I was in 10th grade when I watched Khalid Rahman's Anuraga Karikkin Vellam. There was nothing in the poster that suggested it was going to be anything more than a routine matinee entertainer. To be fair, the initial signs pointed towards just that. The 'feel good' Malayalam movie for the family audiences— a product popularised by Sathyan Anthikad. These films often have the same, overused template: There is a family. A son who is supposed to be responsible but is a loafer. He has a love interest who he may not get married to. A bunch of characters surround them, not really serving a purpose, except allowing filmmakers to use them to create comedic situations.
Anuraga Karikkin Vellam probably ticks all of these boxes too. But it's still different from the other films in this genre. Perhaps, it could be due to the fact that it was the first movie from this genre that revolved around a family and characters that were based out of an urban setting. It was a stark contrast to the movies in this genre which until then were based out of a quaint village, where life isn't as fast and the scenery is serene. It helped a Malayali like me, who grew up in a city, relate to many quirks and situations in the lives of the central characters. Not to say that it mirrors life accurately scene by scene, but somehow the situations and the characters in the movie feel very familiar to those around us.
Biju Menon played the inexpressive dad character with temper as well as anyone could. Perhaps it also helped that he was a police officer in the movie which made the lack of dichotomy in how he was at work and how he was at home very funny. The homemaker wife, played by Asha Sharath, is absolutely fantastic in bringing out the mundane. For an actress who had earned her reputation until then by playing bold characters, this was a fabulous performance. It's even more appreciable because the movie gives us enough instances to show that she is a bold lady who adapted to this life of the ordinary. There was this stunning nuance in Asha Sharath's performance that made this distinction clear. And such a distinction didn't come up through scenes designed specifically for it. It was subtle, an everyday situation and maybe that's why it worked.
The typical flaw in Malayalam movies that came out from this genre was that the language of cinema often remained weak. The exposition style of narration moves the film forward. The writers use forced sentimentality and melodramatic tropes to go about this and the directors allow it because it's the easy way out. Anuraga Karikkin Vellam stands out here as well because the film is created very organically by a team that knows cinema as a medium. The dialogues are conversational in nature, they are not sermons. They have captured moments and situations beautifully, in the most rooted way possible. There is a lot of creativity in the way film shapes itself.
For example, there is this hilarious scene where the family is eating outside at a restaurant. They bump into a classmate of their son's, who says he landed a job in Texas. The jobless son is not keen on the conversation because of the nature of the discussion and is eating his biryani. His father asks his friend, as if to reaffirm, whether they studied together. After that he turns to his son who is eating biryani and quips slyly, "Oru mutta edukatte?"(shall give you another egg to eat?). It's a brilliantly written scene because it's a very subtle jibe – a pointed statement passed off as a joke. And it invokes laughter because of how realistic it feels. We have all been part of these conversations at some point in our lives.
The other notable feature in the film is the acknowledgement of the diversity in cosmopolitan life. A key character in the movie, played by Sreenath Bhasi, belongs to a Marwari family. It's not pathbreaking or anything, but the way his character was written was a very refreshing change from what we have been used to from the sidekicks. So was the hilarious character of the mechanic friend played by Soubhin Shahir. These characters don't just exist to fill gaps by cracking jokes in places where the director is out of creativity. They are placed smartly to convey the core idea of the movie, however linear and plain that is. The leads on paper, Asif Ali and Rajisha Vijayan, were brilliant. The movie progresses because of the story and situations surrounding them. They do their part to facilitate it rather 'cutely' and in the case of Rajisha's character, quite literally!
Obviously, there is no denying that the very moments in the film that we found relatable and 'fun' is an axiom of the patriarchal society that we live in. Nevertheless, the light-hearted nature of the movie pleads not to have its politics scrutinised in detail. The film's director Khalid Rahman chooses to mirror reality of people and situations that actually exist in real life. But he also makes it clear on his canvas that it is going to be mostly like the tender coconut water and less like the bitter gourd juice. This film is sort of an escape from reality to a reality with only the good parts. For that alone, it will remain a movie that I will always revisit with fondness.