Monday Malayalam: Mayaanadhi Review (SPOILERS) Life is a River of Illusions Sweeping Us Away

I already put up my “no spoilers” review, this is if you have already seen the movie or won’t be able to see it for a long time and want to know what happens and what I thought about it.

Whole plot in two paragraphs:

Tovino and Aishwarya Lekshmi dated in college, he was older and running a cash-for-admissions scam.  They broke up when he ripped off one of her friends and she had to work to pay the money back.  He is now a low level criminal out of state while she is working as an MC at weddings and struggling to get a break as an actress with the help of her friend Leona Lishoy who is already a successful actress, and also managing to support her mother and brother despite having dropped out of college after the Tovino break-up.  Tovino gets caught up in a gunfight with the police and escapes, but kills a cop by accident as he is driving away.  The police are chasing him down, he hides out back in Kerala and gets in touch with Aishwarya again.

Aishwarya resists him, not wanting to trust him and knowing he is troubled.  But is also drawn to him because of all their history.  She calls him for support before an audition and with his help, ends up doing a great job.  To celebrate, she calls him, and they have sex.  He assumes this means they are back together forever and they fight about it.  Meanwhile, Aishwarya’s friend Leona is in trouble because her new movie shows her navel and she knows that her brother will be angry with her because of that.  Her friends tell her not to worry, but she is right, her brother comes to take her back to Dubai.  She says good-bye to Aishwarya and it is very emotional, so Aishwarya calls Tovino to come meet her.  But she is surprised by the police who have been hunting him down, they threaten her and are waiting when Tovino arrives and take him away.  The police decide to not just kill Tovino in an “encounter” but also to lie to him that Aishwarya set him up so he will feel worse.  But Tovino doesn’t care, he still loves her and dies thinking of her.  Months later, Aishwarya is working on her big break film and then walking home alone after work, thinking of Tovino, sure that someday he will pop back into her life somehow.



I said in my “no spoilers” review that it is all about illusions we live with, and it is.  Tovino is both the wisest and most foolish character because he has the most illusions but is also some what aware they are illusions.  He dreams through life.  Late in the film the police search his apartment and find dozens of luxury items.  It’s the dream of consumerism, he thought if he kept buying things, he would be happy.  His biggest dream, of course, is Aishwarya, that they will somehow be married and flee to Dubai together and it will all be wonderful.

But on some level he knows these are just dreams.  When Aishwarya yells at him, he accepts it as his due and backs off.  He doesn’t try to force his dreams on her, he is ready to be patient and wait and have faith and trust that they will come true.

Aishwarya and other characters, on the other hand, hide from their dreams.  Aishwarya tells herself she is practical, but we see right at the beginning how she has her own small dreams and illusions to protect herself.  She goes to a wedding with her mother and brother, and is disappointed over and over again by her family.  Her mother forces her to step in and act as the MC, saying it will save their family pride.  And then her mother leaves before she is through with the job.  Aishwarya doesn’t even get good free wedding food, even that small dream was an illusion.  The disappointment is there because before that there was hope, dreams, small dreams of her mother seeing her work and appreciating her, of being able to go to a family wedding and enjoy it instead of being forced to work again, of anything promising and real in her life.

The Leona’s character is where it is clearest at the end.  She is sobbing and miserable, sure that her brother will take her away to Dubai once the navel video comes out.  Her friends convince her it will be fine, they will talk with her brother, it will all work out, she is making a big deal over nothing.  And then the next morning, after the 3 of them have comforted each other into believing it will be fine, her brother arrives, slaps her, and drags her away.  And it is clear that no amount of talking will solve anything, Leona’s early terrible fears were correct.  The comfort they created over night was false.

But it is also there in small moments through out the film.  Aishwarya creates an illusion of a big happy family when she does her MC work at weddings.  Both Tovino and the young cop create the illusion that their perfect bodies came through no work, lying that they don’t work out until they are caught in that lie.  At the end, the cops try to create the illusion that Aishwarya was a faithless woman, that all women are faithless.  That is the final illusion, and one that Tovino sees through.  He knows that Aishwarya was ultimately true.  Not because he knows the cops are lying, but because he knows anything she did was correct, if she turned him in, she must have had a good reason.

