Okay, it’s technically Monday. I am putting this up now! I saw the movie Friday and I’ve been holding off just so I could stay sort of on schedule. Anyway, there is another review coming later, the SPOILERS one.
Finally, a new Nivin Pauly movie! Which both is and isn’t a Nivin Pauly movie. It isn’t a Nivin Pauly movie in that he isn’t the hero of the film, not the center of the story or the most heroic figure. But it is a Nivin Pauly movie in that he produced it himself. And it seems to truly reflect the kind of cinema that is beginning to be identified with him. What I think of as a “soft” film, about little moments of life and people somehow navigating them, not big heroics and dramatic confrontations.
In many ways, this film reminded me of various American films I have seen. Black humor, imperfect family, etc. etc. And also the complete disinterest in considering the money part of it. That’s one thing I have found refreshing about a lot of Indian films, they don’t pretend that money isn’t an issue. Whether it is overly dramatic action movies with the evil mob boss who impoverishes the family, or the grounded type films in which our hero struggles to get his first job, or pay his school fees. One of the things that really made me notice Nivin was his film Jacobinte Swargarajyam, which dealt with the grueling day to day struggle to make money and keep a family together. A story we never see in American film, at least not in a mainstream overall happy type of films rather than the “message” type films.
So it was a disappointment in this movie to have a family go through a hard time and there not even be a mention of the financial part of it. Nivin is back from London on a whim, and apparently left on a whim too, and it’s never straightened out how he was making money while he was there, and how he got the money to come back or any of the rest of it. That’s just a small thing, but through out the film, money is never really a major issue. Sure, there is resentment of the brother-in-law that never pays his own way, Nivin trying to get his father to sell the family land so he can start his own business, stuff like that. But the real grinding day to day reality of trying to find money is just not present. Especially considering it is a medical plot, and money and medicine, unfortunately, often go hand in hand.
That’s a small and large complaint at the same time. Small because it is just a small part of the movie, no big deal to not include a few lines regarding money and sacrifice. But large because it points to a larger decision, a decision to treat the sufferings that are shown here as unique, as worthy of sympathy and fascination. Instead of as day to day, as important as any other family’s struggles, less important than some (the ones who have no money).
It’s an odd sort of tone, a “isn’t this family cool and clever and funny and aware of their own flaws?” tone, which is familiar from Nancy Meyer movies and others in Hollywood. It always irritates me, because it makes me feel like instead of asking for my sympathy, the characters are asking for my admiration, like they are putting on a show for me. Kind of humble-bragging? Like “oh sorry, I know I’m not acting in the ‘right’ way, but I am just so cool and unique and different that I can’t be ‘normal’.”
(Also kind of my problem with Tamasha)
There is just the slightest touch of that in this film, it raises it’s head every once in awhile and then goes away again. If the film were only focused on Nivin, and the younger generation, it would definitely be more like that. But the center of the film is Shanthi (who I just saw in Chenkol! Yay me!) and Lal. Lal is expectedly wonderful, funny and bitter and sad and human in the very best way. Shanthi is something different. Wonderfully everyday. She is the center of the family because she never makes a fuss, no one ever notices her. She isn’t the clever one or the fun one or any of that. She is just there, cleaning up their messes, being practical and sensible and all those good things. She isn’t someone who would be cool or unique or any of that, and the point of the film is that her boring everyday person is the most important one, the strongest one, the best one.
It’s a surprisingly simple story, there is a family that we meet, there is the problem that they have to pull together and deal with, and then the problem is resolved and that’s the end of the film. Along the way Nivin has a tiny romance that barely interrupts the flow of the film, but otherwise it is all firmly focused on the one plot. Focused but not focused, there is just the one problem, but plenty of time is spent on all the family dynamics and shifts that are related to that one problem. In-law negotiations, trying to deal with the youngest child’s love affair, it’s all mixed up together.
Oh, there is one other thing I should mention! For those Nivin lovers out there, this is definitely the “cuddly” version of Nivin. Nice soft belly to lean against, that sort of Nivin. But still smiling, still charming, still (most importantly) bearded.