From fairy tales to modern stories, true love is a theme that has been extensively portrayed but still remains captivating to everyone. Shyamaprasad's 2012 film Arike starring Mamta Mohandas as Anu, Dileep as Shanthanu and Samvritha Sunil as Kalpana, is a romantic comedy that explores the curious, often elusive ways of love.
The film appears to have a straightforward premise: Shanthanu and Kalpana are in love and want to get married. Anu, Kalpana's friend, is forced to tag along on their romantic rendezvous and acts as the bridge between them, exchanging messages and writing letters. How their individual relationships intertwine and progress forms the crux of the story. Unlike the majority of the films that deal with love, Arike opens well past the courting stage. It opens establishing the fact that the couple in love is ready to move onto the next stage – marriage.
But it soon becomes evident that Kalpana is in no hurry to take that step. She throws tantrums when her parents question her choice of a non-Brahmin groom. That she is quickly pacified by witty remarks suggests that she is of a frivolous nature. Kalpana seems to be more in love with the idea of being in love than with Shantanu. Loving Shanthanu is perhaps an act of rebellion for her, a way to oppose her parents' superstitious beliefs.
Anu, despite not being the damsel in love, is the leading lady in this story. The deep emotional wounds she harbours and her mysterious, often reserved nature make her an intriguing character. Anu is a disenchanted young woman who has no illusions or delusions of love but she still wants to be proven wrong. Mistreated by men in ways big and small, for her the only way to believe in true love would be to see her best friend's relationship reach its happy conclusion.
Seeing Shanthanu and Kalpana united would fill a hole within her, patch a wound left by a past relationship – a sort of true love by proxy experience. There's a desperation within Anu when it comes to her friend's relationship, it becomes such an important want for her. And when things fall apart between them she is devastated.
When they break up, Shanthanu doesn't respond with malice or hostility but with a kind of resignation. He refuses to lose hope in matters of love and remains open-minded. From the climax of the film, one might be inclined to think that he is an opportunist, quickly moving from a break-up to another girl. But for those that look, there are enough hints that he did care for Anu – his insistence that Anu tag along with Kalpana, his enjoyment of their meetings in the library, and his recognition of Anu's empathetic nature,
A character I absolutely loved was that of Guruji, the sanyasi who is called to advise Kalpana by her orthodox parents. Ironically, the man of religion is the most progressive person in the film. He says that he may be a man of God, but he cannot read minds and he definitely cannot advise women on how to live as he knows nothing of marriage or women.
The most beautiful aspect of the film is how it explores the elusive nature of love, how it can creep into your heart without your knowledge and take residence there, and how it manifests in the most simple and innocent of exchanges: "You don't look that good. What happened? Did you have a fever?"
Shanthanu on one occasion admires Kalpana's flawless feet saying that he can never understand how women can have such perfectly beautiful feet. The image of her feet functions as a significant detail that is later on used to indicate a literal break in their relationship. When an accident disfigures Kalpana's toe, it marks the death of the version of herself known by Shanthanu – the girl with the perfect face and feet.
At the outset, Kalpana does appear as the girl who toys with Shanthanu's feelings and is not serious about the relationship. But in her defence, the accident leaves her with wounds, some temporary, some permanent and as a result she becomes insecure. Her decision to break away from their relationship can be seen as an act of self-preservation – a way to preserve her beauty at least in memory. That being said, it becomes infinitely clear that whatever relationship she had with Shanthanu rode on physical attraction and not mental or emotional compatibility. Perhaps the accident helped her realize that – by a literal jolt to the head.
The film presents a cocktail of paradoxes – of lovers who don't love, friends who don't understand each other, and superstitious parents who blatantly ignore all the glaring bad omens. It treats the collapse of a relationship gracefully, there is sadness but there's also hope for better things to come. Weaving together the threads of love, friendship and religion, Arike captures the mysterious ways of love: sometimes stealthy, sometimes loud and sometimes downright incomprehensible.