I got to see Nivin onscreen! It was so EXCITING!!! And it wasn’t a bad movie this time, unlike Richie. And also Trisha, who I think I have seen in more movies than Nivin even, but never on the big screen. So that was exciting too.
Somehow Nivin and the other Malayalam stars manage to put together these small family dramas while still working on massive important epic films (in Nivin’s case, Moothon). This is an excellent performance, a good script, and nothing complicated. There is no special fancy “look” for it, there is no big action set-piece, there is nothing that couldn’t have been prepped and filmed over the course of about two weeks. Maybe four. And this is where I complain about how the Hindi industry doesn’t seem able to do this any more. Release this large number of films and have actors be in so many films in a year.
For Trisha, this was an important film. Her first Malayalam film ever. And her first film at all in two years. Which is quite the gap for her, she has been doing multiple films a year every year since 2003. It appears the gap may be because her engagement fell apart? I assume that she stopped signing films when she became engaged and it took her a while to get a filming schedule back up afterwards.
Anyway, if this is the film that was to get her back in the swing of filming, and remind the audience why they liked her, it succeeded! Her performance is brilliant in this. Much better than Nivin’s. Not that Nivin is bad, not at all, but Trisha’s role is a lot more difficult and she doesn’t just pull it off, she adds layers to it. She builds reveals and emotions and all kinds of things into the whole thing. And, just like in every other movie I have seen her in, I could not recognize her when she first appeared. She changes herself that much just with her facial expressions and mannerisms.
The rest of the cast is wonderful as well. Vijay Menon almost steals the film. He plays moments that in other hands would have been dramatic and emotional as everyday (which they would be for his character) and somehow that makes them that much more heartbreaking.
Siddique as Nivin’s father, Neena Kurup as his mother, and the usual collection of character actors as the housekeeper, the lawyer, and so on. And that’s the whole cast. Two very strong young leads, 3 strong older leads as their parents, a pleasant shoot in Goa, and you have a movie.
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Yes, this is yet another movie about Aspergers. And a movie about manic depression. When I read that plot description I had to role my eyes a bit. And of course it is about a woman with manic depression and a man with Aspergers. Because it never goes the other way around, right? Women are overly emotional, so it’s romantic and exciting when they are manic depressive. And men are naturally logical and unemotional so of course they are the ones who have Aspergers and it’s romantic to slowly bring them out of their shell.
There is this weird romanticization of Aspergers recently which is extremely strange to me. It’s not a disease exactly, I don’t want to say that anyone is “wrong” if they have Aspergers. But I also don’t really see why someone without Aspergers would say “oh wow, people with Aspergers are so cute, I wish I was in a relationship with one of them.” Not like a particular person, but just someone with that condition. What is that?
Manic depressive makes a bit more sense to me, because if you haven’t lived with it and only seen the outside parts, it looks very similar to an exciting woman who doesn’t believe in the rules of society. Especially since it often comes with sexual looseness, which would be desirable and exciting in a woman (for a man). And for a woman, there is that feeling that you could be all you could be without fear or worry, you could be wild and magical and not care about anyone’s feelings but your own.
Anyway, that’s why I rolled my eyes. This movie looked like two tropes put on top of each other. Plus the one sentence description making the rounds said that Nivin was playing a mathematical genius and Trisha was playing a musician. Which was even more irritating and trope-y. Aspergers, in case you are unaware, does not in fact make you a mathematical genius! Or necessarily particularly smart at all. It just changes the way your brain processes information so that it is different from how other people process it. Not “better”, just different. And in the same way, being manic depressive does not actually make you a brilliant artist. No correlation!
But by golly I should have had faith in the Malayalam industry! They pulled it off! First, Nivin is not in fact a mathematical genius. He just likes memorizing things about numbers. And about many other things. Because facts interest him, simple data points that can be tied together. His real interest, his overriding interest, is not numbers but rather the ocean. And he isn’t a “genius” about it, he is just very very smart and very very passionate in this one area.
And Trisha is the same, sort of. She isn’t a musician because she is an “artist”, but rather because her father uses music as part of her therapy. Her overriding interest is healthcare, that is where she is passionate. Music is just a thing that helps her focus and get through the day. Just as numbers help Nivin.
The most important part of the film is Vijay Menon as Trisha’s father and a psychiatrist. He isn’t the usual emotional overwhelmed father of a mental illness victim, and he also isn’t the usual magical perfect psychiatrist. Instead he is just a person who approaches it as his job and does what he can but knows he can’t fix everything. He reminds Trisha to take her pills and helps give her coping mechanisms when her symptoms get out of her control. And takes her to the hospital when she has a bad spell. And when he meets Nivin, he diagnosis him after a few meetings, and then starts to gently give him cognitive therapy, helping him to recognize emotions in others, understand how he appears to others, how he can communicate, and so on and so forth.
But he doesn’t “cure” them. He just gives them the tools they need to live with their conditions, aware that it is up to them to ultimately take responsibility for themselves. That is what I found most surprising, that the film managed to avoid romanticizing the issues of these conditions, and avoided infantilizing the hero and heroine.
Oh boy, I should get into the actual plot, shouldn’t I? We start by just establishing Nivin’s life. He lives with his patient devout mother and his complaining money focused father. And his younger sister, the “smart” one in the family, who ignores him. None of them are cruel to him, they accept him as he is. But in their own way, they are all enabling him. His mother gives in to all his demands. His father complains about his behavior and tries to yell at him into being better. His sister ignores everything he does instead of addressing it.
