Director: Khalid Rahman
Cast: Shine Tom Chacko, Rajisha Vijayan
It starts innocently enough. A woman gets an ultrasound. A man (who's at home) gets an "I am pregnant" message. But like everything else in this film, Things. Are. Not. What. They. Seem. Spare a moment to look at this home. It has smiley-happy pictures of the couple all over the walls. So why does she have a bruise on her cheek? What is his thing with violent video games? Just talking about the title, Khalid Rahman's Love is like Anuraj Manohar's Ishq. It's a decoy. You listen to a word like "love" or "ishq", and it makes you think the movie is about smiley-happy scenarios. By the end, we realise that these words are used ironically, as though to suggest that dictionary definitions are not what relationships are like in real life. There's a reason Facebook has a status that says "It's complicated."
Khalid Rahman seems to like these deceptive titles. His last film, the terrific Unda, came with a macho name: the word means "bullet". It practically needs a bucket under it to catch all the dripping testosterone. But the film, for the most part, subverted the action-adventure machismo we know from the movies. Love, similarly, subverts the romance inherent in the word. It's about the murderous feeling when you come home to unwashed dishes that the husband has left for you to clean up. It's about another murderous feeling that is actually voiced in words: Is there a husband who hasn't felt like killing his wife at some point? It's about smashing a dinner plate because, at that point, it's easier to vent your rage on chinaware than enter into the 693rd confrontation with your husband.
At first, watching the lush, slo-mo, music-video treatment, I was a little confused. Why not complement this raw story with spare filmmaking? Why these "arty" flourishes, like the one where a crumbling building appears to mirror a crumbling psyche? But soon we see that the form (not just the making, but also the writing) is as misleading as the title. Love is tricky, and therefore, Love is tricky, too. It flips around genres like mad: it's a narcissistic murder mystery like Alfred Hitchcock's Rope mixed with a psychological black comedy like David Fincher's Fight Club mixed with a domestic-abuse drama like Anubhav Sinha's Thappad. The latter is probably the easiest reference point, but it was more direct in its appeal. And in terms of form, it was more traditional. Here, we have a director saying: I'm going to play mind games with you that kinda-sorta reflect the mind games inherent in unhappy relationships (and oh, even in some happy ones). The form, therefore, becomes the content.
Khalid Rahman co-wrote the film with Noufal Abdullah, and the screenplay builds up to a brilliant twist that involves all the characters (superbly played by Rajisha Vijayan, Veena Nandakumar, Gokulan, Sudhi Koppa and especially Shine Tom Chacko). This twist is not just a haha-gotcha "stunt" but deeply rooted in psychology. If you feel the first hour or so is "going nowhere", it's deliberate. When you watch the film a second time, you won't feel that at all. And the second time will probably make you linger on a razor blade that hints at suicidal tendencies, or the reason someone doesn't seem to care about shattered glass on a floor. There's a very "male" line, one that's been repeated down the centuries, that says we can never understand women. But Love says that men cannot understand themselves, either. We can have contradictory impulses that almost make us feel we are a different person altogether.
I wanted some more flavour in the dialogues, but I think the "drabness" may be intentional. It may be a mirror of lines that have been said (Him: "Why are you still in touch with your male friends?") and arguments that have been had (Her: "I know you are lying to me and sleeping around.") so often — with others, with ourselves — that they've become as flavourless as gum that's been chewed for too long. It may even be a mirror of scenarios we have played so often in our heads that when that event actually occurs, we don't react at all. Love is very contained. It doesn't give us the whole arc of a relationship (we get a few fleeting moments). It simply zooms in on one stretch of time. Like life, it begins with birth (that ultrasound) and ends with death (a relationship). Is that a spoiler? I don't think so. Let's just say love and Love have come full circle.