I did it, I watched Prithviraj’s first film! And I have to say, compared to Malavaardi Arts Club and Nivin and ABCD and Dulquer, it’s a lot less stomach churning. Mostly because he has a lot less to do, really it’s a movie about the 3 women, Navya Nair and Revathi and Kaviyoor Punnamma.
This film reminded me sooooooooooooooooo much of Parijatham. And a little bit Padayappa. I suspect this is kind of a traditional story? The virtuous loving servant maid of the household whose devotion to God and general good behavior is rewarded with love from the son of her employer?
In this kind of Cinderella story, the “Prince” tends to be a bit boring. He is just the prize to be won by the heroine, not a person in his own right. So a good role for Prithviraj’s first film! He does fine, standing there looking handsome and sometimes saying lines of dialogue, but there isn’t a huge amount for him to do.
What makes this story interesting is our interest in the “cinderella” character. And Navya Nair is a wonderful one! I see this role got her all kinds of awards, and I am not surprised. She is “good” but not boring, a tough line to follow. She will speak up for herself and make cynical comments and tell jokes, all while being long-suffering and patient. We like Prithviraj primarily because he is able to see and appreciate how wonderful Navya is. And also because he is very handsome.
Besides Navya, it’s just generally a well-put together film. Not shockingly good, not like “I have to watch it over and over and find all the subtle brilliance”. But well-put together. The songs are good (Navya is a classical dancer, it looks like), and the camera work is solid. And the script is decent too, I believe in the characters and their actions and motivations, and the story progresses at a nice pace. And Navya’s performance and character are not alone in putting it over the top to “really good”. She is ably supported by Revathy and Kaviyoor Punnamma. Revathy in particular, she doesn’t even show up until well into the film, and at first her character doesn’t appear that interesting, “just” a mother character. But then the script gives her some complicated backstory and emotions and she ends up being just as interesting, and just as much a protagonist of the story, as Navya or Prithviraj.
Oh, and of course there is also Aravind Akash. Playing a character I can’t fully describe without SPOILERS, but he does an okay job. And, interesting coincidence, also had a role in Dulquer’s first film ABCD! Might be a bit of a good luck charm for these actors.
Anyway, time for SPOILERS! So I can talk more about all this.
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Navya is the maid for Kaviyoor Punnamma. She loves taking care of her and is treated as an equal by Kaviyoor, who worries about her and loves her. There are also 3 old women in the household, hired to help keep Kaviyoor company and take care of her, but really just making more work for Navya, who is Kaviyoor’s primary companion anyway. Navya has a bright spirit, dreams of getting married, has long dialogues and arguments with her beloved Krishna icon, and secretly thinks dark thoughts about the 3 older women. Most of all, she is cheerful and optimistic about her lot in life. You wouldn’t think she was a maid simply because she approaches the world with such confidence.
Prithviraj appears, like the literal answer to her prayers. He is Kaviyoor’s grandson, and they immediately become friends. He comments that he finds it easy to talk to her, although she is not educated, they seem like equals. They have their inside jokes and spend time together. And slowly it turns in to love. With glances behind his grandmother’s back and so on. And Navya never really stops to say “I am not worthy”, which is part of the reason she is easy to love as a heroine. She has pride in herself. The one moment of hesitation is after Prithviraj has proposed, and Navya tries to clarify if he is really serious. And she tells him her whole sad story. Her parents died, and she went to work as a maid with the assistance of a family friend who finds her jobs. She is working to send money back for her young sister’s medical care. It’s a careful backstory, not exactly tragic, and she is clearly not ashamed of or regretful of her choices. But she is aware that she would come to this marriage with nothing, not just no money, but no education, no family behind her, just herself. And of course Prithviraj accepts her because she is such a sweet delightful person.
But then Revathy appears! And, in plenty of other movies, she would be the simple villain. The hero’s mother who has arranged his marriage to another wealthier woman. But, she isn’t a villain. She tells Prithviraj of the marriage after it has already been set in motion, too late to step back, and Prithviraj decides not to shame her by refusing the marriage in favor of Navya. And Navya agrees with this decision. Not because Revathy is so fearsome and worthy of respect, but because she is so quiet and worn down it seems cruel to put one more thing on her shoulders.
Revathy is a widow, forgotten by her relatives besides her mother, having worked hard to send her son to school and get him to a position where he has this wonderful job offer in America. to make her break the engagement wouldn’t just be upsetting her, it would be lowering her status in the family even further, embarrassing her, and leaving her to take all the criticize and judgement alone while Prithviraj went off to the US.
What makes this film really different is that Revathy learns of Prithviraj’s love and accepts Navya long before the end of the film! But the problem is, they are all powerless. Sort of. In theory they could all stand up to the rest of the family, declare Prithviraj’s love for a maid that all the rest of the family will despise, and just do what they want. But that would have repercussions of loss of face and anger and so on, so instead they are all very very passive and literally “let go and let God”. Which works!
See, Krishna so loves Navya, that he shows up to help her. He introduces himself as the boy next door, son of Navya’s friend. But the audience can be fairly sure who he is from the start, based on the way Aravind plays this character, graceful gestures and beatific expression. Plus a few minor miracles, like making polka dots appear on Navya’s dress. So he helps Navya to unwind this knot, through making the bride elope at the last minute, and then ruining the second suggested match for Prithviraj (with his cousin, as is traditional), until finally the only option is Navya and everyone accepts it.
It’s kind of nice, as Aravind/circumstances slowly solve the situation, more and more people come to learn the “truth”. Kaviyoor, the broker who has helped Navya find work and taken care of her since her parents’ death, they all sympathize and try to find a way out. Which is an advantage of this “God will solve” it attitude. In a different film, as soon as Revathy learns the truth, it would all come undone and be fixed. But this lets the number of conspirators get higher and higher as they all sit around ineffectually.
This may make it sound like I don’t like the religious message, but actually I do! I really really do! What I like is that contrasted with Navya’s pure direct worship, rewarded by a personal connection to God, we have a humorously corrupt priest. The ultimate lesson being that a pure heart and sincere worship is worth more than all the elaborate rituals and beliefs that can easily be used by conman and tricksters against us.
The downside for all this is that our hero is even less important than the “Prince Charming” types usually are. While he is sitting around looking sad, his girlfriend, his mother, his grandmother, and God are all working to solve his problems. But I guess this is still kind of a nod towards where Prithviraj’s career would end up. He is kind of a woman’s actor in some ways. A lot of his movies feature a heroine who takes the lead while he supports her in one way or the other.
I mentioned Parijatham at the beginning, another film where the maid falls in love with him and then humbly waits for circumstances to let her win out. He has less to do there in terms of the romance, but more backstory and drama to his character. A sign of his career being slightly more established. And then in Aiyyaa, he is primarily the love object, but he gets one really great scene right at the end, which needs to be played just right, and he plays it just right. I don’t think he could have handled either of those based on what I see here. Even in the bland object of love role, there are nuances that could be added, which he did add later, but not here.
But again, it doesn’t really matter, because this is Navya’s film, then Ravathy’s, the Aravind’s. And only after all of that, Prithviraj.