Well, this was a nice little movie! Which is what I was looking for, a nice happy sunshiney Malayalam movie to watch while it was freezing cold outside. Oh, and also, Asif Aslam was in it, and I like him.
This is a very very small film. With no pretensions to being anything else. There is even a little framing device to make sure we know it is “just” a story.
But even being just a little story, there is still some meat on the bones of it. Some interesting considerations of what makes someone a “good” person, of what makes a good marriage, and of friendship and community and so on. And it also gives a fun little glimpse to an overlooked slice of life, the door to door sales people who trudge along the roads with their big bags of products.
Plus, the cast is great! There seems to be this trend lately in Malayalam film of casting unknown teenager actresses. Which mostly works out surprisingly well, the directors use a kind of neo-realist style and bring out a natural performance from them. But it is disappointing to me that we never get to see the same actresses twice, never to get to see them grow as artists. Thank goodness, this film bucks that trend, casting Aparna Balamurali again after her breakthrough performance Maheshinte Prathikaaram. And she is great, no longer a “natural” actress, a teenage girl kind of role, but something a little more mature and layered and interesting, while still feeling human.
And then there’s Asif Ali. My little unassuming favorite. I wouldn’t say I exactly have a crush on him, but I sure do like him. A sincerely good actor who does interesting roles both big and small and always does his best. I was happy to see him as a hero again, getting to help carry the film. Although, as always, he steps aside the role of “hero”, preferring to support his co-stars to the best of his ability. And therefore, although he is technically the lead, it is Siddique as his older landlord and Aparna as something a bit more than just his love interest who really stand out.
(Even in a bar song, he makes me like him)
Lal Jose is there too. I can’t decide if it is beginning to be a bit irritating the way he pops up in all these other movies, like he is forcing these younger directors to worship him, or if it is really nice, like he is blessing their first films. I think I will go with nice.
Oh, and Sreenivasan! Who I think might be the Anupam Kher of Malayalam film. In that “how does he do all this? does he just not sleep?” kind of way. He was in 5 movies last year, and 7 movies in 2015. Only one in 2016 though, I guess that’s when he caught up on all his sleep.
Mostly though it is just a nice movie. I wouldn’t say “oh you must rush out and watch it!”, but it is a perfectly pleasant way to spend 2 and a half hours. Nice people, nice sunshine, nice songs, nice everything. And a nice plot with a nice ending. And to get into that means it is time for SPOILERS.
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We open with our framing device. Sreenivisan has called his favorite economics students to his classroom on Sunday to tell them a story. This is their Sunday holiday, listening to his story.
Sreenivisan is an economics professor, but he dreams of being a scriptwriter. And then he has his chance, he gets a call that Lal Jose (playing director “David Paul”, not sure why they changed his name for the character) is in the hospital after fainting on a film set. The doctor Asha Sarath tells him he needs to rest under observation, so he is trapped there with nothing to do but listen to Sreenivisan’s narration of his simple little story.
Which brings us to the “actual” film. Asif Ali is preparing to leave his hometown, heartbroken, because his childhood sweetheart has thrown him over to marry another man. Asif’s father arranged for him to stay in a shared house in the city, and temporarily volunteer raising money for an orphanage.
(Childhood sweetheart does get one cute song)
It’s an odd combination of forces, film and charity and salesmanship all mixed together. Asif’s new roommates include a humorous aspiring actor, and his landlord is a director turned lyricist. But they also live nearby the church, and Asif’s job is raising money by selling religious CDs in order to raise money for the orphanage. He refuses to even take money for it, wanting the work only as a distraction from his broken heart.
There are a lot of themes in this movie, and one of the first is that you shouldn’t judge people by your first impression. Asif hides his broken heart, and his ex-girlfriend hide her faithless heart, no one could believe that she actually threw him over. Siddique, Asif’s new landlord, seems like a kind of silly pompous type. But a late night conversation reveals that he has his own heartbreak, having been abandoned by his own wife who, most heartbreaking, took their 3 year old daughter with him. And then there is the neighbor, whose name I can’t find in the cast list, who seems to be an irritable unpleasant young man. Until his mother reveals to Asif his hidden heartache, carrying the load of his father’s debts and terrified of losing their house.
