This is a movie that was on my “recommended” list for a while, and then popped up on Netflix, so I thought “why not?” And that was a good decision. It’s not the greatest movie ever, but it’s a nice little movie, and I recommend it in turn if you also have Netflix and are looking for something pleasant and Malayalam to watch.
This is a film about math, so let me share with you the math theory that I evolved a year ago, and which this film serves to support: Jayasurya + beard= interesting looking and hot; Jayasurya – beard= bland and unmemorable. This is a Jayasurya + beard movie, THANK GOODNESS.
It’s a good cast, including a Innocent and Mukesh cameo appearances. But the most memorable of the adult actors are Jayasurya and Joy Matthew, which is appropriate since they are also the most important of the adults. This film has a lot in it, child friendships and teachers and all the little bits of childhood. But the parents are the most important, as they are for kids. Teachers are scary, friends are fun, but your parents are the ones who are everything to you. Even God isn’t quite as powerful as they are.
I wish the film had committed just a wee bit more to this theme. Or any theme really. It jumps between Innocent appearing to give advice as God, a flashback to the inter-religious romance of the parents, a surprising tragedy, and of course the everyday misery of math class. And the titular pen. Part of it feels like trying to reflect the reality of childhood when everything is mixed up together and none of it is in your control, but then the sudden changes keep happening and it starts to feel a little bit more like they just needed to pad out the running time of the movie.
But I can’t really complain, because all of these various elements are done so very well. The 4 central little boy friends feel like little boys. They aren’t given complicated characters to play or long monologues, they just bounce around onscreen like the little kids they are. Innocent appearing as God when Sanoop Santhosh (our little boy hero) calls on him is exactly the kind of God a little boy would imagine. Simple and kind and a little bit childish. Jayasurya and Remya Nambeesan make a delightful couple, instantly believable in just a few scenes together, and matching perfectly with their movie-provided backstory. And the conflicts and resolutions of them are, mostly, what I could reasonably imagine to happen, and things a child would be capable of and how I imagine a child’s mind would work. There were a lot of conflicts and resolutions, probably way too many, but they were all done so well that I can forgive that.
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Sanoop Santosh is a confident little boy with bad organizational skills and loving parents. One of the first things we learn about him is his parents’ backstory, which fits nicely with what we see of his parents and Sanoop. They were high school sweethearts who eloped at 18 and had a child, Sanoop, at 19. They are from different religions, his father Christian and his mother Muslim, and (slightly) different cultures, his mother from the Malabar coast and his father from…..somewhere else. I’m still not perfect with Kerala geography. His parents are loving and gently teasing with each other, still fight in front of Sanoop and then cheerfully make up. And Sanoop teases them too, they are all young and carefree and happy together, sure that love is enough.
But, it isn’t. Sanoop desperately needs a little discipline. But just a little. His math teacher (whose actor name I can’t figure out from the credits, sorry!) gives him too much discipline. Sanoop and his 3 best friends always arrive late and never do their homework. No particular reason, they are just little boys who never seem to be able to figure those things out. And every day, their teacher humiliates them in front of the class, beats them with a stick, throws things, does everything to make them miserable and of course none of it actually makes them want to do homework. Sanoop does have to do his homework because he isn’t learning the material. But his parents flounder in how to inspire him to work, they can’t seem to get him to respect them and they can’t bring themselves to give him direct orders and force him to carry them out.
Sanoop goes more and more out of control as he ignores any restriction fearlessly. He considers flirting with a little girl and tricking her into doing his homework. When the first girl he approaches turns him down, he moves on to trying to get rid of his teacher, stealing his cell phone and making it appear to be part of a threat to the government. None of this works and his teacher gets angrier and angrier at him. Until, a miracle! the pen that Sanoop accidentally took home from his grandfather’s house magically does his homework every night while he sleeps. At first it is all perfect, his homework is done and the black cloud is removed from his life. It’s no longer a matter of crazed confidence at home and anxiety at school, life comes into a balance. And then another miracle, the pen starts giving him jobs! Every morning he wakes up to writing on his white board giving him directions for the day. Soon he shares the same simple lessons with the rest of the school, to clean the classroom, surprise their teacher on his birthday, and so on. His math teacher has a change of heart, following Sanoop’s lead, and decides to take off the pressure, step back and see what the kids can do for themselves.
