It all started when S declared that she had suddenly discovered the impossibly yummy thing that is Nivin Pauly. Odd, I thought, because even I know who that is. I had looked him up after N had told me about Bangalore Days when she visited earlier. A long discussion of some 200+ comments ensued, with all her friends pitching in with their exclamations about all the things Nivin makes them feel, the many movies he plays different roles in, and what sequence on ought to watch them in. I believe someone even said, start with an appetiser, then move on to the main course and dessert. This went on all day, and returned to the thread to see what the latest contribution was, just so I could draw up a list of movies to watch. Maybe watching Sairat triggered some interest in regional films, I don’t know. At one point someone tagged someone who knows Nivin, even. Because, one degree of separation. Then someone demanded that Nivin himself be tagged on the thread because he really needed to see this wave of mass-appreciation. It was all very entertaining, because most of it was in capital letters, which somehow really amplified my urgency to dive in to the world of Nivin Pauly. Through his movies of course. Along the way, a whole lot of other movie names were dropped too, and I was also introduced to other specimen. And so the list grew. I decided to try and watch a few of these movies, with curiosity-piquing names like Ustaad Hotel and Action Hero Biju. Realising very quickly that a recently copied chunk of movies had Bangalore Days and OK Kanmani, I began the binge.
Bangalore Days was immensely enjoyable. I don’t have any context of Malayalam cinema, but this seemed like (to put it very badly, for the lack of a better way to describe it) it could be a Hindi movie in a different language. It had the slickness of one of a multiplex blockbuster. A light-hearted and frothy storyline, with all the right elements to appeal to a decidedly young audience – young actors, that familiar restlessness, a little unreasonable rage all mixed together with the multiple love stories, and of course, a happy ending. What’s not to like? The ensemble cast of mostly very good looking young boys and girls made it even easier on the eyes.
That it was made largely in Bangalore, with enough references to many things about the city (Cafe Thulp, tuning into the morning show on FM, eating in darshinis, young people tinkering with automobiles convinced that they’re changing the world, if you must know) made me very nostalgic. But it’s also filmed in that pleasant, warmly-lit, vignette-y fashion which was quite a visual delight. The central theme was love and marriage, predictably, but each of the three central characters present a different approach to it, which was pretty neat.
Nivin Pauly, as well endowed as he is in the good looks department, wasn’t my favourite. He plays a very sweet character – an almost geeky boy settling into a big city – but I proved to myself yet again that it’s the angry, restless, bad boys I always gravitate towards. Like Dulquer Salmaan who plays a bike racer and modifier, aspiring to get back on the track after facing a ban. But Fahadh Faasil was probably the hottest of the lot, especially in his biker-boy avatar, if I were to judge them by their looks alone. The women were good looking too. I have always thought Nitya Menen is girl-crush-worthy. But the other two – Nazriya Nazim and Parvathy – were spunky, and held their own. And the best part – they can all act. Well.
Curiosity sufficiently aroused, I quickly picked Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani next (available on Netflix, for those of you who haven’t seen it and may want to), because it has Dulquer Salmaan and Nitya Menen in the lead. Immediately, the movie is so gorgeously shot, with that classic Mani Ratnam treatment, with almost every scene beautifully framed, with delicious colours, classy, earthy sets and an immensely good looking lead couple engaging in the song and dance of falling in love. In Bombay, of course.
It takes off on a very progressive tangent, with the couple choosing living-in with each other, over marriage. It has all the signs of being a movie that will make a statement about marriage not being the only end of the road for a couple in love, but tragically makes a detour about half way through, take a rather preachy and predictable route. The main love plot (Dulquer-Nitya) is juxtaposed not-so-subtly with the older couple (Prakash Raj-Leela Samson), to enumerate the many virtues of marriage, – supposedly stability, confirmed companionship, someone to care for you when you’re old and ill. Sweet as the picturisation is, I just found it a little preachy and overbearing.
