This is a combined Malayalam/Telugu post, because this movie was a combined Malayalam/Telugu hit (and also because I am lazy). Well, “hit”. I guess more accurately it could be called a “not flop”. But it’s still interesting! That a movie was made with Malayalam artists, dubbed into Telugu, and did well enough to be considered a “not flop”.
Prithviraj has a highlight streak in his hair. This is both the most memorable part of the film, and the most important part of his character’s personality. He plays the kind of guy who would get a blond highlight in his hair.
This is also the kind of movie that would get a blond highlight in its hair if it had hair. What I mean is, it is a movie that is pretending to be something different, trying to be cool by leaping desperately at whatever is new and modern without fully understanding it. But it still has its heart in the right place, it is telling a very old-fashioned sentimental kind of story.
This whole thing feels very Telugu to me. I could be completely wrong of course, but that sort of lowkey melodrama and sentiment, combined with modern touches and statements about The World Today reminds me of Fidaa, Malli Malli Idi Rani Roju, and the few other films I have seen that hit that particular spot of sentiment without over sentiment. Also Malayalam, in the sense of a whole connected world around the characters. A small world, because they are in London, where the world of the Malayalam community is small and scattered. But it is still there, the hero’s boss Mukesh, the heroine’s friend Lena, and so on.
This isn’t a great movie by any means, but it is a nice little film with a satisfying ending, good performances, and good songs. It stumbles in the direction, and in the writing, but not as much as it could. In many ways it is like My Story, that terrible terrible recent Prithviraj film. The plot is melodramatic and predictable, there seems to be no sense of humor about anything, love is destined and perfect, and our hero is flawed and then changes in a way that doesn’t quite make sense. It is all of those things, but just a bit not-as-bad-as-it-could-be. The plot does have some kind of logic to it, the narrative chugs along in an orderly fashion, there are only a few moments when it jumps from A to C, mostly it manages to squeeze a “B” there in the middle. And as an added bonus, the romance follows a slightly unusual path and there are some interesting statements about life overseas in the Malayalam community.
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Prithviraj is an obnoxious successful Malayalam businessman in London. We first meeting him ruthlessly refusing to forgive, at least for a while, the debt of another Malayali who is facing bankruptcy. Despite the petition of an older respectable seeming Malayali who is there to speak for him.
Right away we have a lesson, Prithviraj has let money change him. Not in a general way, but specifically in his willingness to help other Malayali immigrants and that community. He has lost touch with his roots, not his roots back in Kerala, but the ones that are supposed to keep him grounded in London. This is something I have seen more often in Malayalam films than any other Indian industry I have seen. Movies from Jacobinte Swarigam to Ivide deal with the reality of life as an immigrant, not an immigrant who is longing for home and will return, but one who has made a new home in a new country in a new way.
Prithviraj is then rewarded for his behavior. He is contacted by Pratap Pothen who lists off his accomplishments, his ruthlessness and money above all attitude, and praises him for them. Pratap has lost touch with his roots in another way. His wife and his son have died, all he has left is his daughter and his money. He is worried about his money finding a safe home, not about his daughter. And so he wants Prithviraj to marry her and take care of the money after he is gone.
This craving for money is tied back to the immigrant experience, Pratap’s recitation of Prithviraj’s resume begins with reminding him of “the early years” that most immigrants prefer to forget. Washing dishes, working menial jobs, until he finally got his first break from Mukesh and never looked back. Pratap says his story was similar. It is something that affects immigrants either with an urge to help each other, stay together so they can protect each other (like the two who visit Prithviraj’s office at the start of the film), or to hold tight to the security that protects them from those days, their money.
And so Prithviraj is introduced to Pratap’s daughter Andrea Jeremiah. He wants to marry her because she is beautiful and kind, and also very very rich. And because he respects her father and understands his desire to make sure his legacy (both his daughter and his money) is protected. And Andrea is no innocent, she sees immediately what her father and Prithviraj are trying to do and cheerfully challenges him to convince her otherwise over the course of the next few weeks. She declares from the start that she plans to give all her money away, he is not getting a rich wife. And she takes advantage of him without guilt, making him pay for presents and so on. We have to take our time with this storyline, to understand what the film is saying, so that the ultimate conflict of the film isn’t as simple as it appears on the surface. Prithviraj’s plan to marry Andrea isn’t cruel or evil, and Andrea isn’t some young innocent he is fooling. They are challenging each other.
There is another young woman, Nanditha Raj. She has just arrived in London that day, a nurse from Kerala. She is desperate for money, takes the cash loaned to her by her friend Lena and immediately goes to send it back home by wire transfer. She is living in a bedroom in a shared boarding house with other nurses. She puts up with the slightly unpleasant leers of Lena’s husband because she can’t afford to offend her. She is nervous and uncertain in this new place. Very different from the wealthy confident and confrontational Nanditha.
But the two women together change Prithviraj. Prithviraj is on the car phone with Andrea when he hits Nanditha with his car. It is neither of their fault, she dashed into traffic not noticing his car turning. Because Andrea is there on the phone, Prithviraj is encouraged to wait for the police, pick up Nanditha’s dropped phone, tell Lena when she calls where Nanditha has gone, and finally visit her in the hospital. And then return to visit her again when Andrea drags him back.
