Mouna Ragam: Silent Rhapsody or Silenced Womanhood?

Mouna Ragam: Silent Rhapsody or Silenced Womanhood?

While walking back home last week, I heard a snatch of Nilave vaa playing off someone’s phone and felt an overwhelming urge to watch Mouna Ragam again. This movie has always found a spot on my list of favorite romances (right after Alai Payuthe). For months after I watched it for the first time, I dreamed of marrying someone like Chandrakumar and living in a bright and airy house like his with its Indian boho-chic decor: low lying beds, glassy walls looking out onto patches of green and potted plants dotting every corner.

Watch it I did, after nearly a decade. But this time, it didn’t leave me misty-eyed and mush-hearted. Divya and CK still have their sizzling chemistry. The house in Delhi is still beautiful. But the scales have fallen from my eyes.

In the movie, it is winter and Delhi looks like a quiet, green haven. But like every other city, it has an ugly side: heat and dust, noise and pollution and traffic jams. Just as the camera skillfully ignored these, my eyes and mind had remained blind to everything that is wrong with this movie.

The biggest loss of all.

Revathi’s Divya is a brilliant character: a twenty-something child-woman barely out of college who has had to deal silently and alone with the horrifying loss of a first love. (Notice how not even her friends in college seem to know about Manohar?) And she copes in the only way she knows: by shutting her heart to another round of loving and hurting. “Engitte ethuvume illai” as she screams at CK (“I have nothing left to give!”)

Mouna Ragam is not a story of how a young girl who has tragically lost her first love and shut her heart to it heals, grows up and finds love again. It is the story of a strong, proud woman coerced into one relationship after another by the very people who claim to love her.

Mouna Ragam is less about the loss of a first love and more about the loss of one woman’s free will.

Do one thing for me.

Mani Ratnam has openly shown how Divya’s family emotionally blackmail her into marrying CK in spite of her vehement protests. Nobody pays attention to her when she says she wants to study and her first reaction is what comes naturally to her: stalk off into the night for a walk to clear her head. She comes back with the look of someone who has made up her mind but we never find out what this is, because her father has just had a heart attack. Her brother cold-shoulders her and even her ten-year-old younger sister looks at her reproachfully, blaming her for their father’s condition.

This is followed by a scene that is not alien to Indian families: a mother emotionally backing her daughter into a corner by playing the ‘this is a matter of life and death’ card.  The following morning, Divya’s father asks her, “Did you do this for me?” but when she kneels down next to him crying, he seems quietly satisfied, not concerned.

But Divya is no stranger to emotional blackmail. In fact, she has surrendered to it once already.

Love me, love me not.

Comments on YouTube, where Mouna Ragam is uploaded, gush over what a truly romantic character Manohar is, one that any girl would swoon over. But is Mano anything more than a charming cad? Take a look at how he wins Divya’s affections: he stalks her; embarrasses her in public; storms into her classroom and gets her out using a blatant (and fairly insensitive) lie; challenges her to ‘prove’ that she has no feelings for him by having coffee with him… For all her fieriness and pride, Divya is swept along, easily manipulated by his bold tactics.

The night that Manohar gives up his activism and shows up outside her house, what he gives her is not so much a proposal as an ultimatum. Marry me tomorrow, he says, brushing aside her protests. Show up outside the registrar’s office tomorrow or it will mean you don’t love me. There’s no conversation, no discussion about their future or what she wants, no consideration for her feelings: just a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. And Divya succumbs.

What ensues is certainly a tragedy, but would not living a life of compromise and manipulation with a man as impulsive and stubborn as Mano been a bigger one?

A woman without a man.

Throughout the film, Divya gets advice from friendly, well-meaning women, all of whom supposedly care about her. “If he is handsome, marry him,” says a friend flippantly when Divya worries about going home to face the marriage party. “I am begging you, let me keep my thaali (don’t drive my husband, your father, to his death)says her mother, when Divya tries to explain her feelings to her.