I suppose every big movie doesn’t have to make a statement and come out like it is challenging a norm, but it is not too much to expect it from Mani Ratnam, right? Especially when the first half of the movie sets a refreshingly less predictable tone. Nitya’s character is bold, unafraid to express her sexuality and she plays an active role in calling the shots in the relationship. She takes Dulquer into her hostel, is as vocal about wanting sex as she is about denouncing marriage as an institution, makes it abundantly clear that her career gets first preference when compared to her future in Bombay or her interest in her partner. She stands up to Dulquer’s interfering family, as much as she does to her own mother. Not typical qualities you see in the way mainstream female leads are characterised. And somehow all that is for naught, when the story makes a turn for the staid path of orrey the lou-u, quite inexplicably. That progression is depicted through a series of very random and childish-seeming disagreements between the two, which put me off for a bit. But you know, despite it all they’re both really great actors, shared electric chemistry and AR Rahman’s wizardry added an extra dose of magic and I breezed through the movie and enjoyed it. I was just a touch disappointed with the very expected end, in which the couple neatly (and quite literally) ties all the loose ends together. In a knot. Of marriage.
The obvious next step was to search for all the other films, many of which I realised are fairly recent and thanks to my terrible Internet searching skillz, very hard to find. So, I had to opt for something older. And so I watched Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya, at long last. I enjoyed about 20 minutes of it before the immense stalkerish feels began to get to me and I wondered how films like this become superhits to begin with. How many girls like me can actually identify with this kind of coerced love, I wondered. Silly me. I quickly reminded myself that one thing VC always tells me – I’m not the target audience. Which is somehow even scarier, because it means there is a large audience that unquestioningly watch and patronise films like this.
Again, the stellar music took me through the movie, and the ending was refreshing in that it wasn’t a predictable happy ending. But OH MY GOD, in getting there, I experienced frequent moments of rolling my eyes to a parallel universe and back. The girl has NO say in the matter for a good 3/4th of the movie, when the dude is just on her case the whole time. From the moment he sets eyes on her he decides it’s love and that he must marry her. The rest of the movie is spent in him going to all kinds of ridiculous lengths to show her how much he loves her and that they need to be together because it’s what he thinks is the purpose of his life, and anything less is not fair goddamit (there are actual dialogues along these lines). The whole time she is meek and coy and doing a very bad job of telling him to back the eff off. Twice, her family threatens to get her married off, again without her consent in the matter, when they find her talking to this Hindu boy (she’s Christian). Then, all of a sudden, about 75% of the film thru, she decides she wants to be with him and will wait for him. Except then she gets whiny and drags him our of an important work assignment, only to tell him she’s calling the whole thing off. Ouff, if it weren’t for ARR’s music, I probably wouldn’t have sat through it. But it’s good I did because, silver lining, the dude is forced to move on and channel all the hurt and angst into a creative pursuit. He makes a movie. A love story. Where a boy sees a girl and decides he wants to marry her. But she won’t have it. And so he has to chase her around the world trying to convince her why she should be with him. And..well, you get the drift. The good part is, in the end, they amicably decide to go their separate ways, which came as a surprise because I totally expected them to end up together.
“Guy looks at girl and bam, she’s his pondatti,” N tells me, is a pretty common extension of this unrealistic and frankly just twisted approach to lau-u, from the movies to real life. I’ve seen it in some measure too, with an ex-colleague who had no concept of consent and became so unhinged and removed from reality chasing his one love (a girl from a significantly more well to do family, and a higher caste, I think), that it ended in the girl being forced to marry someone (probably with no say in the matter) all so her parents could make sure she wouldn’t end up with my ex colleague. Unfortunate, on every count, but mostly just so twisted.
Okay happy things. Like music.
Maybe my distaste comes from watching a movie long after it’s time. Like when I watched DDLJ some 15 years too late, and it made my skin crawl so bad, that I didn’t even get through it. But I do enjoy a lot of the recent crop of Hindi movies. So I’m moving on from the regressive older lot of regional films, to more recent ones. Or so I’m telling myself. Mostly, I’m just finding ways to get through the list that came very highly recommended on S’d fb list. Since they all feature Nivin Pauly and Dulquer Salmaan, I am told.
So, I’m going to go on a binge very soon. But can someone tell me how Dulquer is pronounced? I feel like I should know, considering I’ve spent a questionable amount of time the last three days ogling him.