Cast: Dulquer Salmaan, Aditi Rao Hydari
A few weeks ago, I spent several hours evaluating about 1500 amateur short films for Take Ten. A handful of these films had scenes of actors — more like amatuer or non-actors — brushing their teeth in front of a mirror. I can tell with absolute confidence that every one of their performances felt more natural and organic than watching Aditi Rao Hydari pretend to brush her teeth in Hey Sinamika.
To be fair, though, it's not just Aditi, the entire film is off-key that way. Every frame, scene, dialogue, event, song, dance feels like an awkward performance put up for an Instagram audience, in an effort to stage 'authenticity.'
Hey Sinamika is the story of Mouna (Aditi Rao Hydari), who is frustrated by her life with her husband Yaazhan (Dulquer Salmaan) and wants a break. Instead of having an honest conversation with her unemployed, over-talking, mansplaining, always-cooking, but doting husband, she tries to run away to Pondicherry. The devoted husband that he is, he follows her there. Pushed to a corner, Mouna seeks the help of a psychologist-cum-con artist Malarvizhi (Kajal Aggarwal). How Yaazhan remains gullible, Malarvizhi navigates her feelings and Mouna understands true love forms the rest of this visually beautiful and conceptually trite film.
The problems with Hey Sinamika begin at the beginning, with Madhan Karky's superficial writing. For an unbearable amount of time, Dulquer as Yaazhan tries very hard to speak in bad Malayalam. The explanation for why he does that doesn't come soon enough. And when Aditi shows up as Mouna, she behaves like a 2022 version of ha-ha-ha-Haasini, waving her perfectly curled hair in the middle of a storm — shot in grating slo-mo — saying she's here to study "kaatrin mozhi" (the language of wind), uttering inanities about marriage to a man she just met. Director Brinda immediately breaks into a song, fast-forwarding us past the misery of their courtship. Some prancing around for the camera and a wedding montage later, we get to the crux of the story. Or do we?
The characters of Hey Sinamika come across as caricatures. We never understand them for who they are, but only as characteristics we might relate to because we've met people in real life with similar behaviour patterns. For instance, we know that Mouna doesn't like that Yaazhan talks so much. But, the film never answers why that is. Is that because he doesn't listen to her? Or because she doesn't want to listen to him? Why is he unemployed? Then, why does he readily take a job when one is offered? Most importantly, why don't they communicate with each other?
Malarvizhi, on the other hand, believes men are trash (can we fault her?). But why does she take it out on every man in the world? Why does she put herself and her professional integrity at great risk? To answer this, she is given a hasty backstory. But it barely supports her unwavering mission to break meandering men. Also, don't any of these people have families?
This superficial and contrived treatment extends to the conversations and actions of these characters as well. What kind of professional psychologist agrees to seduce a man so her patient can find an excuse to divorce him? At a crucial juncture in the film, Mouna tells Malarvizhi that Yaazhan is legally her husband and therefore falling in love with him is "illegal." In which country, what world, where universe? Madhan Karky's dialogues are so unconsidered that at one point, one character tells the other rather unprovoked: "When you're through with your work, don't worry. Just carry on."
For a film sold as a romantic comedy, there is barely any romance or comedy in Hey Sinamika. The jokes around Yaazhan's personality land only sporadically — is it really so bad to be a talker or am I just projecting? The romance between Mouna and Yaazhan has no chemistry. Dulquer tries, but Aditi looks like she's in physical pain. Later on, the romance between Malarvizhi and Yaazhan never hits the softspot either. We can barely tell when she stops conning him and really falls in love. The lesser said about the camaraderie between Mouna and Malarvizhi, the better.
This is not to say that all is bad. Cinematographer Preetha Jayaraman and art directors SS Moorthy and Senthil Raghavan mount a beautiful canvas. The colours are attractive. She shoots Aditi Rao Hydari with a special gaze of love and admiration. Costume designers Archa Mehta (Kajal Aggarwal) and Khushbu Banerjee (Aditi Rao Hydari) put together gorgeous wardrobes, not a tuck out of place. Dulquer might have done better with a hair stylist, but that's just me being pedantic.
But, the film so absorbed by its beauty that it overengineers everything. In a scene Dulquer smashes a jar on the floor in anger. In the very next shot, the pieces of the jar are neatly arranged on the floor, as we see him walk past. The jarbreak — and the heart break — are quickly aesthetised. In Hey Sinamika, even vulnerability is constrained by notions of visual beauty.
So, individually, the costume designers, cinematographer, editor, director etc. have done a fair job. Without the foundation of thoughtful writing, Hey Sinamika falls and crashes painfully on our heads.