I watched it, because I loved Niram so much. And I just don’t love this one as much. It’s nice, it’s sweet, it’s way way better than some of the other Malayalam films I’ve seen from the same era. Or even today! But I don’t love it.
Kunchacko is so skinny! That seems petty, but it kind of isn’t. This is one of those romances that works extra well because the actors are so clearly the same age as their characters. We don’t need to spend a lot of time establishing how innocent and naive and so on they are, because we can see it in their faces. Kunchacko looks barely old enough to have a mustache. Shalini, of course, always looks young. She has that kind of face. I am sure if she came back to acting now, she would still look about 18.
(Yep, I’m right. Also, she is married to Ajith? She really does have the perfect life, doesn’t she?)
This is a movie that only has complications because of how naive it’s hero and heroine are. Or, to put it another way, “stupid”. All of their problems could be avoided if they had just been more sensible about how they approached things, instead of impulsive and immature.
Of course, all their problems could also have been avoided if the grown-ups in their life had been that extra bit of mature you need to be to make up for stupid young people’s immaturity. There’s this odd combination of treating their children like children in terms of expecting obedience at all times, but as adults in terms of punishing them for their mistakes. And yes, I know, this is partly a reflection of reality, in which children are seen as the possession of their parents at the same time that they are given huge amounts of responsibility, thus the high suicide rate around exam times etc. etc. etc. But I still find it frustrating when it portrayed on film! And I just had to get that frustration out of the way.
The thing I am not clear on with this film is if we are supposed to fully feel that frustration. Ennu Ninte Moideen, for instance, I am pretty sure the message was “yes, get mad! This is ridiculous and hateful and we should change it!” Whereas with this film, I think it was more like “Kids should realize that they need to move slowly and respectfully instead of just rushing in headlong and thinking it will all work out.” Or even more accurately, “kids should realize that they can’t be really happy without both their family and their lover, instead of throwing their family away and thinking they won’t miss it”. Whereas my preferred message would be slightly different, “families should not make their kids choose between love affairs and family”.
One thing that was a little different, and kind of great, was that responsibility to friends was thrown in to the mix along with family. Kunchacko feels a responsibility to his friends in terms of loving, or not loving, Shalini. It addresses that middle part of life, when you have moved out of your parents’ home but are not yet married and your friends become your family. Kunchacko is torn between his future family (Shalini), his past family (his parents) and his current family (his friends). That’s a conflict we don’t see as much of in Indian film.
This is definitely a slow build kind of film, we spend a long time establishing all these conflicting forces, family and friends and lovers, before they actually come into conflict with each other. And it’s the period when they are in conflict that I find most interesting. Which means I have to SPOIL the entire first 2/3rds to get to that. So,
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
We start with a bit of a fake out. Kunchacko Boban’s mother wants him to get married, he wants to go to school for his MBA, he and his father have a big fight about it, his mother intervenes and says it’s not worth arguing, and then she leaves the room and Kunchacko and his father immediately embrace and congratulate each other on successfully fooling her. See, he isn’t a wild rebel with authoritarian parents, he is a nice boy who is friends with his father and they work these things out.
It seems like this will be a nice lowkey campus love story. Kunchacko goes to college, and the first day he and Shalini both reach for the same book in the bookstore, “Love and Love Only” and he is immediately struck with love. This part is kind of cool, there is no real dialogue explaining his love, or anything else really. We can see through the visuals that Kunchacko is in love. And we see him making friends with two other students, all of them moving in together with the wacky landlord of one of them. Just through a song, no time wasted on setting it up.
It’s a slightly odd structure, I mean, it works well, but they had to reach a bit to make it happen. This is what I was saying about Family, Friends, and Lover. They need Kunchacko to have a loving family that we see before it all goes wrong in order for us to care about his family life. So we have to start before he goes to college. But then they need a close group of friends in order for the friends to be part of the college life, so they sort of skip quickly through their first meeting and bonding and so on. Thus this song sequence that goes through all of that, combined with showing Kunchacko’s growing fascination with Shalini as he keeps catching glimpses of her on campus.