And her own divorce lawyer—an educated, professionally accomplished woman—tells Divya that a woman cannot live by herself. “I am speaking from my own experience,” she says, as if to add credibility to her words. This female character, who seems strong on the surface, turns out to be another cardboard figure and one has to wonder what the writer and director are really telling us.

Bharadwaj Rangan writes that in a conversation with him, Mani Ratnam said that Divya was originally the protagonist of a short story in which a young girl coerced into a marriage ends up being a victim of marital rape on their wedding night. It is ironic that this dark slice of realism evolved into the patronizing, manipulative beauty that Mouna Ragam is.

Idols with cracks.

Chandrakumar (CK) is the epitome of perfection, a gentleman par excellence whom it is difficult to discredit. He is never more radical or liberal or attractive than in the scene in which he starts clearing up the remnants of the house party himself and tells Divya, “I am sorry. I can only imagine what you must be feeling.” In a world where a man who deigns to wash his own plate is applauded, such empathy and quiet sharing of chores cannot be scoffed at. And remember, this movie was made 32 years ago.

But even gods collapse and CK too falters in the end. Things come to a head when Divya, hurt and angry at his outburst, asks CK why he is still ‘keeping her here’. (Another subtle hint at how she is really a prisoner of circumstances even when she isn’t physically restrained?) She has to ask him to book her tickets even though it is revealed later that she has some housekeeping money saved (which she dutifully returns to him).

The biggest tell is when CK calls up the travel agency—he makes it a point to spell out her name: Divya Chandrakumar. The divorce papers have arrived that morning and they are no longer husband and wife, but his is a name she has to carry with hers like a cross all her life.

Destroyed but not defeated.

Throughout the movie, Divya is repeatedly victimized. Even the audience’s sympathy switches to CK halfway through. But she doesn’t allow herself to be a victim. Her innate boldness and strength of character shine through after every crisis. So you cannot help cheering when at the railway station, she tells CK, “If you didn’t love me, I would have understood. But I know you do. It is your ego that prevents you from admitting it. Fine, I will put my ego aside and admit it. I love you. I am in love with you.”

These lines are so many things: an admission of pride, of mistakes made. An assertion of confidence. A bold and open proposal, something unimaginable coming from a woman all those years ago. In this climax scene, Divya is hurt and scared and lonely, but she shows that she has lost none of her spunk. And that really is the saving grace of this movie. That is what makes her a true heroine.


Njaan Koodeyude Koodeyalla. Ningalo?

Njaan Koodeyude Koodeyalla. Ningalo?

Am I the only one left underwhelmed (and if I am being brutally honest, thoroughly bored) by Koode, Anjali Menon’s latest?

Because no review I’d read before walking into the theatre prepared me for the slow, mind-numbingly predictable fare that was Koode.

Koode had me excited long before it was released. It had one of my favourite writers (Anjali Menon, of course), some of my favourite actors (Parvathi and Nazriya), a beautiful setting, and the promise of an interesting plot: the relationship between a brother and sister. Yet three hours later, I came out of the theatre sadder and wiser. It doesn’t matter how good the ingredients are or how foolproof the recipe; the dish can still go horribly wrong.

We watched Koode as a group and I must admit that only two of us were utterly disappointed by it. The others were in the “Hmm, not bad” zone. However, we, who discuss every movie we watch down to the last detail long after getting back home, did not speak a word about Koode. We came out unmoved, unchanged, as if we had never watched it. As if it had been written with a finger on water. Slow, unclear, and dissolving into nothingness.

Koode is a movie about relationships, familial responsibilities, and the journey to self-discovery. As the director, Anjali Menon’s biggest win is how she was able to bring out nuances of each of the characters with great economy of style: a flash of expression on someone’s face, an arrested gesture, a clever camera angle, all of it become effective storytelling tools in her hands. I wish she had been able to exercise the same tautness and control in the writing itself.

Because that, to me, is where Koode really fails. The writing is loose, almost lazy in parts.

