What a nice movie! A bit rambly and confusing, even more than usual for Malayalam films, but the characters are so interesting and nice that it keeps me going, and everyone ends in a good place.
Took me a second to figure it out, but I eventually saw what this film is: it’s a classic village movie that just happens to be set in an apartment block. We follow closely three separate apartment block households, but we see the other ones too, the servants who live on the first floor, the retired couple just returned from China, all the hustle and bustle and back and forth. It’s a familiar format, it’s Ghandi Nagar 2nd Street, or K Balachander’s Ethir Neechal, or Maheshinte Prathikaaram. Just this time, it’s in an apartment block instead of a suburb street or a crowded old rooming house or a sleepy village. Oh, and the other big difference, instead of being about our pained hero moving through the world and dealing with the problems of the people around him, it’s HEROINE’s who run the world!
Shobhana, woot-woot! She looks noticeably older than the last time I saw her, in Thira, and she is playing noticeably older. No longer middle aged and confident and strong, now she is solidly in the last part of her life. She is a mother, she has regrets, she has a long life behind her, and she isn’t really expecting things to change in the time she has left. Not elderly exactly, more just at a point where you don’t expect adventures to happen or life to surprise you. But she is still delightfully surprised by life, still ready to try new things, still open to new things.
Shobana, her daughter Kalyani Priyadarshan, and their neighbor K.P.A.C. Lalitha are the movers and shakers in the plot, and in this little apartment world. The men, Suresh Gopi and Dulquer, are just along for the ride. It feels accurate, but accurate to something films don’t usually show. A single mother and her daughter will fight and make up and plan their lives together, they won’t just sit in silence waiting for a male character to come by. A man like Dulquer may have a job and a girlfriend, but when he is back in the apartment his aunt Lalitha would be the one calling the shots, and if we mostly see him back home, then we mostly see her in charge. Suresh Gopi may have been a hero soldier, but now he is retired and trying to make his way in a new city and a new apartment, and it is his female neighbors who will control what happens to him.
The title of the movie is “groom wanted”, but that is a bit of a joke on the audience. The point is that a groom may be wanted but, for these women, a groom is not NEEDED. They go through the motions of pretending they need a man around them, while knowing the truth that they really don’t, that men are a nice bonus in life and occasionally even a negative, but never a requirement.
It’s especially fun seeing these women be strong and independent with the particular casting of this film. Dulquer is a big star, and he has a lot of screentime, but his character is weak. A follower, not a leader. Almost the more “feminine” one in his family, worried about meals and moving house and so on. Suresh Gopi is an aging action hero, and here he plays a man afraid to talk in public who is carried along in his own romance. And then you have Shobhana, powerhouse megastar older actress, and Kalyani whose career has barely started, dominating the movie while these two male actors who are used to being in charge follow along behind.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
This movie follows three households, all recently moved to the same Chennai housing block. There is Shobhana and her daughter Kalyani, moved to Chennai in order to improve Kalyani’s marriage prospects. Kalyani has an office job, Shobhana gets a job teaching French, but Kalyani’s main focus is on haunting the offices of the matrimonial agency she has hired, determined to find the perfect safe marriage (versus her mother’s broken love marriage). Then there is Suresh Gopi, a retired soldier living alone with anger management problems, his neighbors are all too scared to interact with him. And finally Dulquer and Lalitha and Dulquer’s little brother just moved in, Lalitha is an actress in Tamil serials and a grumpy bossy joking presence more than a warm loving motherly one, while Dulquer and his brother have constant fights at the same time that Dulquer struggles to stay on top of things like getting him to school and making him breakfast. The households each follow their own stories that slowly intersect. Kalyani finally finds the perfect proposal, a boy she flirted with in college whose mother loves her, but then the engagement falls apart because her mother is divorced. Dulquer has a girlfriend at work but can’t give her the attention she wants as he struggles with his household responsibilities, and finally she leaves him to take an American job. Suresh’s friend takes him to a clinic where he talks to the doctor about his shyness and difficulty talking to strangers, along with his anger, and slowly starts to heal. Shobhana gets a new job she loves teaching French, and participates in a dance class, and blossoms in Chennai. She also starts to work through her guilt over her marriage and her past, she had a series of love affairs through high school and college, then married for love to a man who abused her, and left him before Kalyani was born. Now she is falling in love again and is excited but also a little scared.
All these people know each other, but their stories don’t intersect until late in the film. Dulquer and Kalyani don’t even have a real conversation until 2/3rds in and they are clearly the end game young couple. It’s partly the usual Malayalam format, but also partly making a statement about the whole idea of “groom wanted”, or marriage in general. Dulquer has a girlfriend he likes, but he lets her go without a lot of angst because romance comes second in his life to his brother and their household. Kalyani is miserable when her engagement falls apart, but confesses it was more about losing the perfect mother in law (Urvashi, great as usual) than anything to do with the groom. Shobhana and Suresh are slowly moving towards a romance, but first she has to talk things out with Kalyani and he has to deal with his own issues. The romance isn’t what “fixes” things, it is what works out once you have already fixed other things.