This is all a very nice story, but where is the pen from and is it really magic? That’s where the story gets better. It was hinted at a little bit all along. Joy Mathew is Jayasurya’s father, he suddenly appears back in their life with no warning. We never get the full story, because we are in Sanoop’s head not Jayasurya, but we can peace it together a little. Joy appears to be a grumpy angry man, he has a house full of things but no people. Sanoop is 11 (I think?) and yet has never met his grandfather. And we know that Jayasurya and Remya eloped and came from very different backgrounds. Plus a comment here and there from Remya about how Sanoop is disrespecting Jayasurya just as Jayasurya disrespected his father. So we can fill in that Joy and Jayasurya probably had a falling out at some point, possibly over Jayasurya’s marriage. And that Jayasurya and Joy are both trying to find new ways to be fathers, to prevent history repeating itself.
And so Jayasurya brings Sanoop to stay with Joy for two days. And Sanoop quickly wears him down, sees that under the grumpy exterior, Joy is just lonely and sad. And the bonds of the family are restored, not through anger and posturing but through caring. We see Jayasurya and Joy talking again, about how best to handle Sanoop, they are fathers together, struggling on this problem.
And in the end we see that this was Jayasurya’s way. He didn’t want to put on a mask of anger like Joy did. But he also didn’t want to just let things go, let Sanoop get more and more out of control and pulling away from them. So he invented the pen, knowing Sanoop had taken it home from Joy’s house, he started doing the homework and letting him think the pen was doing it. And, once he had gained Sanoop’s trust, he started giving him advice, little tasks, the same things any good parent would do. But without having to force himself to be that kind of parent, without having to force a change to how he and Sanoop already were together.
This is an interesting movie because the whole thing is about fathers. Not fathers as the perfect patriarchs, but as caring men helping to raise children. Mukesh has a cameo as the school principal, caring and interested in his students. The maths teacher becomes one of Sanoop’s greatest strengths in the end, supporting and encouraging him. Even the fathers of his classmates are important, his girlfriend’s Dad who can’t smoke because she pours water on his cigarettes, knowing he will just smile and laugh at her and understand it is to stop him smoking, instead of getting angry. His enemy in class’s father who confronts Jayasurya over his son’s behavior. So often we have mother’s as the caring nurturing ones, the ones who help you grow up in small ways, while the fathers sweep in with big pronouncements later in life. But this movie makes the fathers and father figures into the ever present, patient, loving ones. And without erasing the mothers, Remya is still there in Sanoop’s life, able to give him wisdom and love. But it isn’t her movie, it is Jayasurya’s.
And then there’s the bad thing that happens. Sanoop’s little girlfriend dies when the school bus crashes. Everyone is sad, and Sanoop isn’t sure where to go for comfort. He tries to go back to normal life, but doesn’t feel right. And the pen gives him advice again, “talk to your mother”. Which, knowing that the pen is really Jayasurya, is a lovely moment of co-parenting. And then the pen gives him more advice, to “do something”. So he and his little friends put up posters asking for safer school buses and the parents and teachers listen and decide to try to be better.
It’s very awkward in terms of film construction. We have all of these problems and failed solutions in the first half, then the pen makes everything better, and then just as we are building towards the conflict of Jayasurya admitting the pen was him, WAM! Death!!! Out of nowhere! Which, yes, is how death tends to happen. But still felt odd, like it was slowing down and speeding up the story all at the same time.
But the point was the resolution. Sanoop deciding, after all of this, after seeing how he achieved things on his own, to throw away the pen. And, the larger resolution, to ask his father if it was him all along. Sanoop is growing up, growing up enough to want to be independent, and to see things clearly.
And Jayasurya grew up too. Grew up enough to see that he had to find a way to parent, a way that would work for him, in order to stop his son from spinning out of control.
Like I said, fathers and sons.