A great many of Nazriya’s lines are irritatingly preachy, the kind of thing Anjali Menon had steered clear of so assiduously in her previous ventures, and which made them such fine creations. To make things worse, Nazriya’s delivery and expressions were over-the-top in quite a few places and her character sounded more like an overexcited tween than the twenty-year-old she was portraying.

The movie starts off slow and I mean really slow: a good forty minutes is spent in just introducing the main characters and their relationships. This time frame wouldn’t have mattered if what we were watching had been interesting. But all we get is a string of visuals of the (admittedly stunning) Ooty landscape and close-ups of people and places, while a forgettable score drones on in the background.

At one point, Nazriya’s character says “ഞാനും കൂടെ സംസാരിച്ചില്ലെങ്കിൽ ഇത് പിന്നെ ആര്ട്ട് സിനിമ ആയിപ്പോകും.” There was a collective chuckle in the theatre and I thought to myself, സത്യം!

The story never really picks up pace but meanders on like a tourist walking aimlessly through the streets of a new city. You keep waiting for a twist, a reckoning, a moment of truth, but sadly, nothing happens. By the second half, even my ten-year-old niece could predict each and every turn the story would take. Some clever fellows in the rows behind us even started calling out the dialogues before the characters could spout them. And they got the gist of the lines right every single time!

Koode has neither the charm and humour of Bangalore Days nor the magical realism of Ustaad Hotel.

The dialogues are not memorable, let alone quote-worthy. And it doesn’t have characters you want to care about: they are all two-dimensional, like the card soldiers of Alice In Wonderland.

Overall, Koode is disappointing fare and I hope Anjali Menon’s next venture is better than this.


Unexplored Bangalore #4: National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)

Unexplored Bangalore #4: National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)

I first heard of NGMA Bangalore in 2010, only a year after it had been opened to the public. Around that time, we lived only a ten-minute walk away from where it was located, but never got around to visiting it. Seven years later, we live in another part of the town, over twenty kilometers away, but were seized with the urge to visit this gallery – so that’s what we did yesterday. Drove to Indiranagar, took the metro to Cubbon Park station, and then walked along tree-lined roads and past lovely houses with gardens to Palace Road, where this art gallery is located.

A little history

Manickavelu Mansion, front view. Houses NGMA Bangalore
Manickavelu Mansion, front view

The gorgeous building where the gallery is now housed stands on a 3.5 acre ground with many large, ancient trees, well-tended gardens and a pond. The building was once the residence of the yuvaraja of Mysore, but was sold in the early 1900s to businessman Manickavelu Mudaliar who has his own rags-to-riches story. According to this article, he once wanted to visit the mansion but was denied access until he bribed some of the caretakers. Once inside, he was so struck by the beauty of the place that he vowed to live there one day.

Mudaliar and his family did live in the mansion for a brief period of time but financial issues forced them to give it up. The mansion was then auctioned off and became taken over first by the City Improvement Trust Board (now the BDA) and later by the Ministry of Culture. It was also temporarily used as the UN office for technology initiatives but by the late 80s, the state government proposed that it be converted into a museum.

Restoration work  eventually began in 2003, preserving the heritage building at the centre but with the addition of a cafe, library, and a new wing, and the repair of the auditorium. By 2009, this became open to the public as the third National Gallery of Modern Art in India, the other two being in Delhi and Bombay. You can read more about the history of the building here.

The inside story

We didn’t know what what to expect from the term ‘modern art’, but the introduction to the museum right at the reception helped explain matters. Here, modern art is defined as art and sculpture created by Indians or those living in India at the time from the 18th century to the present (although we didn’t spot any work created after 2000.)

On Saturdays, there is a short guided walk conducted for free by one of the museum curators and we were luckily in time for this. Our guide explained the significance of the various galleries and the unique aspects of some of the styles of art, as well as the techniques used in creating woodcuts and lithographs. We were then free to explore the gallery as we liked.