Nivin has lost a series of jobs, the latest being at a computer repair place. It is not that he is incompetent, but he is difficult. From what we see at this last job, he was slow with his work because he was trying to be precise which irritated his boss, and his strange mannerisms irritated his co-workers so that they sabotaged a presentation. We can guess that something similar happened at his previous jobs. And then his father Siddique gets word that his great aunt in Goa has died and there might be something left to him in the will. He wants his wife Neena Kurup to come to Goa with him, and she won’t travel without Nivin. So the three of them go to Goa. In Goa, they meet the nice housekeeper of Siddique’s aunt and her various friends and relatives. And at the reading of the will, learn that Siddique and Nivin have jointly inherited her massive house filled with antiques. Siddique is thrilled and ready to liquidate everything. But his first hurdle is that Vijay Menon and Trisha live in the outbuilding and have a 5 year lease. Siddique and Vijay Menon immediately take a dislike to each other. So Siddique sends Nivin in his place to get close to them since no one would suspect him of deceit.
All of this is nicely done, lots of little funny moments and so on. But really it is just to get us to the end point of Nivin the uptight boy in the mansion becoming friends with Trisha the hippie girl in the little out house. They don’t like each other at first, at all, but then they start to spend time together and Trisha becomes increasingly fascinated by him, starts to fall in love with him. Trisha is doing a wonderful job in these scenes, not doing the usual over the top “mad” kind of acting, but being mostly herself and sometimes slightly more than herself, or less than herself, if that makes sense. And we can see how that more than herself and less than herself and just herself all feel something for Nivin. Need something from him.
It seems like maybe what she needs is that for once she is with someone who accepts anything she may feel calmly. We see that her friends and father accept her for who she is too, when she has spells they understand and forgive her when she apologizes and says she was sick for a bit. And we see that she enjoys being able to help someone else, know someone else is missing the parts she has. She can open herself up to Nivin in a way she may never have been able to open up to anyone else.
Nivin is harder to read. Partly because he is playing someone with Aspergers, and partly because he isn’t as brilliant an actor (yet) as Trisha. He says in dialogue that she is his friend, that he likes her. But we can’t be sure what that means for him, if it is just because she is the first person to befriend him or if it is for her herself.
And the thing is, the film knows we don’t know that and more importantly, Nivin can’t know that. And so while he is learning skills from Vijay Menon and Trisha to survive in the world, and becoming her friend, even running away from home to go sing in her band, they don’t quite fall in love. Trisha is the one who makes the advance, tries to kiss him, and he backs away. Because he isn’t ready for it.
That was my other fear, that this would be a “oooo, the sick people cure each other!” movie. And it almost is. Trisha helps Nivin get a job interview and learn how to talk to people and so on. And Nivin helps Trisha to feel confident in herself and be who she is. But then it all falls apart. All along Vijay Menon has been saying it is a bad idea for two sick people to be together, they are just going to make each other sicker. But he has also been not forbidding it. Because it isn’t his place, just because they are sick doesn’t mean they aren’t adults and don’t have the right to make their own bad choices.
And Vijay knew what he was talking about. In the end, inevitably, Nivin and Trisha have simultaneous breakdowns. Nivin has just learned that Vijay talked to his parents and said he had a “condition”. And it is the day after he rejected Trisha’s kiss and she has just returned from the hospital following a suicide attempt. Vijay treats both of these as difficult symptoms of conditions he has to deal with. He doesn’t over-emphasis Trisha’s suicide, this is just another bad night in a long series of bad nights in her life. And he also doesn’t apologize to Nivin, he simply tells him exactly what happened and lets him work it out for himself what this means for his life that he has a diagnosis and can be helped.
And then they separate. Nivin prepares to build a better life with his parents, and after reconciling with his father, his father dies suddenly and Nivin goes back to Kochi, the man of the family all at once. And Trisha leaves her father and safety net behind to join Doctors Without Borders.
This is good! This is unusual. We don’t usually get a mental health love story in which the love inspires them to separate and work out their problems on their own. Which is really what these characters and most people with mental health issues need. And also therapy and sometimes medication and so on. But certainly not a magical love story.
I like that we also get to see Nivin put his tools to use to help his family. He figures out that something is going on with his little sister and is there to support her when she admits that she was taking money from the business to give her boyfriend. He is there for his mother during the funeral of his father. And when he gets his dream job in Goa, the one Trisha helped him interview for, he won’t take it because he doesn’t think he can leave his mother. Trisha and Vijay Menon helped him grow up, helped him learn how to express his feelings for others.
And then he comes back to Goa and puts those skills to use at his job at the oceanic center. And continues to be friends with Vijay Menon and makes new friends and has a full life. And only after a long time of that, possibly years, does he go to the beach one day and see that Trisha has returned. And we (the audience) don’t really get to see what happens after that. We see that they go scuba diving together over the end credits, but that’s all.
They could have started a relationship, now that they are both healthier. They could just be friends now that they are through their growing pains. All we know for sure is that they are happy together, and there was something unfinished that they need to come back together to finish.
(Oh, and Nivin’s character’s name is Jude. Was that not clear?)