It must be tricky to have to come up with a story about a bitter, old person who has been the victim of many injustices but execute it humorously. Yet, somehow, Oru Muthassi Gadha makes this happen, and how! The movie recently came up in a conversation with a colleague who grew up in Kerala and still lived there when it was released. She said that she had not watched it, or even heard of it. That made me wonder, 'Is Oru Muthassi Gadha underrated?'
The film tells the story of Leelamma, a 65-year-old widow who lives with her son, daughter-in-law and their two children. Leelamma is rude to everyone and outright bullies her daughter-in-law and grandkids. Her teenage granddaughter is so maddened by her meddling that she prefers the discomforts of the college hostel over the large, comfortable family home. The daughter-in-law cannot get a domestic help to last over a few days as no one is willing to put up with Leelamma's interference in their work. The grandson, a little boy of about seven, also takes issue with her cutting short the already meagre time he gets to play video games and chat with his crush on his dad's phone.
As viewers, we are often shocked at how Leelamma interacts with the world for we are used to seeing grandmothers as sweet storytellers. We are familiar with grannies who put their hands on their troubled grandchild's head and tell them that everything will be all right, but here, Leelamma is the source of her grandchildren's troubles. Leelamma is not only rude to the people at home, but also impolite to visitors, including her son's boss. But amidst this shock, some of us may also feel a sense of catharsis when she yells at a cranky child, saying that it makes no difference to her if the kid refuses to say goodbye. While her son and daughter-in-law recoil in embarrassment, we feel a laugh escaping our throats, for how many times have we stopped ourselves from glaring at a misbehaved kid in our midst?
The few days she spends with her son's mother-in-law, Susaamma, makes Leelamma confront her past and reflect on why she turned out the way she did. Susaamma makes it clear that she does not have the time or patience to deal with Leelamma's bullying but she does this kindly. Even before Susaamma's entry, we are shown that Leelamma can be a fun person, if only her family will spend some time with her and talk to her nicely.
Then there is the one domestic help who stays longer than a week, Babu, who is a source of humour throughout the movie. He indirectly introduces Leelamma to the pleasures of drinking a cold beer in humid Kerala and drives Leelamma and Susaamma around for the few days where they have the house and car to themselves. The shot where Leelamma sticks her torso out the car window and howls is funny and joy-inducing.
Oru Muthassi Gadha has some gentle observational humour too. There is this one scene where the fathers of two children discuss Chhota Bheem and Dora the Explorer with abandon, only to find a younger man laughing at them in open jest. They erupt in anger at the newly married man and tell him that he will be just like them when he has kids and they start watching TV. The movie also shows how conversations between elders and youngsters invariably turn into our-generation-versus-your-generation contests in a light-hearted vein.
The surprise twist in Leelamma's pre-degree romance catches us unawares. She has coolly manipulated Susaamma, her granddaughter and her boyfriend into accompanying her on what she presents as a romantic adventure, only to turn out to be a revenge saga. But by this time, we are fully on Leelamma's side and agree with her that her ends justified her means.
It's not like Oru Muthassi Gadha doesn't talk about grownup children abandoning their parents or being unkind towards them. It does this, but in a way that doesn't feel maudlin or accusatory. And instead of reeling in bitterness, Leelamma channels her energy into fulfilling the wishes of the inmates of an old-age home, like Susaamma helped her fulfil hers. The film also doesn't portray the son or daughter-in-law as illtreating Leelamma. They are both kind people who put up with her antics with great forbearance. It is made clear that it is Leelamma's own ego and complexes that stand in the way of her being the good person she really is.
Add to all these strengths the fact that the movie had a 65-year-old woman as the protagonist and boasts of a knockout debut performance by Rajini Chandy, we have in Oru Muthassi Gadha a wholesome entertainer with a mix of subtle observational humour, laugh-out-loud moments and just the right amount of pathos.