I have two minor quibbles with this part of the film. First that Prithviraj is clearly considering simply driving away without necessarily even calling the police when he hits Nanditha. I don’t know how that would be treated in Indian culture and law, but in Western culture/law, that would be absolutely unacceptable. Hit and runs are prosecuted heavily, and there is no social forgiveness for them. Obviously they still happen, but it wouldn’t be a moment of weakness by a selfish person, it would be a decision to go against all ingrained social training and instinct. It makes Prithviraj cross the line, in my eyes, from a selfish type who doesn’t think of others, to a true sociopath. And I don’t think that’s how it was intended to be read, I think it was meant to be more along the lines of someone who does the bare minimum and would never think to do more. If that was the intention, then I would say they should have shown Prithviraj calling the police and then his lawyer and trying to make sure he had no legal responsibility, while Andrea pushes him to visit the hospital and do more.
My second quibble is that Prithviraj’s relationship to Nanditha changes a little two fast. It’s over the course of a song and it is ever so slightly rushed. We see Andrea dragging him to the hospital, cheerfully feeding Nanditha soup and helping her, and then being called out of the room and leaving Prithviraj to awkwardly take over the soup feeding. And then the song continues and we see Prithviraj helping with physical therapy, making Nanditha laugh, helping her in and out of bed, and Andrea really isn’t around any more.
The soup moment, that was good, but I wanted more than that. Andrea is the type who rushes in and out of people’s lives, doing good quickly. Nothing wrong with that, but it is a different type than what Nanditha needed. She didn’t need someone to show up with presents and a checkbook and a smile, she needed someone to make her feel like she belongs, like she had someone of her own in this big lonely city of London. And Prithviraj isn’t someone who is naturally nurturing, who is going to care about the great unknown mass of humanity. But he also needs someone of his own, someone to make him feel human. I needed a scene, an actual scene not a song, where Andrea declares she has to rush off and attend a committee meeting or something, but urges Prithviraj to stay, and I wanted to see another scene where Prithviraj goes from saying “Andrea will be here soon” to interacting with Nanditha on his own as himself. And then the song, that’s fine. This is one of the moments I was thinking of with the rush from a to c without stopping at b.
And now we have our love triangle. Prithviraj is kind and careful with Nanditha, she sees him as a good person, not as wealthy and powerful and all the rest, but just a nice mans he trusts. But with Andrea and her father he is cocky and confident, the person he thinks they want him to be.
He saves Nanditha over and over. Comes when she tells him that Lena’s husband is hanging around and being unpleasant, scares the man off. Offers to go all the way to Kerala to help her father hold off the moneylender (another leap from a to c there, she is crying about money problems and suddenly he is in Kerala). And finally, when she is sent from London back to Kerala and doesn’t arrive home after the plane lands, he rushes back to Kerala to find her and save her again, even if it means breaking his engagement with Andrea.
There is another version of this movie from Andrea’s side of things. The strong confident woman who doesn’t need a man, who insists on splitting the bill on their first date. And she realizes, after being won over by the kind heart Prithviraj’s care for Nanditha reveals, that she isn’t what he wants. He wants a woman who needs him, the timid Nanditha, not the confident Andrea. She is generous enough to help them find each other, to arrange for Nanditha to seemingly be in trouble (she was never really lost in Kerala) in order to force Prithviraj to stand up for her and choose his need to help her over his promise to Andrea’s father and all that money.
I am glad Andrea is there, and that she isn’t some evil witch. It makes this movie less of a statement about the virtue of the soft needy woman like Nanditha (her injury is the crippling of her hand, a practical narrative move making her unable to work as a nurse, and making her even more of a damsel in distress without the most obvious symbol for independence and ability, a hand), versus the un-womanliness of other women. It is simply about what Prithviraj needs, what he will respond to. Nanditha’s soft undemanding needs force him to react and open up in a way Andrea’s independence never would. It’s a simple but interesting love triangle, the same triangle we have seen in Cocktail, in Jab Tak Hain Jaan, in Parab Aur Paschim, the soft traditional woman versus the confident strong woman and who will the hero pick?
But it is done well. And it is a triangle that endures because it makes sense, there are people (not just women, but all people) are givers and who are takers. And takers tend to match with givers and vice versa. That’s all this movie is about, Prithviraj thinks he is a taker because he loves to make money. But a taker has to be weak, has to leave themselves open, and that’s not him. It’s also a uniquely international kind of story, because the experience of immigration tends to blur those lines in unexpected ways. The hero who is naturally weak puts on a perception of strength when he goes overseas. The one who would normally marry a nice weak girl back home looks for a strong one to match his strength overseas. That’s what this movie is about. Prithviraj thinks he can leave his weak immigrant early years behind him by marrying rich and solidifying his strength. But the only way to really leave it behind is find someone weaker then himself and prove his strength by helping her.
(Now, let me analyze JTHJ and Parab Aur Paschim using the weak/strong balance! JTHJ is supposed to be about that, Anushka is too strong to need Shahrukh, he is the perfect pair with Katrina. But what came out through the performances and the ineffable magic of the film, is that Shahrukh’s character is actually “weak”. He is sensitive, quick to be hurt, quick to be sad. He needs someone stronger than himself to take him out of himself, protect him from the emotional hurts of the world. That’s why he and Anushka feel like a better match, even if it was written for them to be too similar to make a good pair. In Parab Aur Paschim, it is the opposite. The village girl appears to be the weak one, innocent and all that, while the London girl is the strong one, with the cigarette smoking and drinking. But in fact it is Saira Banu’s London girl who is weak and fragile, overly emotional and lost. While Bharathi Vishnuvardhan’s village girl is strong and knows who she is. Manoj Kumar gravitates to the one who needs to be “saved” from western living.)
(You see? Also, now I want to go read my JTHJ fanfics again where I fix the ending)