See, this is what happens when no one is commenting, I get depressed and watch random not very good films. Although Kunchacko did his best to cheer me up. But that was countered by the heroine Kavya Madhavan, an actress I was really liking until I looked up who she was and learned she is (maybe) a terrible human being. But even so, I have to admit she did a wonderful job in this film. This very uneven film.
This is one of those “not as good as it could be but considerably better than the worst it could have been” films. Because it came out right when Malayalam film was pulling out of the duldrums and it definitely feels more like the new good films than the old bad ones. Sure, the plot doesn’t quite make sense, and there is a very disturbing tonal shift right at the end, but there are also clever little light comedy bits that feel distinctive 2000s, not like the kind of comedy that was around in the 80s and early 90s, and way better than the strange failed comedy of the few bad films I saw from the late 90s.
Against my wishes, I also really liked the stars. Well, Kunchacko I liked with my wishes, he’s great and deserves to be loved at all times. But Kavya Madhavan, with her little face and sticking out ears, she won me over and I really didn’t want to be won over! But I couldn’t help it. Just a charming actress.
Kunchacko is a little older than in Niram and a lot older than in Aniyathipraavu . His sweet round baby face is beginning to transition to more of an awkward in between round face. But his innocent young mannerisms are still perfectly on point. Completely bought this couple as young and in love and not terribly mature.
The problem came up when they stopped being young and in love and not terribly mature, and become all full of sturm and drang and misery and melodrama. I can enjoy melodrama as much as anyone else, but I like melodrama that feels like it has some emotional basis to it, like it grew naturally from the rest of the narrative. This is just some strange thing grafted on to our sweet love story with little connective tissue.
But it was still worth watching the film because of the real reason I wanted to see it, the backstage drama of the early years of satellite television! That’s the setting for all this cute romance and then, later, over the top melodrama. And I feel like I did get to have the bits I wanted from that, I saw the rough world of the new industry, how it interacted with older artistic traditions, how it was both immoral and moral in its own way, and so on and so on. That was neat. That was worth it. But otherwise, not really. So if you are in the mood for a 90s romance with cute Kunchacko, and you are interested in learning more about the early years of Indian satellite television, you can watch this movie. But if you are not interested in Indian satellite television, and if you find yourself creeped out by watching Kavya Madhavan onscreen, don’t bother. Just read the SPOILERS following here.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
The opening is really clever, and gave me high expectations for the film, which ended up not panning out. A heroine is dragged off by the “bad guys”, the hero goes to rescue her, there is a fight, it is all very dramatic!!! And then the director yells “cut!” And everyone stops, and the hero (Kunchacko) complains that the bad guy hit him too hard, the bad guy apologizes, Kavya runs up to ask how long it is going to shoot this simple scene, and then Kunchacko borrows the keys from the “bad guy” for his motorcycle to take Kavya home.
It felt like the opening of Niram, like a conscious statement that this would not be the usual type of film, it would be new and modern and beyond these simple fight scenes and drama. And even male-female dynamics since Kavya is clearly the boss of the shoot. But then all of that cleverness slowly drifts away, like they just got bored with all the energy involved in being clever.
(Also, cute songs!)
It stays clever for a good long while, long enough to pull me in and get me well involved with the characters, so that I couldn’t pull out when it got stupid. Kunchacko’s father is as film made as he is and secretly encourages him, down to showing up on the same TV serial set as Kunchacko dressed as the old beggar character. Until Kunchacko’s older brother shows up and both of them run and hide from him because they know he will yell at them for being film mad.
Kavya’s household is similarly silly. As is their acting collective. They are trying to hold a meeting on whether or not they should keep doing the serial but Kavya isn’t there to be president. Kunchacko sneaks off to call her, she is stuck at home with her nutty artist father. He is drinking and talking to his pictures as though they are people. Kunchacko and Kavya join in his fantasy and cheer him up. Kavya’s house is a little less happy than Kunchacko’s, her mother is never around and her sister’s husband looks down on them, but it is still more comedic than tragic.
It’s still comedic when Kavya and Kunchacko find out they are both up for the same satellite TV channel job. They talk to Kavya’s father and decide not to tell the TV channel that they know each other, to sincerely compete, and then as soon as one of them gets the job, they will get married. Doesn’t matter who.
