Arike

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Just watched the malayalam movie Arike (So Close) by Shyamaprasad.

Now I’ve not been a fan of Shyamaprasad’s previous endeavours. I’ve always felt that while he does have his heart in the right place and knows how to weave in humor in unexpected ways, his movies often skim the surface of what he really wants the viewer to feel – thereby missing the point completely.

Arike however, is good. Languid and unhurried, a summer afternoon movie that let’s you soak in lives that could be just about anywhere in the world, and yet resonate with you. There’s no overt attempt to benefit from the Kerala/Malayalee background (script is based on a bengali short story) and that’s (for me) a huge plus.

There are subtle hints about relationships that are mostly just a scene and a few words: a father whose expectations from his daughter and obsession with fatality narrows down to a man who lives with the fear of having almost lost his raison d’etre: his wife; a guruji who’s compassion towards a beautiful child reflects in his outpouring of joy in her presence – there’s a message there – true spirituality is unconditional love; an indulgent mother who hasn’t been able to make her daughter grow beyond frivolousness perhaps because she is guilty of the same; a boy who feeds on perceived weakness of those around him using them as a channel for his anger at being deprived…

In most movies, not devoting enough time and space to develop the ethos of the characters often makes them seem hollow and unnecessary in the script. In Arike, Shyamaprasad manages to avert the danger smartly, without spending reel and air-time. I would put it to his skill as a director in extracting unspoken words out of the actors and using their body language to the maximum – works beautifully here.

This is not a review btw, and is just my appreciation of the movie, so I won’t belabor on the plot per se. Mamta Mohandas stands tall in her role – strength in softness devoid of feminity. It’s something I didn’t think could be shown on screen, but she does it and how. Muted and yet intense without needing either dialogue or action. There are scenes where she could just merge into the background and yet, the story flows through her. I’ll probably have to watch this movie again to see how that’s done.

There’s Dileep and he proves my belief yet again that he’s an actor who can rise above the crass and comic when he needs to. He’s almost feminine energy in this movie – in movement, words and emotions. The scene where he realizes that the woman he loved chose not to be with him – there’s denial, trauma, a hint of anger, helplessness, and finally a revelation w.r.t what she & her friend meant to him – all in a few minutes. I watched that scene closely because that is something that could easily suffer from a casual treatment and emerge dramatic or worse insensitive – no dialogue can really convey the intensity of the loss if the character was really in love. But here again, the cleverness of the director and the actor scores.

Samvritha: in this movie she’s like little silver bells; pretty, enamored by herself and the state of being in love, and obtuse about everyone else. As a character, there is intentionally nothing that draws you to her – she’s eye candy and that’s it. Maybe there would have been merit in exploring just why she changes her mind at the end, but I don’t grudge Shyamaprasad for his slightly meager treatment of this considering the rest.

Having spoken about everyone else and everything else in the movie, I come to the one reason why I’m writing this post first of all. Vineeth and his cameo. The cameo is crucial only to divulge why Mamta’s character is what she is and even with the first hint of his presence, one could easily guess what follows. But Vineeth bursts through the screen with a presence that is at once magnetic and repelling, and is riveting in the process.

I’m just marveling at how he managed to nail it like this with the brief that he got. Here emerges a man for whom no one else exists in the world but he. And yet, he manages to reach out and make the person next to him feel glorified. You know exactly what he is upto and Mamta’s character, sitting next to him – you know she knows to say no if she wants to, but she doesn’t. His occasional sighs, the shower of abrupt laughter, the inappropriate casualness, breaching personal boundaries without a flicker of worry, and throughout it all, conveying that his lust is the most natural thing in the world. There’s a dialogue that, when loosely translated, is him telling her “I want to make love to you”. It’s said with so much ease that the implication doesn’t even register in the consciousness. Because it just seems right that a man would want to appreciate a woman of beauty and flawlessness with all the love in the world!

Gautham Menon needs to take a page out of Shyamaprasad’s diary on how it’s not enough to have these words in the script for the shock-value but to express it’s real worth 🙂 (remember Vinnaithandi Varuvaya?)

For me, Vineeth is really the pick of the movie. And as a movie that explores with honesty several facets of love and lust, and makes no attempt to be complicated in the process – I really enjoyed Arike.

Kudos, Shyamaprasad!

A tale of two women

Update:
BlogJunta found this post worthy of an Editor’s Choice mention :). Here’s what they’ve graciously given me:

BlogJunta - An ode to the Blogosphere

Lakshmi, 34, is educated. The youngest of three children, she’s studied upto 10th (her family is poor, but her dad believed in educating all his children, and has managed to provide them with a basic education. As is the practice in their community, Lakshmi got married to her cousin when she was 15. Today, she has two kids, a girl aged 14 and a boy aged 9 – both are studying.