Most of the paintings are marked with the name of the artist, the year of creation, the title, and the medium, but these details were missing in quite a few exhibits displayed in the new wing as well as in the sculpture gallery. But apart from these omissions, all the galleries are beautifully lit and maintained with many helpful staff stationed to guide you from one exhibit room to the next.

NGMA Bangalore, an inner courtyard
NGMA Bangalore, an inner courtyard

There were collections from the Bengal school, the Madras school, the Baroda school and the Mysore school with works by Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Raja Ravi Varma, and many others. Some of the works remain with me even now, especially M.F.Pithawala’s portraits of Parsi women and girls and Abanindranath Tagore’s rural scenes from Bengal. There is a virtual gallery available here for those who are unable to visit the museum, although nothing beats the original.

In the ground floor of the new building is a gallery dedicated to exhibitions and a collection by Kazuaki Tanahashi – Japanese artist, calligraphist and Zen teacher – was on when we went. His works had simple, yet powerful brush strokes in stunning colour combinations, and heroed negative space with great effect.

One piece that caught my eye in the sculpture gallery was an alloy cast of a flautist – there is no discernible head, but every line and curve of the figure is poised to create music, his fingers splayed over the holes on the flute, his lips puckered to blow. An absolute stunner.

There is also a cafe downstairs adjacent to the auditorium where you get really good comfort food like sandwiches and shakes, pasta, parathas, and biryani at reasonable prices. We tried the pasta, fries, and a cold coffee – all were delicious. The view of the garden with the tall, ancient trees right next to where you sit and eat is an added bonus.

The cage at NGMA Bangalore
The courtyard cafe

The garden in the front is full of trees and plants of all kinds, stretching towards the sky. Many of them are old, having been around since the bungalow was constructed. As you sit down by the steps and look at the greenery around, the quietness of the area suddenly strikes you. This is another world, a verdant, whimsical garden, an oasis in the middle of this teeming city.

A view of the grounds at NGMA Bangalore
A view of the grounds

Other details

Address: 49, Manickavelu Mansion, Palace Road

Entry tickets: Rs.20 for Indians. Rs.500 for foreign nationals.

Recommended duration of visit: 2-3 hours.

Photography is not permitted inside the galleries.

Dear Zindagi, you surprised me.

Dear Zindagi, you surprised me.

Once upon a time, we were foolish too. Like paying good money to go watch Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani. Or buying toothpaste with salt in it. Or thinking ‘Hey, this Arvind Kejriwal fellow seems to be making sense!’

Older and wiser today, we’ve tried to make prudent life choices, one of them being never to watch more than one Bollywood movie in a year, and then too, only something that is as unBollywood-like as possible. So one year it was Kahani. Another year it was Special 26; then Lunchbox and Piku. We even gave 2 States and English Vinglish the benefit of doubt. The years passed by in this languorous way; Sallu bhai kept making movies in between, but those didn’t touch our lives, except for the occasional grimace we gave as we caught a glimpse of them while channel surfing.

“This is good,” we congratulated each other, “We are watching quality movies, not trash.” We’d already earmarked Kahani 2 for this year and there was no reason to believe our plans would change.

But we had reckoned without the crafty marketing team at Bookmyshow. They appealed to the basest, most primal instinct of us Indians – the love for a good deal. They wooed us with cashbacks and card offers, and convinced us that we could watch one more movie practically for free. The catch? It would have to be before December 1st.

How to use this excellent opportunity? (I mean, we were practically making money on it) We scrolled feverishly through the listings – but we’d already watched everything we wanted to watch.

And that’s how we found ourselves in a cold, dark theatre last night, watching Dear Zindagi.

I’ve clearly woken up this morning with a hangover. Let me try and get it out of my system by randomly putting down everything I feel about the movie. Screw structure and subheadings.