Really the more accurate title for this film is “mother wanted”, that’s what all the issues for the characters revolve around. Suresh’s issues are simplest, his mother was mute, so he struggles to talk, is used to non-verbal communication. Shobhana’s are more complicated, she struggles with her own mother (we learn through her conversation with her cousin who helped them settle in Chennai that her mother loves her but there has been strain with the rest of the family since her divorce that affects their relationship), but mostly she struggles with motherhood. She and Kalyani have fallen into a pattern where Kalyani makes the plans and tells her what to do, and she follows along. They don’t really share things, they don’t talk, they just have a house together. And then there’s Dulquer’s household. Lalitha plays a mother in a serial, but the funny thing is she isn’t “motherly” at all at home. She is cranky and sharp tongued and snaps at them, and half the time Dulquer is the one arranging meals and taking care of household chores.
And then Urvashi appears, the perfect mother! She’s educated, a dentist, and dresses nicely, and has the time to make food and sit with Kalyani when she is sick, and is generally just so calm and together and easy versus the difficult mother figures in other households. Kalyani tells Shobhana when the engagement is broken that she is sad because she finally had a “real” mother, unlike unloving untouching Shobhana. And then the rest of the film is about how every mother is a “real” mother.
Kalyani and Shobhana are really the center of the narrative, with Suresh important because of how he affects their story, and Dulquer important as a comparison. We get their backstory slowly, we learn right away that Shobhana is divorced, married for love, fell in love a lot as a young woman, and raised Kalyani as a single mother. We also learn right away that Kalyani is very efficient and marriage focused, she found the apartment and moved them in to help her marriage prospects, she hired and supervises the marriage agency, she is going to have a proper organized life, unlike Shobhana’s disorganized impulses. It’s only way way at the end that we have Shobhana confessing to her cousin that her marriage ended in abuse and fear. She doesn’t say “and that is why I have a hard time showing love to my daughter”, but we already had a scene with Kalyani confronting her about how she hasn’t even touched her in years, hasn’t shown love that way. Kalyani wants a perfect family, and thinks she can get it through marriage, thinks she can be in control and not “foolish” like her mother, and then her life will be perfect.
It’s important that Urvashi really is a perfect mother for Kalyani. She is smart and supportive and loving, and when the engagement falls apart she sides with Kalyani and tells her that her son and husband are wrong. A simpler movie would have told the story of Kalyani seeing that her non-conventional mother is better somehow. No, Urvashi is better, Shobhana is not. But Urvashi is not a mother Kalyani can have, Shobhana is the mother she has, and it is up to her to understand the value of what she has and accept it.
That’s where Dulquer comes in. After gradually coming to know each other as neighbors, Kalyani seeing him fight with his little brother, and bumping into his scooter and so on, they are thrown together during a rainstorm when the building is in uproar. Dulquer and his brother have just fought again and Kalyani takes him up to the roof to cool off and Dulquer tells his story. His parents died when his brother was a baby, in a motorcycle accident (which is why Dulquer obsesses about wearing a helmet at all times), and Dulquer has raised his little brother since then. Lalitha is no relation to them at all, just a friend of an aunt who agreed to share a household when they had to move to Chennai for Dulquer’s job. It’s a chosen household that does not fit with any of the “rules” for how families are supposed to be, Kalyani has judged them a little before this. The audience has judged them too, we see Dulquer rushing around always late, Lalitha nagging at them, the brothers fighting, and it seems like a disaster. But now we are seeing that this is what they want, this is what makes the three of them happy, it doesn’t have to be perfect or fit what outsiders think it should be. Kalyani starts to be at peace, and to accept her imperfect mother, and also maybe see that imperfect Dulquer could be more perfect for her than any arranged fiance.
Shobhana has her whole other story. She notices Suresh Gopi, peaks around the door of his apartment to stare at him, and he sees her. Then they bump into each other again, but he is too shy to talk. He follows her with his eyes, and vice versa. She starts seeking him out, they walk on the beach together, she talks, he listens. I wish we had more of this romance, it moves forward in big leaps, we go from him too shy to talk and not knowing how she feels to her confessing she is in love to one of her students. But the character grounding is there. Shobhana is beautiful and amazing of course, so we can see why Suresh would immediately be drawn to her. And Suresh is silent and kind and steady, we can see why Shobhana with her turbulent past relationship would like him. And why she would be a combination of excitement (this is a woman who loves being in love) and fear (it’s been 20 years since she let herself feel love). Shobhana’s story both is and is not about motherhood. She spent all those years running from love, trying to be a “good” mother, and now she is breaking free and falling in love again, and that is scary and feels like a bit of a betrayal. Especially when Kalyani plans to move her from Chennai to Kerala, and Shobhana as to confess that she wants to stay in Chennai because she might be in love, instead of staying close to her daughter.
It’s just such an interesting movie! Not perfect, there’s a lot of strange gaps and dead end stories, but Shobhana is delightful and her relationship with Kalyani is pretty unique. As is Dulquer’s with Lalitha. And Suresh Gopi and Shobhana’s wordless romance. It’s all so different.
Heck, in another film I would have spent most of my review talking about the gender role flip in the Dulquer/Kalyani romance, her being the one who likes to be in control and in charge and him following along (which is what caused problems in their respective previous relationships, his girlfriend getting irritated because he never had plans and her fiance breaking up with her because she was too independent and different). But in this movie, there is just so much more to consider.
Oh, and also it is very pretty and pleasant to watch and listen to. A nice little escape right now.