A nice pleasant not terribly challenging movie. Which somehow is what I always expect from Vineeth Sreenivisan starring movies. And a very nice movie to think about and maybe watch as we all worry about Sreenivisan in the hospital.
This is a nice combination of what I am beginning to recognize as the “lets have a pleasant old-fashioned trip to a temple town” genre, and a little bit of a family drama. Good cast, Sreenivisan being effortlessly brilliant, Vineeth being enjoyable to watch, Nikhila Vimal being pleasant enough of as the heroine, and a nice experienced group of character actors around them to support them. Decent songs, pretty temple town visuals, it’s all extremely pleasant.
The only flaw is, there isn’t much at the center around which to build it. It starts out just kind of temple town hijinks, and then takes an unexpected veer into another direction. Plus it’s just poorly constructed, there are a lot of jumps back and forth in time but they aren’t really needed, more confusing than anything else, the general thrust of the plot is strictly chronological, we could just watch the film unfold instead of being interrupted with these announcements of specific dates when this or that thing is happening. And the central story doesn’t even fully make sense, it’s supposed to be this tragic misunderstanding, but it’s really just a little misunderstanding that didn’t change all that much from what was intended.
It’s not hopeless, the ending is genuinely affecting and sweet, and the slow reveal of the nature of Vineeth and his life is lovely. The central relationship between Vineeth and Nikhila progresses in a leisurely lovely way. And the moments of the humorous conflict between the folks at the guest house and Nikhila’s family work beautifully. It just doesn’t all come together quite as well as it could.
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When Vineeth was a little little boy, he got lost in the middle of a the market place of a temple town. Bachelor Communist inn owner Sreenivisan takes him in and raises him. Years later, Vineeth cheerfully runs the inn with his father, but refuses to ever enter the central temple of the town himself because it is dedicated to the mother goddess and he will not enter it without his mother, who he barely remembers. Nikhila comes with her family and trips and falls down the stairs and injures her ankle, Vineeth offers to let them stay in his first floor room. After sniping and complaining about the service (“running water” being a hot bucket of water brought on the run, for instance), Nikhila softens and is won over by the true kindness and care Vineeth shows when she is hurt. He also tries to cheer her up because she is missing her dance graduation performance. And finally, he helps her meet and be accepted as a student by her favorite dance teacher. Nikhila, while staying in his room, found his sketch books and saw his memories of his mother, and learned how much it bothers him that he does not know why she abandoned him.
Nikhila at first thinks his mother might be her dance teacher, but Vineeth himself tells her that can’t be the case, but he doesn’t want to find his mother after all. He wants her to find him, to prove that she misses and loves him, and if she never cares enough to come looking, he doesn’t want her. Nikhila decides to try to find his mother to at least give her a chance to come look for Vineeth. She uses the images from the sketch book to figure out where they used to live and tracks down the mother. Vineeth was the child of an affair while she was in school. Once she got her degree, she couldn’t bring Vineeth home to her family, so she planned to leave him at the children’s home in the temple and come back for him once her life was settled. But he ran away and was lost in the village. She is married now and can’t tell her new family about Vineeth. But she instead suggests a temple trip and uses it as an excuse to meet Vineeth, after first talking with Sreenivisan. The film ends with her taking Vineeth and Nikhila to the temple together.
So, that’s nice! It’s a film filled with good people trying to do good things for each other. But of course, that means there isn’t much conflict, because no one is the “bad guy”. Even the abandoning mother turns out to not really be a “bad guy”, she was trying to leave Vineeth at a nice children’s home until she could come back for him. But, like, huh? Does this mean she never even filed a police report about her missing son? Or Sreenivisan never filed a police report?
Along with a lack of a real “bad guy”, there is also a lack of a real tragedy. For instance, Nikhila is threatened with being thrown out of her dancing training program because she is spending so much time hunting for Vineeth’s mother. But then that plot is kind of dropped instead of being turned into big drama. And Sreenivisan and Vineeth don’t have any big moments of confrontation around father son issues, and there could easily have been so many between them, around the adoption and Vineeth going to temple while Sreenivisan was a communist, even the old reliable of unacceptable love story (with Nikhila). It ends up being kind of hard to connect to the film, because ultimately what is the problem? Vineeth seems fine without his mother, Nikhila gets to fulfill her dreams, there is no super big driving force to get us through the film.
But sometimes that is okay. To have a movie that feels more like a combination of moments than anything with a real drive to it. There is a lovely moment at the end when Sreenivisan and Vineeth’s mother meet, and he lets her look through his photobook. Vineeth’s mother is played by Shanti Krishna and she and Sreenivisan bring a great depth to their little scene together, without words conveying their joint parenthood of Vineeth, her gratitude towards him and his careful choosing of what he reveals in order not to drive her away while still keeping some distance. That scene has some real depth to it, revealing how Sreenivisan became so much Vineeth’s parent that he almost forgot there was someone else in his life (explaining why Vineeth barely felt the lack), and revealing the pain that Shanti Krishna kept hidden until that moment.
There is also a nice idea behind how Nikhila tracks down Vineeth’s mother, and also understands her importance to Vineeth. While she is staying in his room (because her twisted ankle won’t let her climb the stairs to the guest rooms), she finds his sketch book and discovers many many little pictures of his memories from before he came to live with Sreenivisan. Much more evocative to picture him drawing this out over and over again than any big speech from Vineeth about how his past haunts him would have been. And a clever idea for Nikhila to take pictures of his drawings and later be able to use them to figure out where he and his mother used to live.
And then there are nice moments at the beginning, the little comic scenes around the inn, the nice things Vineeth does to cheer up Nikhila, as a comic love story set in a pilgrimage town it is very pleasant. And there’s just a touch of a dancing storyline, with Nikhila being depressed because her big graduation dance ceremony is delayed by her injury, being offered a job in a video that Vineeth’s friend is shooting, and eventually being accepted at the dance school, and how all of that works. It’s a lot of nice stuff all put together. It just doesn’t quite gel as a movie.
I didn’t plan this at all, I actually started writing and scheduled this post 2 weeks ago. But I want to mention that Sreenivisan is in the hospital right now fighting for his life, and it’s a nice time to remember that he is so Great an actor that he can make even this very small role shine. And so Great a father that he is happy to take this small part and support his son in a nice movie.