In a carefully curated scene from Kumbalangi Nights, the big brother and self proclaimed "complete man" Shammi (Fahadh Faasil) sits his sister in law Babymol (Anna Ben) down to talk her out of a relationship. Shammi lays out various reasons as to why this is not a suitable match for her or the family. To validate his superiority, he goes on to proudly declare how he is a man born to one father whereas her boyfriend and his siblings are not! In this typical scenario, where this heavy dialogue filled with toxic masculinity is coming from the male lead, the audience responds with applause and cheers in awe of their superstar hero. Babymol steals this glorious moment away by a factual response where she simply states that biologically we can all be born to just one father!
I watched Kumbalangi Nights in a multiplex in Bangalore ,and this was my first experience where the audience broke into instant applause, that too in response to a female character's dialogue. And no, they did not need celebratory cue music to elicit that response either. How Anna Ben's debut character Babymol shatters the male ego of her 'caring big brother ' with basic common sense was so uplifting and gratifying to see on screen.
What is interesting about Babymol's character is that she is everything that the typical Indian movie heroine is and yet she is not. Yes, she is cute and 'bubbly'. Adding the "mol" suffix to her character's name clearly establishes that. 'Mol' is a shorter version of the Malayalam word 'makal', meaning daughter, an endearing reference to a younger woman. Her love story starts with infatuation for her romantic interest and we see her evolving into a confidant for her broken, directionless boyfriend. It is not new that a female character is placed as a catalyst in storytelling, in order to bring purpose in her male counterpart's life. But we do get to see more of what Babymol is made of. Her innocence never comes across as naivety. She does have an endearing innocence that captures our attention instantly, and then we are introduced to her supremely confident self too.
She has been the sole bread winner of this happy family of three women even before her brother-in-law came into the picture. This is probably why this man's presence does not seem to intimidate her, while her mother and sister are both still figuring their ground in these changed circumstances. Babymol's character is a subtle reminder of the value financial independence can add to a young woman's being. She calls him out when he unnecessarily interferes in the family business with his cheap antics, and tells off her mother when she holds her back. When it comes to her personal life, she fights passionately for her agency and establishes boundaries, and as a result empowers her older sister also to break her silence. In their back and forth interactions, we do get a glimpse of her vulnerable side, but she clearly knows that she has to fight for herself. Anna Ben's sensitive portrayal of the coexistence of the tough and the vulnerable is commendable. The audience soon understands that Babymol is no bechari. A debutant female actor, the terrific Anna Ben holding her own with a seasoned male superstar and genius actor, Fahadh Faasil is a striking parallel to the power equations these scenes captivatingly convey.
Even in today's world where the man is expected to do the big romantic proposal, it is refreshing to find out Babymol is the one who made the first move. We get a taste of the couple's backstory – that she is the one who wrote a love letter to the boy she liked in school, and when they meet years later, she is keen on wanting to know whether he is single. Later when her partner wants to give up at every hurdle, she is the brave one in the relationship confronting him and reminding him that true love is worth fighting for.
Babymol is all about the little 'big' things. She weaves the extraordinary into the ordinary so beautifully. Throughout the movie, her dialogues are delivered as a matter of fact- even a passing remark asking her boyfriend to pick up the plastic bottle after an intense conversation. Three years later if I meet Babymol, I am sure wherever she is, she would still be sitting with her feet up the sofa, riding her scooter, and never tolerating disrespect.