There are funny bits with them pretending not to know each other. And then there are funny bits where we see all the fake news created by the channel, the humorous introduction they get to the cut throat TV business.
(Although Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani still does a better job with the TV backstage plots)
All of that is great! And then about 2/3rds through the film the writer must have gone “wait! Conflict! I forgot to write that in!” He could have chosen to create conflict naturally out of character choices and personalities, but that would be so difficult! Much easier to just randomly throw in melodrama for no reason.
So Kavya’s father dies. And then her estranged artistic brother shows up. And her sister’s husband demands money and sends her back to her mother until he gets it. And so suddenly Kavya really really needs the TV job. At the same time, suddenly Kunchacko’s father runs out of money and they lose their house. So Kunchacko really really needs the job.
But, didn’t they see this coming? Or, to put it another way, didn’t they see the future when none of this would matter? They both knew their families were struggling for money. What happened to the reasonable “we’ll just wait and get married after one of us gets the job and solve the problem then” plan? Why would that no longer work? Besides the necessity for inventing conflict?
It’s not totally invented. We already knew that Kavya’s mother was superficial and only interested in money. And that there was stress with her brother-in-law. And that she missed her older brother. And Kunchacko’s older brother kept nagging him to get a job and contribute to the struggling household. I will forgive the sudden death of Kavya’s father, that’s a permissible level of drama. But losing the house, her sister’s marriage breaking up, her brother reappearing, that is TOO MUCH. One of these things, sure, but not all three! Kunchacko, losing the house, that’s a bit TOO MUCH too. I just needed a bit more explanation for it, that his father made bad investments or had sudden medical bills or something, not just that out of the blue they were losing everything.
And even if you accept all this conflict, why does it mean they had to break up? Why doesn’t it mean that they shared their troubles and came up with a plan together? I guess because it was an hour to the end of the movie and they needed some kind of conflict.
And then it gets really stupid! Kunchacko and his producer do a stake out at a drug den and win the competition for the job. Kavya is upset and runs out, Kunchacko thinks it is because of the job, but it’s because her estranged artist brother is a DRUG ADDICT!!!!! And was in the background of the recording. Now, really? REALLY????
(Was Akshaye also secretly a drug addict? If not, what is happening in this song?)
First, her brother is a drug addict? That came out of nowhere! Second, Kunchacko really didn’t recognize him at all? He never saw a picture, never bumped into him around the house? And third, her brother JUST HAPPENED to be there while Kunchacko was recording at the drug den????
And then the big REALLY is that Kavya tells Kunchacko why she doesn’t want the film broadcast, but Kunchacko doesn’t tell anyone at the channel the reason, just asks for it not to be played. Couldn’t he at least say “I was told anonymously that a relative of an employee is in the shot”? Or heck, just say “I realized that we had caught innocent drug addicts in the background while running a sting on evil drug dealers and it would be wrong to broadcast it.” But he doesn’t say any of that, so the film runs, and Kavya’s brother KILLS HIMSELF.
The message is all confused at this point. Is it that media is evil? Or that their love is cursed? Or drugs are bad? I am pretty sure “drugs are bad” is in there somewhere. But not clear on the “media is evil” part of it. Because everyone at the station is real apologetic when they find out they ruined Kavya’s family. Which isn’t enough for me, personally, in the audience. Do they only care because Kavya’s brother was caught in the film? Broadcasting the faces of drug addicts is fine otherwise? But I guess that is the lesson, satellite TV is a silly crazy business but ultimate filled with nice people.
And I guess their love isn’t cursed either, because Kunchacko gives up the job so Kavya can have it and when she finds out, she forgives him and they are back together. There’s also a flashback to her saintly dead father who made them promise that the job wouldn’t change them, which almost ties everything together, but not really. They end back where they began, happy and in love and joking, and that whole “my father died and my brother killed himself” thing is just forgotten.
It’s a failed movie, is what I am saying. Cute romance, interesting setting, and then they just didn’t know what to do with it.
But hey, now I’ve seen a Kavya Madhavan movie! So I can cross that off my list of experiences.