch. Is Neha just bracing herself to keep faking a smile at her wedding? Is she not actually happy? Or, more than that, is she not happy and about to punch her groom? And whatever she does, is it because she knows the truth as well, was told by her mother, and is trying to protect Dulquer? Earlier she had a line about how she can fight her own battles and throw her own punches if Dulquer isn’t there. Or is it meaningless, is it just to show us the tic, Neha isn’t hiding or preparing for anything?
What I find really interesting is the “are they related or not?” question. Not actually if they are related or not, although that’s kind of interesting, but the way it turns the standard love story on its head. When we meet them 4 years ago, in their youth, they are so in love that they seem like one person. The same swagger, the same confidence, the same way of talking, the same pursuits. And this is “normal” in a love story, for the perfectly in love couple to be like this with each other, like they are one person. It just means it is Meant To Be.
But then this film says “really? Isn’t it kind of odd for two people to be THAT close?” The sequence with his mother and her explanation, that was cut for the Malayalam release based on audience reaction. Dulquer put an impassioned plea on his Facebook page for it to go out uncut. And he explained the reaction they were expecting to that scene. It was supposed to be funny. To be so ridiculous and shocking and breaking the romantic fantasy of the rest of the film that it makes you laugh. The secret reason for the romantic breakup that you would never expect.
There is already a slight break of the standard romance. The idea of the military crew infiltrating the wedding and backing up “their” boy, that’s kind of funny. Turning the romance literally into a battle ground instead of figuratively. Oh, and Dino Morea makes me giggle. Just because, 17 years ago he was in Kandukondain Kandukondain as an up and coming young Tamil officer, who Mammootty tries to set up with Aishwarya Rai. And now he is the superior officer setting up the underling! I really want it to be the same guy, and I really hope he moved on and married someone after Aish and that’s why he is all confident and encouraging of Dulquer’s love story.
In the end, it’s a bit of a riddle, kind of a Apoorva Raagangal/Ek Nai Paheli situation. Dulquer keeps flashing back on something Neha asked him when they were together. If he didn’t see her, if he didn’t even have her memories, would he still love her? And that is where they are now. She removed herself so he couldn’t talk to or see her. And now, after learning what he has learned, he can’t even let himself think of her. So, does he still love her? What is love?
And that’s our last story! Our first, water, was connections and flow of life. Our second, air, was loss and nothingness. Our third, fire, was stupid. Oh, and anger and sudden burning moments. And our fourth was the gritty reality of earth. The humor and darkness of it.
There are a few themes they all share, little touches. All have a 4 year time jump central to the story. All have Dulquer Salmaan. All are about men who need women. All are about parents passing things down to their children (blindness, sin, violence, genetics).
But generally, they are disconnected. It’s a unique sort of film, which is both the sum of it’s parts, and the individual elements alone.