Bangalore Days and Premam both got second reviews, might as well complete the trilogy and give OSO a second review too. Also it will be a nice little stop gap until my new Malayalam review goes up on Monday, now that family time is over and I am a sad orphan again who can spend her weekends watching movies (now I hear my parents saying “Hey! We live TWO MILES AWAY! She’s not an orphan!”). Anyway, life is back to normal is what I am saying, and my family has shrunk back down to normal size and my free time has expanded.
This was only the 3rd Malayalam movie I watched and I think the first I reviewed on this site. I just went back to read my review, and it’s pretty darn good!!!!! Which isn’t a sign of how brilliant I am (although that is the underlying theme of everything I write), but rather how universal this story is and how clearly it is told.
I didn’t need to know a lot of Malayalam history, or film narrative style or anything else. I just needed to understand teenage girls and loving parents and young men who are trying to be responsible. And small towns where everyone knows everyone else and everything that has ever happened to all of them. And that feeling of confidence from being so firmly embedded in a community and a family like that which lets you take huge risks and survive huge failures.
I was fully able to enjoy the film just on the first watch, but it is on rewatches now that I am able to appreciate what is a little different about the film a bit more. It’s simpler for one thing. At the first watch, I was blown away by how the theme of waiting until the time is right was woven in, how every little character had their own story, and so on and so on. Now, having seen a whole bunch of Malayalam films, all of that is just kind of to be expected. And in fact, this film looks shockingly simple! There is no sudden twist and refocus at the interval, there is no deeper level to the characters that is slowly revealed. Okay, there kind of is, but not nearly as much as in other films.
There was also way way more clever little magical realism kind of touches than in other films. The way the bed comes up to meet her when she goes to sleep after finishing her board exams. The way the perfect background music is always playing on TV to match her mood. All of that is not quite the same as what is in other films. Sure, it’s there, but it’s not in every movie and it’s not quite the same kind in other movies.
Also, the strong heroine! I knew vaguely that Malayalam films had much more interesting female character parts than other industries, and I thought this film was just more of the same. But no! Since then, I have learned that there is the same old male star power structure as anywhere else. It’s not unheard of to have a film built around a female lead, but it’s also not common. More common is to have a male hero paired with a recent discovery in her first film.
What I appreciated more and more on subsequent watches is how this film looked at those tropes and called them out. Starting way back at the beginning, when an older male narrator starts and Nazriya leaps in to declare that this is her story and SHE will be telling it. Continuing through to our innocent village belle character who confidently goes off to the city and builds a career, instead of being all about the love story. Heck, making a teenage girl who, instead of being the magical pure spirit that lifts our hero out of his dull life, is the one who picks out the person she wants to be with and lifts her own self.
It’s kind of an interesting comparison with director Jude Anthany Joseph’s one other film (so far) Oru Muthassi Gadha. The films have almost nothing in common. Except that both of them focus on the familiar characters from other films, only making them the lead. This film ticks all the boxes of the familiar hero’s story, only told from a different angle.
Oh, and SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
In a different kind of film, we would follow dark and interesting Nivin Pauly. He is traumatized by his father’s death, finds solace in true love with his high school girlfriend. Their relationship has ups and downs, he turns to Communism, following in the footsteps of his dead father. He has a violent incident, and around the same time his first love leaves him to marry someone else. It is a turning point in his life, he settles down, dedicated himself to taking care of his mother and occasionally protecting the women from his village from unpleasantness. At this point, he meets a teenage girl who is sweet and has a crush on him, she makes him smile but he is still conflicted and not ready to move on fully. She disappears out of his life, he helps a friend achieve the romantic happy ending he couldn’t by assisting in his elopement, and pays the price in being banished from his village and his mother. Years later he returns to see that sweet teenage girl again, now grown up, and slowly finds himself falling in love with her. But is torn because he is now engaged to a nice girl who has been his friend for years. That engagement falls apart and, in the end, he has closure of his romantic heartbreak and accepts the love of the teenage girl who has been in and out of his life since intermission.
This is the same plot as Maheshinte Prathikaram, Vaaranam Aayiram, and dozens of other movies on my review list going all the way back to Chenkol. Broken heart, recovery, fresh innocent young thing who serves as a balm to your wound. Only this movie focuses on the fresh innocent young thing instead of the wounded hero! What is it like to fall in love with a damaged and recovering older man? What is she doing while he is off having recovery adventures? What are her struggles? What makes him the right man for her?
(What is she doing in the 5 years or so between when we last saw her and this scene? Who knows!)
And that’s this movie. The heroine who barely gets 3 scenes in most movies gets to tell her own story, for once. Just as in Oru Muthassi Gadha, it is the elderly grandmother who pops up to give advice right at the end after being ignored the rest of the film who finally gets to tell her own story, what she is doing while the hero/heroine is living their life and ignoring their advice.
This is different from the other female lead films I’ve seen, 22 Female Kottayam for instance, which built a whole new original plot that required a heroine to lead it. This film took a familiar plot and just slightly twisted it. Kept the hero and the village from all those other movies, but just put the focus on the girl instead of the boy. Made it feel strangely familiar, and yet unfamiliar at the same time.
And so I can come back to this movie two years later, having seen many many other Malayalam films since then, and it just feels more familiar and happy and soothing than it did the first time. There are no new flaws to notice, no bits that were done better in some other film, it is exactly as I first thought it was, but even better.