Director: Nissam Basheer
Cast: Asif Ali, Veena Nandhakumar, Jaffer Idukki
It would be interesting to compare Kettiyollaanu Ente Maalakha to a film like Sooraj Barjatya’s Vivaah. If the latter worked like an advertisement campaign to reinforce the fairy tale-like myth of the arranged marriage, Kettiyollaanu Ente Maalakha grounds that period in reality to address the obstacles that make it far more complex than a ‘happy married life’. What obstacles? In the 80’s, this could have been about dowry and the struggles of the girl’s family. In the 90’s, it could have been marital discord or the problems a couple faces when both of them are independent and egoistic. But now, films can dig deeper to speak up about things they’ve shied away from for so long. And that makes Kettiyollaanu Ente Maalakha a worthy, although problematic, addition to Malayalam cinema’s exploration into its favourite hot topic—masculinity.
But it isn’t toxic masculinity. It isn’t the lack of masculinity either. You can perhaps call it a crisis of masculinity. Sleevachan (Asif Ali) is someone we’ve all met at some point in time. He’s a great son and a good brother to his four sisters but it’s another set of qualities that make a great husband. Sleevachan is 35-years old but he’s never found the need to get married. He doesn’t have female friends and he hasn’t had a girlfriend either. But when Sleevachan comes home one night to find his aged mother on the ground and unconscious, that’s the first time he gives marriage some serious thought. Even then, getting married is something he does for his mother. Someone to take care of her. So when he goes to meet Rincy (Veena Nandhakumar) for the first time, he barely even looks at her. Anybody will do, as long she’s ready to take car of his mother.
During this meeting, we notice Rincy slowly falling for Sleevachan, seeing how caring and loving he is to her bedridden mother. It’s Sleevachan, the son working his magic. But we don’t see the reverse of this scene taking place. And when Rincy calls him for the first time, he assumes the call is meant for his mother and passes it on without really saying anything. His issue isn’t indifference or a lack of interest…he’s just never developed the ability to look at a woman like a companion. So when he attends a pre-marriage counselling session at the local church, he starts to get nervous when the topic of you-know-what comes up. He excuses himself and runs to make a confession where he reveals that he knows nothing about that physical activity that shall not be named.
It requires a huge amount of suspension of disbelief to accept how a man living in 2019 can be so far removed from this reality. There are great examples of healthy relationships all around him but he chooses to take up the advice of perhaps the worst person he could go to…a sex-crazed divorcee whose wife ran away. So when its time for Sleevachan to get intimate for the first time, he’s mislead to believe the act as a ‘show of strength’. He screws up…big time.
Now the film takes an interesting/strange approach to talk about this situation. A crime has taken place but the focus is not on the victim, it’s on Sleevachan. He too is a victim argues the film. He is what you end up with in a society that shies away from discussing sex. The sex-crazed divorcee whose advice he takes become a stand-in for many things…the wrong kind of movies, bad friends or even pornography and its impressive how the film manages to make us sympathise with him. It’s easier to do this because we never doubt his intentions. Even when the act is performed, his is not the face of a man who is high on power, celebrating his domination. The expression is more of relief as though he’s just gotten over with it. In fact, he’s so ignorant that he even thinks she must be happy now.
I wish the film had taken a more balanced approach to tell their story. I wish the film had gotten us to see what Rincy is going through, which is, in a way, far more complex. Like Sleevachan, the film too keeps Rincy at a distance and this requires us to do a lot of the writing in our heads to fill up her side. And for a film that essentially propagates the importance of getting to know someone, you wish you’d known Rincy a lot more. One of the reasons the film still remains engaging is because of the wonderful performances of both Asif Ali and Veena Nandhakumar. Asif aces the role’s physical performance and fits perfectly into the mould of the loud rubber farmer, breaking your heart in the climax. Veena, on the other hand, conveys just as much by saying little. We feel her silence and her helplessness in being married to such a man but never at the cost of her dignity. The supporting cast, filled with several newcomers, does a great job too.
We can debate the film’s ‘feel good’ approach to such a serious topic or its desperate need to keep underlining Sleevachan’s character traits but it’s a film that needs to be discussed not just for what is says but also how it goes about saying it.