First movie of the weekend! It could have come out last weekend, when there was no Hindi movie I planned to see, but nooooooooooooo, it had to come out this weekend, when there are 3 other films to juggle. Oh well, at least I got to see an Anjali Menon movie in theaters.
This is Anjali Menon’s 3rd film as director and writer, and 4th film as writer. And her career is impressive, to say the least. Starting with an award winning student film made while at the London Film School (a real film school, not like the thing Ranbir attended in New York, this one is internationally accredited not for profit). Then a short film as part of the Kerala Cafe collection, an honor to be invited to join that group without any feature film in her background, then Manjadikuru with Thilakan and Prithviraj in a cameo, another honor that these wonderful artists were excited to work with her in her first Malayalam film. This was followed by writing the script for Ustad Hotel, and then writing and directing Bangalore Days. And finally, writing and directing this movie.
This movie brings together 3 major stars. Parvathy and Prithviraj, plus Nazriya Nizam’s return to film post-marriage. Parvathy and Prithviraj alone would be impressive, adding Nazriya Nizam means these are people who really wanted to work with this director and this script. It goes beyond calling in favors or liking the director personally, to get all 3 means there is something special there.
It’s not just the 3 stars. Anjali attracted Raghu Dixit, Bombay based rock star, to do the music, his first Malayalam film. And it released on 155 screens, a remarkably high number for a film without a major superstar “hook” to it.
(Raghu Dixit was worth it, this song is so beautiful it makes me cry)
And there is something special here. A story about family and lost youth and broken people trying to find their way to happiness. A story told in a new way, jumping between present day and flashbacks, between the lives of various characters, with a little bit of fantasy thrown in. And a story in a beautiful place, filmed in the hill stations of Tamil Nadu.
The story comes from a Marathi film, Happy Journey. It is available on Netflix, and I just quickly skimmed through it. The basic structure is the same, but while this film is a searing meditation on lost time, lost relationships, lost people, that film is a bit happy and a bit silly and a bit magical and hopeful. And the real ugliness of the world, the unsaid terrible things that Anjali Menon’s version alludes to, those are completely gone. Anjali took an idea and a story, and twisted and turned it until she found just the right angle she needed for what she wanted to say. And her actors followed her lead. Including Atul Kulkarni, the lead in the original and an important supporting part in the remake.
(Just compare the first poster to this one. It’s still technically 3 people on top of a blue van, but it is so different)
It’s a movie that isn’t easy to grasp or follow on the first watch. Similar to Bangalore Days, the plot moves back and forth between characters and situations. The themes of the film are hiding from you, hard to grasp as you chase them from moment to moment. And there are no big conversations, big moments of resolution, it is all in the unsaid things between characters, the slow unwinding of time as they came closer and closer together.
It’s the characters that carry us through. Parvathy, Nazriya, and Prithviraj, with minimal dialogue and no simple answers, manage to convey everything. I know Prithviraj’s pain, the hidden terrible secret pain that the film never clearly says and yet is there for us to see in the little ways he has never fully grown up. I know Parvathy’s pain, her implied pain, in the way her shirts are always buttoned up to the neck, the layers she puts to cover her body. And then there is Nazriya.
Nazriya’s performance is the slowest to bloom. She lights up the screen, she is happy and free, seemingly the only character who is. But then as the film goes on, there are little moments of stillness in her. And finally, she gets her own flashback. And we see that in the past, she was a completely different person. All that happiness and freedom was there, but hidden away, stifled, to scared and shy to let it loose. And we see why she needs the other characters, Prithviraj especially, just as much as they need her.
All of this pain, it doesn’t come from the expected places. That’s what makes this film hard to watch. Because, it is stories that feel true. It’s not filmi, not even as filmi as Fahad Faazil’s reveal in Bangalore Days, it’s the kind of thing that is so true films will not speak of it. At least, not modern films.
The feel of this movie, the beauty and the pain and the ugliness of people and the strength it takes to rise above, reminded me of Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal far more than anything I have seen from recent years. There’s an awareness in the best Malayalam films of that classic era that beauty and pain can co-exist. One does not necessarily negate the other, not in films and not in life. The sadness is in those films is because that is the only way to bring out the beauty. And the beauty is there because that is the only way to soften the sadness. These movies do not turn away from the realities of the world, the realities of what can happen to people, what other people can do to them. But they also do not turn away from the amazing human ability to survive, to keep moving forward somehow, and sometimes find a happy ending after all