I’ve never been a fan of SRK (like ever, god promise). And I would have thought by this time all the botox would have frozen his facial muscles so that whatever little emoting he used to do would also have become a thing of the past. I went in fully expecting SRK to overact and ham up the show – but he didn’t. In fact, he acted his age, looked perfectly comfortable in the skin of Jug and even managed to not take himself too seriously. It was unsettling, to say the least. Now I can’t hate him with the same heartfelt intensity of old. Gah.

To give ourselves the courage to book tickets to Dear Zindagi, we had to tell each other repeatedly that Alia Bhat is a good actress and Gauri Shinde is a good director. After watching the movie, we’ve changed our stance. Alia Bhat is certainly an excellent actress but Gauri Shinde has a long, long way to go.

Every person is born with the capacity to digest a certain quantum of pontification/gyaan. This has to be used judiciously so that it lasts you through your life. So if you’ve already watched a lot of Aamir Khan movies, from TZP to PK, I’d say you should skip this one. Dr.Jehangir Khan does have one or two cool stories and even gives Kaira sensible advice, but by the last thirty minutes of the movie, you’re impatiently looking at your watch and wishing you had a remote so that you could skip ahead.

Old Bollywood habits die hard and no director, however nobly motivated, is really free of these shackles. So they have to drum things into you and shout in your ear, “Get it? Get it? This is what I mean!” That’s why the movie ends with a new, free Kaira who has

  1. made her short film, the ‘longest project of the century’
  2. garnered the admiration and goodwill of all her ex-boyfriends and the family who used to judge and scorn her
  3. met a new potential soulmate
  4. made peace with her parents
  5. accepted herself for who she is
  6. started creating new memories for herself by playing kabaddi with the samunder.

Every single fucking thread is closed so that nobody in the audience has anything to think about or imagine as they drive back home.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that DZ is not a movie that would make you want to stab yourself (Or the makers. Or bookmyshow) in the throat. But it could have been less self-indulgent, shorter by at least 30 minutes, and definitely, definitely gotten Kunal Kapoor to take off his shirt.

7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

7 Unforgettable Female Characters from Malayalam Cinema (1980 – present)

This is a list I have been struggling to put together for months now, constantly adding and removing names, wondering whether the actress did justice to the role, whether the role gave the actress enough scope, and whether anyone looking at this list would call it a curation of cliched choices.

That is exactly what I do not want this list to be, wich is why I have tried really hard to omit the obvious names. Hence, Ganga from Manichitrathazhu, Maya Vinodini from Ente Suryaputhrikku, Ammukutty from Aalkoottathil thaniye, and Kuttyedathi are missing even though they certainly deserve to belong. (Here‘s another list I found that has some of the most popular names).

Kanchana [Thalayanamanthram]

Writer: Sreenivasan

Played by the indomitable Urvashi, this is one of my all-time favourite characters. A little manipulative, a little naive, greedy for life’s little luxuries, yet unthinking of the price she would have to pay for it all… Haven’t we all encountered a Kanchana, or at least a version of her, somewhere in life?

To me, the song Mayaponmane perfectly brings out her delightful, thoughtfully sketched character.


Pooja [Om Shanti Oshana]

Writers: Midhun Manuel Thomas & Jude Anthany Joseph

The bubbly, yet vulnerable Pooja is a character that must surely have been written with Nazriya in mind, and indeed, she pulls off this role with ease and elan.

What I love most about Pooja is the fact that she has spunk. She decides what she wants and goes all out to get it. She has opinions and no qualms about voicing them. She is unpretentious and funny. Moreover, she is not slotted into a category or oversexed into a tomboy or worse, a girly girl.

Her exchanges with her dad, played by Renji Panicker who seems to have discovered the actor in him fairly late in life, are hilarious. This song tells you quite a lot about her.


Gayatri [Artist]

Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a character written by Paritosh Uttam in his novel Dreams in Prussian Blue

This name came to me fairly late during the making of this list and I was surprised myself that it did. But here it is, and after much deliberation, I believe Gayatri deserves to be here.

