Wonder Women Review: Fine Actors In A Movie Preoccupied With Cheerfulness

One can't help but wonder what a blast Anjali could have had with a cast like this!
Wonder Women Review: Fine Actors In A Movie Preoccupied With Cheerfulness

Director: Anjali Menon

Cast: Nithya Menen, Parvathy Thiruvothu, Nadia Moidu, Padmapriya, Archana Padmini

Streaming On: SonyLIV

Malayalam cinema, at the moment, is teeming with movies with quirky names that use humour or a dash of provincial naïveté to welcome the audience into their world. Into this space, Anjali Menon brings her latest film that has a name so passive - Wonder Women. Presumably, the filmmaker was too overwhelmed by the characters she created to look for something more eloquent. 

But the name perfectly fits the film's slender nature. Wonder Women unfolds in just over 79 minutes, mostly in one location, centred on relatable characters who speak different languages - Marathi, Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada and predominantly English. Comfortably giddy and complacent, the film is less about its characters and their situations than it is about a filmmaker who managed to bring together leading stars like Nithya Menen, Parvathy and Padmapriya Janakiraman in a movie about female camaraderie. 

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Five pregnant women in their final trimester, played by Nithya Menen, Sayanora, Amrutha Subhash, Parvathy and Padmapriya, check into a boutique prenatal education centre in Kochi run by Nandita (Nadia Moidu). Gracy (Archana Padmini), Nandita's pregnant assistant, joins the course, adding to the group's diversity. Over the next few days, the women get to know each other, do Yoga together and hold open sessions where they air their concerns about the physical and emotional struggles they undergo. This forming of sisterhood is the core of Wonder Women. One time, their partners join them in a session, shifting the focus briefly to the dilemma or excitement the male partner experiences during the pregnancy period. 

Of course, Anjali’s Manjadikkuru (2008), Bangalore Days (2014) and Koode (2018) were all about unusual connections, their nuances carefully charted out. But Wonder Women situates itself between a product commercial and a telefilm. Devoid of an exciting story or impressive moments, this is a film tailor-made for a streaming platform, a product of the same network of systems that enable an average movie-goer or a writer on the street to broadcast their unfiltered views about cinema. 

One can't help but wonder what a blast Anjali could have had with a cast like this! For one, imagine a movie about a group of actresses getting together to make a film. The scenes from a location where they huddle and share the inside stories about their workplace, laugh their hearts out or slide into silence, and reveal and confront the demons within themselves. It is not as though the tales of pregnant women are any less significant than the entertainment industry's inside stories. But in Wonder Women, Anjali withholds herself and chooses to skim the surface of issues than dive into them. 

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The writing is uninspiring. Every exchange between the characters culminates in a heartwarming point. Nobody transgresses or beats the viewer's predictions about them. Veni's (Padmapriya) overbearing mother-in-law (Radha Gomaty), who arrogantly interrupts her in front of the group and asks her to say her surname with pride, is quickly given a feminist makeover and inducted into the happy commune. Mini (Parvathy), the brooding single mother who yells at others and refuses to socialise, is forced to mellow down. Her moment of catharsis is unplausible and insipid. Saya (Sayanora), a singer, is impatient with her empathetic and affectionate partner. "I haven't seen men like him," she cries out during a session, a mix of perplexion, sadness and anger in her voice. It is a condition rarely explored on the screen, this irrational rage one might feel towards people who are nice to everyone. Unfortunately, Anjali chooses to swish past this moment. 

In its eagerness to embrace positivity, Wonder Women sidesteps conflicts and intersectionality. Gracy, who speaks broken English, is heavily cash-strapped and overworked, yet when Govind Vasantha's saccharine songs begin to play, she has to act like a joyous group member, dance and giggle, as though pregnancy brings her the same joy as others. Happy and carefree women are a delight to watch on screen. But here, instead of engaging with these characters further, Anjali shrinks her film to a one-note image and drowns promising ideas in sentimentality. 

Despite this smallness, Wonder Women is a critical work that brings to the screen visuals of these women who aren't changing the world or undergoing a great feminist upheaval but just being in the present, taking note of their bodily changes and looking out for each other. If only these women were allowed to tell their stories.

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