This was a movie I picked because a) it has Jayasurya, b) it was on HotStar, and c) it looked like something that I could watch while doing dishes and being in and out of the room. And all of these things were true! Especially the last.
What was up with early 2000s Malayalam cinema???? Was there some kind of huge regressive swing in society or something? Seems like most films I have seen from that era (obviously not an exhaustive sample) have a lesson about women being obedient, divorce just meaning a wife has to be reminded of her “proper” role, and men who will learn to be better and give you little scraps of kindness if you give them time. This film isn’t as bad as Veruthe Oru Bharya but is slightly worse than Innathe Chintha Vishayam. And nowhere near as good as even something like How Old Are You? which ended with a reaffirmation of the marriage no matter how horrible it seemed, but at least had thinking considering people who weren’t merely spouting nonsensical platitudes instead of talking like humans talk!
I spent this entire movie wanting to shake our “hero” into being sensible but instead of doing that, all the characters onscreen just kept saying “oh, you have to try to understood him and make accommodations”. Because that’s what it’s all about, right? The men are foolish and weak and silly, but it’s okay, because it is a woman’s job to accommodate and forgive.
(Look how happy all his friends are to support his fantasy! Instead of giving him a good shake and telling him he was crazy)
It’s not just the values that are old-fashioned, EVERYTHING is!!!! The camera movements and editing and lighting and set design and all of it are sooooooooooooooooooooo boring. And you don’t have to be boring just because you have no money! Or even no advanced technology. I was comparing it with Classmates (which looks like a dream of progressive values in comparison), and it had the same problems with no costume budget and clunky immovable cameras that needed high lighting at all times, but there were still moments that stuck in my head, when interesting outside of the box thinking was used to change what we were seeing.
The two things go hand in hand, really, if the message of the film is “old values are best, just adjust and make the best of it” then obviously it will be made by people who also believe in that approach to filmmaking. I just looked up the director, Saji Surendran and it looks like he started in TV serials, then moved on to movies that were thinly disguised remakes of other movies, most of them revolving around husbands behaving badly and wife’s learning their “lesson”. Lovely!
And now you are saying “wait, if this movie was so bad, why did she watch it?” I refer you back to the “a) it has Jayasurya, b) it was on HotStar, and c) it looked like something that I could watch while doing dishes and being in and out of the room” reasons. I scrolled past tons of high quality films on Hotstar, but I didn’t have the time/energy this weekend for something high quality, so I was shooting for midlevel and unfortunately missed and landed on “terrible”.
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Jayasurya is about to finish his MBA program but is constantly dreaming of being married, having a perfect traditional wife to bring him coffee in the morning and wear saris and jasmine in her hair and all of that. He begs his parents to get him married, and they agree partly because they feel guilty about how he has struggled with their separation (his parents live in two separate apartments next door to each other, he has a room in each apartment and shuttles between when home on vacation). They arrange his marriage with Bhama who is also very young. They have a hard time connecting because she isn’t his dream woman and he tries to be authoritarian and strict because a wife is supposed to be afraid of her husband. And then his parents find out that he lied about his test results and in fact failed out of his MBA, there is a family fight, and he announces he and Bhama are moving out. They move in with his good (female) friend from college Samvrutha Sunil. Jayasurya still can’t get a job because he doesn’t have his degree, Bhama can’t find work either and doesn’t know how to cook and is getting jealous of Samvrutha Sunil. Meanwhile, back home, Jayasurya’s parents Siddique and Rekha have reunited thanks to the interference of Nedimudi, their relative. Jayasurya and Bhama are planning a divorce, but when Jayasurya’s parents tell them they are back together, Jayasurya confesses to Bhama that he never actually wanted the marriage, he just thought him getting married would help to bring his parents back together and it has worked. Bhama and Jayasurya go ahead with their secret divorce plans, but then change their mind at the last minute when Bhama gives a big speech and confesses she is sorry for her suspicions of Samvrutha.
