EASTERNS-MEENAVIYAL

Director: Abhishek Nair

Cast: Archana Kavi, Arun Kurian

Growing up with siblings means to fight for space, sweets, and parental affection. It means posturing as the parent’s most loved child, trying to instigate one another and then place the blame squarely on their shoulders. But as they age it also means being able to tap into each other’s insecurities with an ease no one else can, manipulate it, but also guard it. 

Meenaviyal, is a Malayalam-English (Or English-Malayalam) web-series is about that- siblings that are deeply aware of the sibling-nature of their relationship. But this isn’t one of those ponderous shows. Meenaviyal, slang for meanwhile, and metaphor for the kitsch mixture of a South Indian dish of spices, coconuts, meat, and vegetables is comfort viewing. 

The main protagonist is Amrita, played with restraint and expressive eyes by Archana Kavi, a psychologist, whose psychoanalytic frame of thinking leaks into her love life- one where she stalks her crush’s instagram late into the night (and taps the heart on an old picture by mistake, we have all been there) but looks longingly, speaks uncomfortably, always expecting but rarely articulating. A superb portrait of the woman who is alternating in her comfort and discomfort, security and insecurity about where she is in her life. 

In a worn out, lived in relationship between siblings, sometimes even a little articulating is too much articulating, which is why towards the end when the tide settles, and the conflict is resolved (for now) the choice to not have them articulate their apologies is perfect!

Her brother, Arun Kurian playing his namesake, is the crux of her conflict, a figure of joyful abandon, who plays video games loudly in a clinic, invites girls he met through Instagram, (just to crash… nothing more), understanding when his sister needs sleep, and when she needs to be snapped out of it, to be wished and celebrated for turning thirty years old. He picks fights easily, causes a ruckus without much effort, falls into murky situations faster than he is able to buoy himself out, but he has no trace of malice; he is all-heart, desperate, but loving nonetheless. When a stranger makes suggestive noises when he introduces Amrita as his relative (not sister), he looks concerned, comically with distaste. It shows both his care and irreverence. 

As a side-note, I truly believe the threshold for the best-roommate-ever has been set by Lachu, played by Vaishnavi Venugopal. She never raises a finger, her voice, or doubt, understanding completely, seldom interfering. She is willing to brew tea for an irate guest who happens to be her roommates’ brother’s recently made Instagram acquaintance- with no complaints or expressions betraying the same. 

Some of the conversations seem contrived. All of Amrita’s interactions with her patients made me wonder if this is how psychologists deal with clients- it seems too simplistic, too uninvested. Even some of the interactions with the brother seem a little unnecessary, like after briefly discussing their love life when she tells her brother that it feels good to have these conversations. In a worn out, lived in relationship between siblings, sometimes even a little articulating is too much articulating, which is why towards the end when the tide settles, and the conflict is resolved (for now) the choice to not have them articulate their apologies is perfect! The glare, slowly breaking into a smile, pouring over photographed moments is all that needs to be said. 

The beauty of a web-series format, where each episode doesn’t clock in for more than 10 minutes is that you are able to gobble up the entirety of the content in one sitting, in about an hour, digest it and move on. The suspense at the end of each episode doesn’t serve as a hook as opposed to a segue. But the drawback is that you only have space to portray and develop one or two characters. Another drawback is the lack of subtlety. That Arun is a desperate flirt is never implied, it is an obvious character trait that borders on making the character a caricature. Everything that is felt is known, not much is left to ruminate over between the end of the sixth, and last episode and the auto-play of the next video series YouTube recommends. 

One of the refreshing parts of this series is the lack of corporate insertions into the narrative. As an artist you can try to rationalize it as much as you want, but it always comes off as clunky, unnecessary, and an obvious tack-on. Here, they have replaced that by merely adding the sponsor to the title. If we are now bringing the sponsor’s name into the title of the series alleviating the need for adding the sponsor’s contrived ad-content into the narrative… I think that we may have just arrived at a good trade-off. 

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