Yet another Hotstar miracle! I film I had been curious about because of Rosshan Andrews, the director, and which was impossible to find. Until suddenly it popped up! Right there, at my fingertips! The wonder of Hotstar.
This is a hard film to get a hold of. It doesn’t necessarily go where it looks like it is going to go. And it spends a lot of time getting there. But the journey is interesting!
It looks like this is Rosshan Andrews second film, and first with scriptwriter Bobby-Sanjay. His first film was Udayananu Tharam, written by Sreenivasan, and totally different from this movie and all the other Rosshan Andrews films I have seen. Probably because every other Rosshan Andrews movie I have seen was written by Bobby-Sanjay.
They aren’t similar in genre necessarily, Mumbai Police is a police thriller while How Old Are You? is a character study. But they all have a slow build in which we get to know the characters of the story before the “real” plot starts, a plot which takes surprising twists once it does start, a varied group of characters all trying to do their best, and most of all, a uniquely open view of human behavior. Nothing is unforgiveable or ununderstandable.
(Also launched all 4 leads. Roma was the clear stand out, Parvathy as always looked totally different than in every other film)
One thing that as present in both How Old Are You? and this, is an interest in and an understanding of female characters, specifically female friendships. How Old Are You? is almost a strange kind of sequel to this, showing what happens after school, when your friendships wither and you forget who you were before you were a wife and mother. Whereas this film celebrates that time, celebrates the uniqueness of young female friendships, of bonds which briefly become the most important in your life.
At the same time it celebrates the uniqueness of female friendship, it also celebrates the value of balancing that bond against others. Boyfriends, mothers, and fathers. And none is necessarily better than the others. It depends on the person and the situation as to which is most important for you.
The one thing you can’t rely on is teachers. It is a school set film, but it is strangely anti-school. Or at least the standard authorities of the school. The girls have to take care of each other in ways big and small because there is no one else around to take care of them. The experience of their school days isn’t about the teachers who are supposed to inspire and take care of them, but about the bonds they form within the student body. And the bonds they miss from back home with their parents. The teachers are either negligible, or the enemy.
(Also, there are no youtube videos from this movie that I can find, so get ready for a lot of references to other films. Like this, where the teachers are your friends!)
It’s anti all the standard authorities really. Doctors aren’t that great either. Parents are okay, but have limited uses. The military is slightly suspect. It is only each other that you can fully rely on. Straight through to the end, they just need each other more than anything else.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
We start with the friendship. The three girls sneaking out to plant a tree together at exactly midnight on New Year’s Eve in order to cement it. This is before their senior year in school, they are still “children”, and they are helping to raise each other.
We see that in small ways over the slow beginning of the story. The two significant moments, Mariya Roy gets her period and her protective friends Roma and Parvathy stop a boy Skanda Ashok who is leaving campus for town and beg him to buy pads for them. We see the dynamic immediately, Mariya is the sweet one who naturally asks them for help. Roma is the confident “face” of the trio who puts the plans in action, Parvathy is the thinker who helps come up with the ideas.
(Another Parvathy film with 3 friends. In which she looks COMPLETELY DIFFERENT)
We begin to see where these traits came from as the second incident brings in their families. There is an issue with their school work and Roma takes the blame. Partly to protect Parvathy, who is a scholarship student. Roma’s mother shows up at school to deal with the issue, and blames her for interrupting her life and embarrassing her, does not listen to her side of the story or try to take her side. It shows why Roma is so loyal to her school friends and outspoken in their defense, and so distrusting of authority figures. She sees her parents as having let her down and therefore doesn’t trust anyone else to be fair to her, and will try her hardest not to let anyone else down like that. Parvathy is strong but vulnerable, she is worried about her widowed mother and is the one closest to her family, both literally (her mother lives near campus) and figuratively (feeling like she is the only support for her mother with all the pressure that brings on). Mariya’s family does not get involved at this point, which kind of signifies how healthy her relationship is with them. They are neither something for her to fear and fight against, or something for her to protect. They are just nice loving people who support her and give her a warm loving place to escape to.
This makes Mariya the weakest of the trio. She is used to having a family behind her to rely on. And she has naturally accepted Mona and Parvathy as taking care of her now, letting them lead her. And, later, letting Skanda Ashok lead her.
It is interesting that Mariya and Skanda end up having a romance, because he bought her the period supplies but didn’t actually talk to her about it, he talked to Mona and Parvathy. In a way, it feels like they arranged the romance, they picked him out for her and vice versa. It’s even more true later, when Mona and Parvathy arrange for Mariya and Skanda to be alone while on a school trip to Goa. They are guiding her to the person they approve of, and she doesn’t have the ability to question or protect herself after they have done it.
(Great casting, she has such an innocent little face)
And once Mariya becomes pregnant, the implied protectiveness and control that Mona and Parvathy have over her becomes explicit. They are the ones who get to decide what will be best for her. Not that she protests, she hands the problem over to them entirely and expects them to solve it.
This is where the child versus adult bit gets really interesting. Because they try so hard to solve this adult problem, but they go about it in a childish way. Because that is the only way they know. Hiding it from teachers and parents, just like they would hide anything else, figuring out a time when no one would notice, escaping campus, etc. etc. The main focus is on how to get out of “trouble” without anyone noticing, just like this was any other kind of scrap they had gotten into.