There are major themes that run through this work, male-female miscommunication, the film industry, police and criminals, but they all relate back to the idea of the world being how we see it.  One of the best moments of the film for this concept is towards the end, when the younger cop and the older are debating whether to lie to Tovino before they kill him.  The younger cop says it is wrong, to lie to him, and more than that, he objects to the older cop claiming that it is all Aishwarya’s fault, Tovino should not have trusted her.  The older cop argues that women shouldn’t be trusted, because his wife left him, left a note saying she was going back to her old boyfriend.  The younger cop points out that you can’t generalize from that, but what he doesn’t point out (but which the film leaves open to the audience to see) is that this was only a “betrayal” from the perspective of the older cop.  His wife did not lie to him, did not trap him, she loved someone else and she told him that and left him.  He says that she took from him his home and his future children, but that was an illusion.  They had no children, they had no home, he was living within a lie and what he blames her for was removing that lie from him, the illusion he clung to that their marriage would ever work.

Illusions don’t have to be like Tovino’s vision of Aishwarya as he dies, big clear illusions, they can be the small lies we tell ourselves to get through the day.  That our ex-girlfriend will get back with us, that we will get that job after all, that our mother will say she is proud of us, anything.  Life is a river of these illusions, sweeping us away toward an ending we can’t control.


7 thoughts on “Monday Malayalam: Mayaanadhi Review (SPOILERS) Life is a River of Illusions Sweeping Us Away

  1. “her new movie shows her navel . . . ” — I know that can be big deal, but I’m trying to figure out how they dealt with it in the dialogue without it sounding ludicrous.


    • They handle it perfectly. When it first comes up, there is a hilariously serious conversation about it, the film is clearly making fun of everyone involved. But then it does actually turn into a big thing, only it’s still not really a thing, it’s only a thing because they all think it is.

      On Mon, Mar 12, 2018 at 9:56 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. All of the films that you mentioned above & several others show women having desires within the safety of love, commitment & the woman going along when the man initiates sex. Here the woman feels happy and wants to share that moment of joy with someone she cares about. So she initiates it and he gets plain lucky. No promise of happily ever after from her side. The other reason why it stood apart for me is that for all of its progressive & liberal ideas, Malayalam films convey the idea of a desirous woman or anything related to sex mostly through dialogues,badly lit brief scenes rather than showing any actual act. You can count the number of onscreen kisses in the history of Malayalam films in one hand. No mainstream actor(even current generation)will be okay to do intimate scenes-not necessarily because they are uncomfortable doing it(that may also be one reason-DQ is uncomfortable according to Mani Ratnam)but because of the fear of how a mostly traditional society will receive it.That is also probably why most heroines would have been hesitant to do the heroine’s role in this film. All kudos to Tovino & Aishwarya for taking up that risk & coming through. For a newbie like Aishwarya there’s an actual risk of the beautifully shot scene being circulated as ‘Aishwarya Lakshmi hot scene’, getting typecast as a ‘bold’ heroine or having this role cited as a reason for any potential mistreatment by the society in the future. We are a society that shamed Parvathy for her onscreen kiss in a Tamil film from years back & Rima Kallingal was the last mainstream ‘bold’ heroine. So I really hope this movie encourages Malayalam actors to be more willing to take risks,the makers to show intimate/raw feelings & emotions as they are & the audience to grow & accept that a sexually active young woman can also be a daughter, sister & more.


    • Thank you! This was a super interesting comment.

      I agree with all you are saying, and this is exactly the kind of discussion I want people to have around this film. What disturbs me is when I see people making blanket statements like “the first film to deal with sex” or “the first film to have an autonomous heroine”. Which is insulting to other films that did just that, and also insults this film by ignoring the real changes it did make. A sexual relationship, a real female heroine, sex with no consequences, I’ve seen all that before. But the very very specific way in which it was shown, not just the fact of its existence, that is new.

      On Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 12:06 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  3. There’s also the lie built in for the audience that Tovino is a survivor & that he will land on his feet like a cat when all this gets over which turns out to be yet another illusion.


    • Yes! And it’s a challenge to us, will we choose to leave the theater living with that illusion? Or will we face the reality that he must be dead?

      On Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 12:30 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



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