This movie makes you wonder: what would you do for love? Not the heroics and histrionics that accompany the battle to win social acceptance for a relationship, but the rags of love that you need to pull together to face each day after you embark on such a relationship.

Gayatri is a a girl who walks out of her ordinary life allured by the vivid, colourful possibilities of a life with her artist lover Micheal. But she has no idea what is about to hit her and eventually succumbs to the relentless demands of everyday existence. Ironically, the very thing that she tried to escape from. .


Kalpana [Arike]

Writer: Shyamaprasad, based on a short story by Sunil Gangopadhyay

Kalpana’s is an elusive character – you can never put a finger on what she is really thinking. While she is in a relationship with Shantanu, when she fights her family for his acceptance, when she is in the car with Sanjay and they spiral towards that accident, when she inexplicably changes her mind about Shantanu afterwards…all that time and you keep wondering who Kalpana really is and whether she is capable of truly loving anyone.

The movie reminds me of the mythological story of Ganga and Shantanu. Ganga torments Shantanu with her beauty and her promises and her utter refusal to answer any questions about herself or her actions. She is a celestial, a woman of mystery, who leaves him bewitched and bewildered until the very end.

Samvrutha Sunil is a truly beautiful and talented woman who got very few good roles: I am glad that she got this one before she took a break.


Sethulakshmi [5 Sundarikal]

Writers: Shyam, Pushkar and Muneer Ali, based on a story by M. Mukundan

This short film is the most haunting one I’ve ever seen, so much so that I feel quite unable to watch it again, afraid of the emotions that it will let loose. All credit goes to little Anikha who brought Sethulakshmi alive on screen. For a child of her age to even grasp the turmoil that the character is going through is a big deal. But Anikha takes the performance to another level with her micro-expressions, like the quivering of a lip or the hunted look in her eyes.

This uber-talented artist transformed what could have been a mundane, crudely tragic story into something stunning that leaves you  speechless, throat choked up, hand springing to your mouth. I am sure we can look forward to many great things from Baby Anikha.


Meera in Mannar Mathayi Speaking

Writers: Siddhique-Lal

I am pretty sure this is one name nobody would have expected to find here. Not surprising, given that the Meera I am talking about is a role played by Geetha Vijayan and lasts barely a few minutes. (In case you’re confused, Vani Viswanath’s character was called Diana and she is merely pretending to be Meera). After her debut in In Harihar Nagar, Geetha Vijayan has sadly been relegated to vampish roles. This is one of the few that she has performed brilliantly and which went unnoticed.

‘Timid rabbit’ is a phrase that is bandied about by romance novelists, but in this one scene, she brings to life a woman paralyzed with fear and with the drugs she has been injected with, staring a horrendous death in the face, yet unable to take one step to save her life. The piteous expression on her face as she takes doddering steps towards the door while Diana screams at her to move, move, to escape, will never fade from my mind.

Watch from 1:40:57 to 1:42:20 here.


Ammini [Aranyakam]

Writer: MT Vasudevan Nair


I had to Google to find out who the creator of Ammini was and am certainly not surprised that it is MT. Ammini is a dream child, the girl the teenage version of myself most resembled, the ‘vattu pennu’ that my father was afraid I would become. She wanders through the forest, wide-eyed, a thousand stories and fantasies flitting about in her mind, choosing her own company over others’ and eventually succumbing to the allure of an adventure, a mystery. She is a romantic, admiring without understanding, rebellious, yet in the end, defeated, left bereft.



Unexplored Bangalore #3: aPaulogy Gallery, Richards Town

Unexplored Bangalore #3: aPaulogy Gallery, Richards Town

I first came across Paul Fernandes’ work when I picked up Peter Colaco’s book ‘Bangalore’ and discovered that the delightful illustrations in it were by Fernandes. A little research showed me that he is to Bangalore what Mario Miranda is to Goa. As someone who’s been in love with Bangalore since the age of 15 and who wishes every few days that she could have grown up here in cooler, greener, slower times, I was instantly captivated. So, I made my way over to his gallery to see more of his work and learn a little more about the hip Bangalore of the 60s.