Lakshmi works for a living, as a cook, earning about Rs. 5000 per month. Her husband works at a factory, and earns the same. He gives her Rs. 1500 a month, for expenses at home (spending 2000 for himself, and giving his mother the rest) + her son’s education. He refuses to give her a rupee extra for the daughter because he never wanted the child in the first place – he says she’ll be nothing but a burden. When the daughter was 4 months old, he told Lakshmi he’d kill her. Lakshmi threatened to kill him if he did anything of the sort and he backed off. She’s managed to keep her daughter safe since then, but he refuses to look at or talk to the child – and objects to any of his money being used for bringing up the child.

He loves his son though and insisted that he be sent to an English medium school (even if the fees is prohibitive for a family with their kind of income). To cope with the home expenses (given that her husband’s contribution is meagre), Lakshmi is taking on as much work as possible. She gets up at 4 am, starts work at 5, and finishes at 9.30 pm, and sleeps at 11.00 (after finishing work at home).

This month hasn’t begun so well for her – as is with most months. Her employers pay her during the first few days of the month, and her husband’s been making life hell for her, for the past 10 days – since he’s been eyeing her salary. Today she has had yet another fight with him and has been crying, because he’s asking for more money, as dowry. For the past 19 years, he’s been accusing her and her family of cheating him out of what’s due to him and his family.

Lakshmi’s father isn’t alive, and her only brother doesn’t care enough to negotiate with her husband (or take action against him).

Her only solution? Put on a smile and continue to work every minute of the day – so that her children can go to school, and she is able to provide them with an education that can get them employment in the future. When asked about it, she says, “It’s ok. I and my children will survive. The only anger I have is with God.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Maya is turning 31 this year. She’s working in an MNC, and earning much more than guys of her age. Smart, confident and exceptional at what she does – she’s starting to become a subject of envy more than appreciation. She’s begun to see that there are unseen lines she’s not expected to cross, and though her rise to the current position has been meteoric, she’s beginning to think that the onward journey will need more than credentials, experience and capability. However, despite recent run-ins with bosses, she’s willing to try as hard as possible, and navigate around the prejudices – she’s worked hard on her career, and she can’t afford to give it up all now.

At home, Maya has an entirely different terrain to navigate. Her parents are beginning to fret about her marital status and she sees the worry writ large on her mother’s face, day after day. Maya had her chance at 25, to marry a guy she really liked, and who loved her for what she was. But her parents objected to him, and even threatened her with dire consequences. They argued that they could never face their relatives/friends, and would die of shame, if their Brahmin daughter married a non-Brahmin from a different state. Eventually, she decided to concentrate on her job, and let them look for someone “appropriate” once she was truly over him.

That was 3 years ago. After that, its been an endless ordeal: of horoscope-matching, being visited by prospective groom’s parents, sisters or relatives, getting dressed and being subjected to the same questions over and over again, talking to guys on the phone, to even meeting them more than once, so that they could “get to know her better”.

Some of the initial proposals didn’t go through because she thought she wanted to make sure she was marrying someone she could visualize spending the rest of her life with – and the guys she was meeting didn’t fit the bill. However, soon after, the issues weren’t from her side anymore. Her darker skin met with various frowns, and often, mothers or aunts would ask her mother openly whether she was “white” or “wheatish”. Then, they had a problem with her age. “Why exactly is she single even now?”. And then, it was her career. “Will she adjust to my son’s timings, and accompany him in case he travels to a different country? We don’t want a career-oriented girl for him”. The last straw was “At this age, will she conceive?”

Maya has been mulling on a decision for a month now. She’s had it with the emotional abuse and trauma of each visit from a prospective groom’s side (and the corny/wierd guys she gets to meet after surviving such onslaughts) – and she’s beginning to think her mother’s health is degrading because of the intense worry she carries.

She’s going to ask her parents to stop looking for a partner for her. She’s convinced that she’s destined to be single – after all, if you can’t find a companion to share your life, it’s better to be single and independent, right?

Right. She just wishes though, that this thought doesn’t make her feel like her insides were crumbling.

* * * * * * * * * *
P.S. “Women’s Day” is day after tomorrow. While newspapers and tv shows are all waxing eloquent on the topic, I was contemplating a blog – after all, there are things that need to be said, right?
But today, I came across these two stories (these are people I know – names have been changed though), and realized that this is all that needs to be written about.