Director: Anoop Sathyan
Cast: Shobana, Suresh Gopi, Kalyani Priyadarshan, Dulquer Salmaan
What's the deal with second-generation Malayali filmmakers and their love for all things 'feel-good'? Vineeth Sreenivasan may have birthed this sharkara-sweet sub-genre in Malayalam but Anoop Sathyan (son of Sathyan Anthikad) does a fine job of taking it forward with last week's Varane Avashyamund. In these cynical times, the appeal one feels for their films is understandable. Who wouldn't want to see the world through the Instagram filters these filmmakers swipe on, making everything seem brighter and more colourful. I mean, the harshest words you'd use to describe a character populating their world would oscillate between impish or mischievous (how dare you).
How else would you explain the casual niceness of it all when the apartment cook tells her boss that she's going to take some prawn curry up to the neighbours because, "it's their eggs we've borrowed." Or the houseowner lady who needs to draw kolams, even for other people, after returning to Chennai from a vacation. Or the security guard who offers a resident his curd rice after realising that the latter might not have eaten. Call it glass-half-full or whitewashing, but it's a perspective we can all get used to.
Which is probably why we choose to dismiss it as one of Chennai 'conservative charms' when the houseowner lists a set of dietary restrictions for tenants, even though you know what it really is. Also this is why it might strike you rightaway that Major Unnikrishnan's (a superb Suresh Gopi) social awkwardness and anger management issues might be a result of PTSD. Or how Nikita's (Kalyani Priyadarshan) preference for arranged marriage (njan decentaa) stems from the abandonment issues she faced after her seeing mother's failed/abusive 'love' marriage. And why Bibin (Dulquer) cannot stand the sight of people riding bikes without a helmet on.
In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, these strands could've easily become highly melodramatic, but Anoop's never confused about how he wants to tell these stories, always maintaining a level of self-awareness by mixing the heavy with the light at every corner. One of the ways he manages to do this is by riding the nostalgia wave that comes with his casting choices. So, Neena (Shobana) isn't just a strong independent single mother who teaches French, but she's also someone who looks like Shobana, THE actress (wink, wink). So, when we are first introduced to Major Unnikrishnan, we see the solemn man listening to 'Anuraga Lola Gathri' from Dhwani starring Jayaram and….you know who. And, if you thought a character was named Ganga (short for Gangai Amaran) by sheer coincidence, you're not predicting the massive payoff that comes later. And who even knew that one could feel a direct connection just by listening to Bhagyalakshmi's voice as Shobana emotes?
The details too are just as lovely. Like how Major Unnikrishnan's apartment, in shades of either black, white or grey, gives us a glimpse into the man's unromantic mind, which stands in sheer contrast to Neena's, with its yellows, blues and reds. And as a Chennai Malayali, the film made me realise that the sight of another nettipattam in one more Malayali apartment would urge me go on a killing spree.
If there's anything, I'd be interested to know if the film was forced to be drastically chopped on the edit table. At places, I sensed the filmmaker's struggle to give certain sub-plots and characters the time they deserved, because a few scenes ended abruptly. I also quite didn't understand the film's excessive use of tiny scenes, like the one where Bibish breaks up and another one involving Bibish moving things from Nikita's house. In a film dealing with so many characters, these blink-and-miss scenes really affect the overall flow, distracting us from the larger themes we've invested in.
But at the end of the day, it's a film about relationships of all shapes and sizes. We get love stories of two age groups, yet it's the older couple that appears far more modern. We also get a mother-daughter drama, a brother-brother drama and a mother-son drama. Yet it's the bride and future-mother-in-law love story (between Urvashi and Kalyani) in the middle of this that will remain with me for a very long time. It is here that we see just how good a writer Anoop Sathyan can be. His dialogues are minimal yet they tear right into you (I thought my son was my son, but apparently he's his father's). Important characters get their monologues, yet none of them get caught 'acting'.
Of course, the film has issues one would expect from a first-timer (why doesn't Lal Jose's character ever return?) but there's more than enough in it to show us signs of a surefooted debut. With wonderful performances by Suresh Gopi, Shobana and KPAC Lalitha, Varane Avashyamund is a rare film that appeals to the old you, just as it does with the new you.