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Malayalam movie Ishq is a thriller that surprises us with its perceptive look into how a regressive mindset can make people helpless about their choices.
One hour into the movie we are still wondering why the caption of the movie is “Not a love story”.
The young couple – Sachi, who works in a private firm as graphic artist and Vasu, first year PG student, are obviously smitten with each other. They whisper sweet nothings late into the nights and wake up in the mornings messaging each other.
The day happens to be the girl’s birthday and they seem visibility excited about their plan of spending the entire day with each other. We also see Sachi’s mom playfully pulling the leg of her love-struck son when he tries to tell her about his love, while Vasu is listening to the whole mom and son banter on the phone, giggling at the sense of humor of her would be mother in law.
And I am thinking, where is the conflict going to come from in this story? Everything seems to be going perfectly for the young couple.
Then conflict does hit them, in the Masaan style. The couple who are about to kiss for the first time in the back seat of their car at the parking lot of a hospital are caught by two men, who call themselves police.
For the next four hours, the couple go through the ordeal of having to deal with the moral policing by these men. The men force themselves into their car and make Sachi drive them around the town. The more belligerent and stronger of the two men, Alwyn, sits in the back seat next to a visibly shaken Vasu, while the other man is seated next to Sachi.
Though there is not much physical violence in the scene, the emotional violence the two men inflict on the couple is so disturbing that I could barely sit through those scenes without experiencing a bit of their trauma. It made my skin crawl when the drunk Alwyn with his creepy smile keeps attempting to converse with Vasu, who is scared out of her wits. Sachi is torn between his lack of physical strength to fight the men and his concern for Vasu’s safety. It’s heart wrenching to see his helplessness.
We can’t help wondering how things like this can happen in a civilized society? How can two adults be held to ransom for something as natural as wanting to kiss in a moment of solitude?
But that’s not the crux of the movie. The movie surprises the audience with the shades and nuances it unravels in Sachi post the incident, and we see the lines between him and Alwyn blurring. It is at this point that we begin to realize why the caption of the movie is “not a love story”.
When Sachi drops Vasu off at her hostel after the rogues let them go, his largest concern seems to be if Alwyn did something to her in the car, when he sent Sachi away for few minutes to interrogate her in private. In his mind, he is a bigger victim than her if at all she was molested.
Vasu is devastated at his lack of sensitivity when he tells her that as a man he has a ‘right to know’. When she counter questions about what happened to his manhood the previous night, he leaves the scene in a fury.
The source of Sachi’s anger is more to do with his punctured male ego than any concern for Vasu, that comes second. He thinks that because he failed in his ‘duty as man’, he is being denied his ‘right as a man’, i.e to know if anyone touched his property.
What Sachi does post that is not very different from what Alwyn does the other night.
There is no heroism in his revenge as he is still shit scared of Alwyn’s physical strength, though he discovers that he is not a police inspector but a mere ambulance driver. He traces down Alwyn’s house and decides to traumatize his family, comprising his wife and a ten year old daughter. He has no qualms about wanting to molest his wife to teach Alwyn a lesson.
The gross double standards of Sachi in being angered at his girlfriend at the suspicion of her being a hapless victim of molestation, and yet not having reservations about being a perpetrator of a similar crime on another woman tells us how screwed up patriarchal values are.
Similarly, shocking is the normalcy we see in Alwyn’s house, its difficult to imagine a person coming from a seemingly loving household being capable of the atrocious behavior he indulges the other night.
We see the villain in Alwyn before we are introduced to normalcy of his life and we see Sachi’s normalcy before we see the villain in him. But both of them are two sides of the same coin, products of similar patriarchal upbringing, which makes it easy for men to justify the crimes against women in their heads. If moral policing was Alwyn’s justification, revenge was Sachi’s.
There could be people who have a problem with this movie, especially the ‘NotAllMen’ crusaders. They might think the movie perpetuates the feminist stereotyping of men. But that’s the case, calling out evils of patriarchy doesn’t mean branding all men as evil, it’s about wanting to correct the system to pave way for a more progressive tomorrow. The fact that the movie is directed by man is an illustration of this point.
The movie, though has no heroes, it definitely has a heroine in Vasu who gives a fitting reply to Sachi who proposes to her after coming to know that she was not molested that night. The last scene is nothing short of brilliance where Sachi seeks her ring finger and Vasu shows him her middle finger.
If toxic masculinity of Sachi comes as a rude shock, feminism of the so far meek Vasu comes as a pleasant surprise.
The movie is available on Amazon Prime.
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Gnanapriya is a Bangalore based Banker, a passionate feminist with a keen interest in philosophy,
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