Until, finally, out of the blue, she and her friend come and sit with them at a table at a cafe. And ask these strange boys that they have never met before to talk to them as they they are friends. Kunchacko is too nervous to look at her directly, but the other boys talk adorably. These little things, that’s why this movie is so endearing. They perfectly capture awkward shy boys who don’t know what to do. It’s sweet and young and shy, in a way that feels fresh.
Also fresh is how things go wrong. The girls explain that they went to the movies alone without telling their families. And there were some boys bothering them, so they ducked in the cafe and pretended to know Kunchacko and his friends. But now those boys are gone, so Shalini and her friend are going to walk over to the bus stop, and thank you. Now, if the boys were smart, they would have left it at that. Would have maybe said “hello” to Shalini on campus, now that they know her name. Moved slowly and carefully, eventually Kunchacko could as his parents to present a proposal to her family.
But instead, they decide to follow Shalini and her friend right there, try to make this first interaction last long instead of being patient. Which means they are zooming around and following the girls when a police car stops by them. And they get scared and lie that they are the girls’ brothers. Only to learn that the police officer actually IS Shalini’s brother!
(Her very very loving brothers)
And things just go downhill from there. They are arrested and beaten, go home and are beaten again by Shalini’s other brother, go to the doctor only to discover it is her third brother and are beaten a third time. Kunchacko’s friends make him promise not to see her again, after all the trouble she has caused them.
Meanwhile, non-family forces are getting involved on Shalini’s end as well. The police chief is wondering why 3 men were arrested for no reason. And one of them is missing. Shalini’s brother needs Kunchacko’s help to get out of this and goes against his family to talk to Kunchacko. Which just makes Kunchacko more defensive of his friends, he chooses them over Shalini. Until she makes a plea and he picks her over his friends. Which makes her pick him over her family and confess her feelings. Only by then his friends have forced him to promise not to try to love her any more, so he chooses his friends over her. Which is such a great sacrifice that his friends forgive him everything and rush out to stop her.
All that is a lot of back and forth, but the overall point is, well, back and forth! Sometimes your loyalties are with your family, sometimes your friends, sometimes your lover. There is no easy simple answer. And no steady answer, it changes all the times. But if someone truly loves you, they can understand and respect that. Shalini respects and forgives Kunchacko for picking his friends over her. He loves and respects her struggle in choosing him over her family. And his friends feel terrible about what his loyalty to them has brought him to and reverse their request.
(Also a love song with letter writing which I am guessing the similar song in Thattathin Marayathu was a tribute too?)
The real villain of this story is absolutes. Kunchacko and Shalini go back and forth on being in love, but once they decide to be in love, they think they have to go all the way. They run away together, plan to have a runaway wedding in the fishing village where one of Kunchacko’s friends is from. But at the last minute, they change their minds. See that they can’t just cut their family out of their lives like that, they can’t be happy with just each other.
But after they return home, they see they can’t be happy with just their family either! That’s the problem, they need everything, family and lover. And friends too! Kunchacko is torn when his friends declare they won’t support him if he goes back on his word and doesn’t give it all up for love.
Really, this is a very appropriate movie for Thanksgiving week. Because it asks the question of what all we need in our life, who are the people that matter, who do we want around our table. Kunchacko and Shalini need each other. But Shalini also needs her brothers and her nieces and nephews and her mother. And Kunchacko also needs his parents. And they need their friends too. They need everybody, and they shouldn’t have to give up anyone, they shouldn’t have to choose.
That’s their flaw, that they thought they had to choose. That Kunchacko and Shalini believed falling in love meant, well, “love and love only”. They had to be mad and passionate and ready to make huge leaps and give up everything. They didn’t see that a love story could also have parental approval, that there was a way to do this which would keep everyone happy.
It turns out that “love and love only” doesn’t mean “one person and one person only”. It just means that all you need to think about is love. The love for everyone in your life. That’s what matters, not your “duties” or “respect” or anything like that. Just love.
Okay, now we can all prepare ourselves for spending an awkward 4 day weekend with a mixture of relatives and in-laws and total strangers who make up the people in our lives!
(Or you can go the Bangalore Days route, leave your family back in the village, and move to the city and be happy forever without them)