Malayalam cinema is the jewel in the crown of South Indian cinema. The subtle acting, emphasis on well-written scripts and realism are always a treat to watch. Amongst these brilliant films, one that caught my eye was Uyare, the directorial debut of Manu Ashokan which revolves around an acid attack survivor, Pallavi Raveendran.
The adult Pallavi, played by Parvathy Thiruvothu, is introduced performing on stage with this fierceness in her eyes. The camera then pans to her irritated boyfriend, Govind, watching her from the audience. When Pallavi approaches him following the performance, he immediately demands why he wasn't informed about the change in her dance costume, and with that, he douses the spark in her eyes. For me, this one dialogue was enough to establish the toxicity of a man who is excessively controlling. Pallavi, however, gives him the benefit of the doubt, attributing to his anger to an unsuccessful job interview.
The portrayal of their toxic relationship is unconventional in many ways. Firstly, it breaks the stereotype of the naïve and vulnerable damsel in distress who gets entrapped in such a relationship. Pallavi is the complete opposite, she's a headstrong, ambitious woman. On the other hand, Asif Ali was a superb casting choice for Govind, as he doesn't exactly look intimidating, but, well, looks can be deceiving. And most importantly, it isn't romanticised: the toxicity is explicitly acknowledged! (Sadly this is a rare feat in Indian cinema.)
Out of the context of Uyare, Govind has the makings of a typical South Indian romantic hero. His toxic traits would've been labelled as possessiveness, true love and care for her safety. In fact, even Pallavi is convinced that this must be the case as well. Although her outspokenness is highlighted in many instances throughout the film, when it comes to Govind, she's a different version of herself. She's oblivious to his manipulative behavior and tries to compromise to meet his demands where possible, especially when he threatens her with suicide. The stages of a toxic relationship are portrayed very realistically from the blurred lines to the ignored red flag warnings.
In complete contrast to Govind is Pallavi's father (Siddique), a meticulously crafted feminist father. He is her main pillar of support in all aspects of life. When he approaches Govind and tells him, "I don't like to see her smile disappear," my heart swelled with immense respect. The freedom Pallavi lacks in her romantic relationship exists here.
The second half of the film is neither melodramatic nor like a documentary, since the writers, Bobby and Sanjay, have us emotionally invested in the protagonist and her passion for flying well before the acid attack sequence. The conversation on acid attacks and survivors is essential and the makers skillfully weave this into the story while omitting any preaching. The coping phase is gradual and natural; it is emphasised that we must accept ourselves first for society to follow suit. Mirror and reflection shots are scattered throughout the film and these parallels serve as a means of depicting the rise and fall of Pallavi's confidence. When looking into the mirror before the acid attack, she's unfazed whereas immediately after the attack she's tense and so on. Her character evolves over the course of the film and she acquires new traits. For instance, in one scene, she firmly stands her ground despite knowing that by doing so she would lose her job. Before she broke free of the chains of her relationship with Govind, at times, this conviction was absent.
Uyare is a film I would recommend to everyone. It is a complete package that includes the portrayal of a toxic relationship and the joys of pursuing your passion, and all this revolves around the importance of parenting. It restores new hope that cinema is indeed heading in the right direction, and overall it is a truly inspiring story. While perfection is unattainable, Pallavi Raveendran is one of the few female characters who comes ever so close to perfection, simply because of her imperfections.