So, let’s break this down. Immature man wants perfect beautiful sex slave/regular slave kind of wife. He marries a young woman who is not eager for marriage and has a career of her own, but tries to make the best of it. And then is angry when she isn’t the perfect woman he pictured even though she is trying her best. She is jealous of his closeness with his friends since he never spends any time with her, and frustrated that he makes huge decisions for them (like, moving them out of his parents’ house) without talking to her, oh and also didn’t tell her that his parents were separated before they got married. And then she learns that this whole thing was just about reuniting his parents, two people who she hadn’t even met before the wedding, and she was just a means to an end. And then, naturally, SHE apologizes for all this and takes responsibility for fixing the relationship. Because it is always the woman’s fault if the marriage fails.
We see that with Siddique and Rekha too. Their separation ends because Siddique is sick and Rekha is guilted into taking care of him. That’s it. That’s all. Siddique didn’t have to do anything, Rekha had to be reminded of her wifely duties and then take them up again. Because it is up to the wife to take care of the husband, not vice versa.
(You see why this felt so nice? She is taking care of him and HE NOTICES!!!! Doesn’t just accept it as his due)
Heck, even non-wife women have this responsibility! Jayasurya’s relationship with Samvrutha isn’t romantic, but she still (naturally) makes him food and feeds him and smooths over all his little life hurdles, because that’s what women do. And of course his mother gives him everything he wants, because he is her precious perfect princely son. GAAAAAH!!!!!
What really kills me is the scene where Bhama goes in for a job interview. The (sort of) meet cute for Bhama and Jayasurya was when she was an RJ and he called in and they got into a shouting match about young marriages. Bhama was fired and then goes in for an interview with another channel, where she is told that as the leading channel, they have a responsibility to uphold “Sanskar” and it wasn’t “sanskar”y to reply to her caller. Yes, even if he abused her.
See, the rest of the movie could theoretically be just about this one marriage. And I don’t super disagree with what they did with the one marriage. It is not unheard of for people from unsettled homes to idealize marriage and children and the thought of starting a home of their own, Jayasurya’s dream of the ideal beautiful wife makes sense in the context of his parents’ separation. And Bhama didn’t want to get married, but her mother was set on her being married before 21, and so she got excited about the idea of marrying a boy close to her own age instead of the usual “settled” older types. Interesting set up there for a young woman who is ready for a youthful equal marriage with someone closer to her, and a young man who dreams of having the authority of a husband without having earned it through age or accomplishments.
(So, if Nazriya had refused Fahad and held out for a young man she could goof around with like she does with her cousins. But then learned even that young man was a horrible stick in the mud because all husbands SUCK)
Most of their married fights revolve around that, Bhama wants a friend, someone to talk with and have fun with, but Jayasurya keeps splitting up his relaxed friend attitude with his close friend group and only giving Bhama the formal “husband” attitude. The moments when Jayasurya relaxes around her and Bhama is happy with him show promise for this relationship. And of course the shock of moving out of his parents’ home and all of the rest of it just adds to the stress on them.
But of course it’s not just this one couple, it is all of society which have all agreed on the “right” way to be. Jayasurya’s parents should get back together and it is his mother’s responsibility to make it happen. Bhama and Jayasurya should get married, and it’s her responsibility there too.
And then there is the last minute twist of Jayasurya saying it was all a plan to reunite his parents. Which would redeem SO MUCH of his character if it felt at all true. It’s one thing to have a movie with a young husband who struggles to be connected to this marriage, to feel connected to his wife, who is seemingly hurtful and needlessly unkind, and then we learn it was because he didn’t actually want this marriage, it was all a plan and he was keeping himself purposefully separated from his wife, only now he has fallen in love without planning it and also feels super guilty. But it’s something else to have this movie which showed us over and over again his excitement over all the trappings of marriage and the “perfect” wife, and then at the last minute say “no, not really! Somehow that was all fake, even his dreams, he was just faking them for unclear reasons”. So instead of feels like even the filmmakers realized this character was just irredeemable and tried to put in a last minute switch and failed because it made no sense.
Or maybe they succeeded? The Internet tells me that this total mess of a film had a decent box office run! Despite bland songs, uninteresting visuals, regressive and illogical plot, the whole thing. So either people in Kerala were really hungry for movies about men getting everything they wanted because women sacrificed and adjusted, or were just hungry for movies and this was the kind of quality they had gotten used to.