Richards Town is still one of those parts of Bangalore that retains its colonial charm – there are parks and trees, wide roads and pretty houses. His gallery is aptly and punnily titled aPaulogy and is housed in one of the said pretty houses. (I vaguely remember reading that it’s his own).

aPaulogy gallery in Richards Town, Bangalore

I felt like a kid at a carnival once I stepped in – it was full of fun and quirky Bangalore memorabilia – sketches, paintings, posters and tons of merchandised based on Fernandes’ illustrations. Most of them depict Bangalore of the 60s and 70s and the theme is nostalgia. The props used include some vintage furniture and decor and one small portion of the gallery is dedicated to Mumbai, another city that Fernandes has lived in and connects with.

SR and I definitely wanted to buy a keepsake, and after a long debate, chose his lovely coffee table book: Bangalore: Swinging in the 70s. Someday, when my dogs decide to finally quieten down and behave, I will use it as a coffee table book. Until then, here it stays in my cupboard, to be browsed lovingly and with nostalgic pangs ever so often.


My bookshelf at home

Recommended for: Bangalore enthusiasts

Visit duration: 1 hour

Location & other deets:

An Open Letter To Nivin Pauly

An Open Letter To Nivin Pauly

Dear Nivin,

Let me begin by saying (as I have many times before on my blog, to friends and family, and to my husband, much to his annoyance) that I am a huge fan of yours. I think you are a versatile, immensely talented actor, and insanely handsome to boot. My admiration for you has only grown from 1983 to Bangalore Days to Premam.

I write this letter in the middle of the night, less than an hour after I got back from watching Action Hero Biju. In bringing SI Biju Paulose to life, I think you have done a terrific job, no surprises there. But despite some very fine acting, the interesting insights into police procedure, the many smiles and sniggers, and the glimpses into the lives of folks from different walks of life, I walked out of the movie theater feeling an overwhelming sense of dread.

Dread that what I saw today would be the beginning of the end. That we will get perhaps 2 or 3 more good movies from you, and then you will go the route that some of our other superstars have gone. My fear is compounded by the fact that AHB is your maiden production. Picture this: the first movie that you, who made your name in the industry through honest, down-to-earth portrayals of ordinary characters, ever produced has you as the titular hero, many action sequences, longish monologues on value-based living, a bimbo for a heroine, and a totally unnecessary romantic song forced into the script!

I agree, the name of the movie should have warned me, but despite starting out with a realistic portrayal and the claim at the end that Biju Paulose is no superhuman, that is exactly what he ended up as. Especially in that last action sequence: performing impossible stunts, sending the bad guys flying, delivering dramatic monologues on the greatness of the men in khakhi (no offence intended to our police force)… I mean, what was all that about?

One of the many welcome changes in contemporary Malayalam movies is the increased importance given to female characters. From Divya and Sarah in Bangalore Days, Pooja in OSO, Susheela in 1983 to Malar in Premam, female characters these days have character. Which is why the wide-eyed heroine in AHB who has nothing more to do than look coy and clingy is deeply disturbing. If the character of Benitta Dominic wasn’t important to the movie, why have her at all? Why not restrict her to a voice on the phone, for instance?

The reason I am nitpicking is that this is how it all started back in the 2000s. When Mohanlal did Aaram Thampuran and Narasimham, we liked them because while they were dramatic, they fell into the bucket of ‘wholesome’ entertainers. But when these were followed by a list of formula movies the next half-decade-Praja, Ustad, Thandavam, Chaturangam, Natturajavu, Alibhai-what Malayalam moviegoers everywhere lost was more than just time and money.

The thing is, Nivin, we have great expectations from you. You are the next superstar. Even without any of the associated trappings. Perhaps, because you’ve steered clear of these so far.

So, here’s hoping fervently that AHB is not going to be the first in a series of formula movies aimed at piggybacking on its success.

Yours most sincerely

A well wisher.