I don’t want to say that they did anything “wrong” here necessarily. The reason abortion rights are so important, is that it is truly a life and death issue. Children/young women cannot tell their parents about this, because often it gets them killed. However, there should be another understanding and trusted and objective adult available to them. I feel like this film doesn’t really resolve that. The girls are at boarding school, their teachers have already been shown to be somewhat easily fooled and emotionally distant. Their parents are literally distant, far away from them. And the social stigma of the situation means they don’t know who they can trust to confide in among strangers, and therefore are left on their own. Even Skanda can’t necessarily be trusted, after all he is the one who got her into this situation to begin with. And to confide in him would be risking another danger.
This is why it is so important that the pregnancy and decision to have an abortion happens well into the film. We have seen how these three girls work together, how they have learned the lesson that they have only each other to rely on. How Skanda is new to Mariya’s life, versus her friends. And how her parents seem so distant from her, versus her friends.
There is also the issue that all the elements surrounding the abortion are decided based on a need for secrecy, rather than safety. They pick an out of the way falling down hospital so it would be less noticed. They pick a gullible doctor who is willing to do an abortion last minute. All of these things are setting them up for tragedy.
Momentary break for PSA here. According to this study, the risk of death in childbirth is 14 times higher than the risk of death in abortions. But that is a safe correctly done abortion. Which is not a terribly difficult procedure to do, but it is something that you need training in and facilities for. Because these girls are terrified of being found out, and because they have no other options, they end up with an inexperienced doctor who is uncomfortable with the procedure at a hospital that is not well-equipped for emergencies. It was still the safer choice, actually having the child (if she was not killed by her parents for being pregnant before marriage, which is a statistical possibility even if these particular parents do not seem to have as big a problem with it) would lead to a 14 times greater risk of death. And that’s not even considering how it would upset her life plans and so on and so forth. Anyway, this is why it is important for medical professionals to have training in these issues, for patients to know they can trust their doctors, for their to be an awareness of the safe places where such procedures can be done. So young women like Mariya in this film could get good counseling on her options, and good care.
(Donation link for Planned Parenthood here)
I said that Mariya would probably not have been killed by her parents for telling them the truth; however now that I think about it, there is the moment of possible doubt on that point. In order to get the abortion performed, Roma lies to the doctor that Mariya is a victim of rape. Later, when confronted by the principal of the school and Mariya’s father, she corrects the lie, says that it was not rape, and Mariya’s father refuses to believe it. He is clinging for comfort to the idea that his daughter was raped and then died. Because the idea of her going through all the horrors and dehumanizing and misery of a rape, is more pleasant for him than to think she has broken his code of honor and had consensual sex before marriage. Well, that’s just nuts!!!! That’s putting his own honor over the very basic level of safety, happiness, everything for his daughter. Kind of makes me think they were right not to tell him the truth.
What makes this scene especially interesting is that it is followed immediately by a scene with Roma’s father, who refuses to consider the perspective of society or others, preferring to trust his daughter and his knowledge of her, over all the old men in the room telling him things. This is where I start to think “wait, is Rosshan Andrews saying what I thought he was saying, or something else?”
On the surface, this is a tragic lesson about foolish young women taking decisions into their own hands. Mariya dies having an abortion. Roma is identified as the one who accompanied her and lied to the doctor and is yelled at by the police and expelled from school. Parvathy does not stand by her friend (and was not there for the lying to the doctor part of it, has less culpability) and is allowed to remain in school, but is sad about it. So, Mariya is punished for her “sins”, Roma is punished for her part in it, and Parvathy who did the least gets off the easiest.
But then the film keeps going. We learn that Mariya’s father is in fact living in denial a bit and perhaps could not have been trusted, the girls may have made the best decision. And then we have Roma’s father modeling “good” parenting, telling off the police and the principal for sitting in judgement, for having made up their minds that these girls’ lives can be thrown away for a simple mistake. And finally, Parvathy goes nuts!!!! She remains in school, but her guilt over not helping Mariya or Roma makes her have a psychotic break on the school parade grounds.
(See, this is how we know it is Parvathy, even if she once again looks completely different. Because she gives an amazing performance in the breakdown scene)
And then we jump forward 6 years in the epilogue and get the final judgments. Roma, who remained always loyal and protective to her friends above all, with no consideration of society or what might happen to her, is now graduating from medical school with honors and her supportive father there, and even a new friend from school. Skanda, who did not stand by his girlfriend, has dedicated the past 6 years of his life to helping out her friends (the ones who did stand by her, not her family). And Parvathy, who was disloyal and did not defend the abortion decision, she has suffered most of all, living in an insane asylum for the past 6 years with only her mother and Skanda to stand by her.
So this is our end lesson. Ignore Mariya for a moment, and her punishment for her “sins”, consider those as just a random narrative device not a final judgement. The friend who was disloyal and lying, she was punished for 6 years. And the boyfriend who was not loyal or trustworthy, he had to put his life on hold for 6 years as well. And the parents were “punished” by the narrative as well. The one who was loving, but with conditions, his daughter died. The mother who put pressure on her daughter to succeed, she lost her for 6 years before getting her back. But the father who was blindly loving and supportive received a successful living daughter. And the friend who was loyal above all, who did not care about society so much as her friends, she has the best life.