The next theme that pops up is partnership, helping each other. Asif starts off a little standoffish, he is shocked at the idea of taking money to sell the CDs and shocked to learn that Aparna is so mercenary, to the point of picking up a gold necklace she finds on the street, and lying that her father is a police inspector to get out of a tough place. He is shocked at the neighbors rudeness too, and just generally cautious about making a bond with these people. But his caution is worn away, he starts going out of his way to help them. Taking in the neighbor’s stolen money and hiding it for him, that is his first adjustment to a new view of the world. He learns to tease and help his roommates, to let himself go a little bit.
And slowly, he comes to see Aparna more clearly. To learn that she may be hardnosed about making a sale, but she is also fair in her partnership with him, agreeing to work with him to sell cds and her arthritis slippers as a matched set. And later he sees her give the gold necklace she picked up to a poor elderly woman to help pay for her daughter’s wedding. Finally, he learns that she is in fact a medical student, an orphan, who is paying her own way through school by selling door to door and picking up other odd jobs. That she may seem mercenary and out for the main chance, but it is how she has to be in order to survive. Asif and Aparna work together to make sales, to help each other out, and slowly they come to trust each other through their shared goals. And through that shared goal, they also become closer to each other, begin to care for each other. It is this bit that brings in our second theme, partnership.
And then there is our third theme. The vulnerability of those who are alone. Siddique, he is vulnerable. He got married because he was alone, and when his ex-wife comes back to him and tries to get money for the care of their child, Siddique is vulnerable again. He steals the money and doesn’t know how to go back to his life, doesn’t know if anyone will want him back. Asif was alone for a little too, standing off from making connections, but was pulled into them, to his betterment. And finally, again, there is Aparna. She is fiercely alone. Sure that she doesn’t need anyone else. And she is write to laugh off her landladies horny teenage son, and the older man who keeps bothering her on the street. But she is wrong never to tell her landlady what her son is doing, or to tell the police or ask Asif for help with the man on the street. She is too used to her own independence, unable to think of speaking to others. Which leads her to her final dangerous situation, the teenage son arranges to let the man from the street into her room while his parents are out of town. None of this is Aparna’s fault, of course, but she is rescued because of the one small sincere connection she made, Asif, who stops by to see her and won’t be put off. If she had more connections in the world, more people checking up on her, she would have had more chances to be rescued.
It all comes together in our two endings. First, Aparna and Asif go back to his village. He has rescued her, now she gets to rescue him. His father proudly introduces her as his future daughter-in-law, the medical student. Asif’s broken heart is fixed, and his status in the village as well. And his father tells the young people that this may have been Asif’s goal, but they will notice as marriage goes on that everything becomes a joint goal, that is what makes it a marriage. They are partners, they help each other, and they have finally looked down into who each of them really are, a good village girl and a good village boy.
And then there is the second ending. Back in the framing story, Sreenivisan has finished his tale. Lal Jose, who initially saw him as just an irritating push in has come to respect him as a writer and an artist. Seemingly, this is our new partnership.
But no! The end of the film reveals, as Sreenivisan goes home, who has been his real partner all along, who we were tricked into seeing in a different way, it is the doctor, Asha Sarath! She is Sreenivisan’s wife, his partner in all ways, who arranged for Lal Jose to be kept for observation at the hospital just long enough for Sreenivisan to give his narration.
See, that’s the ultimate lesson. Love between a man and a woman means partnership. Asif didn’t have that with his first girlfriend, not really, she was too quick to leave him. And Siddique didn’t have that with his wife, he thought he did, and the loss of that is what hurts the most. The neighbor, even after he thinks he has lost the money and lost his house, is happy. Because he knows his wife is with him. And in the end, Asif and Aparna fight there way to this sort of partnership with each other, two seemingly different folks who find a shared goal and, eventually, a shared life.