Varane Avashyamund is an unusual Malayalam romance currently on Netflix, and explores what love is like for seniors, along with other kinds of love.
Within the first few minutes of Varane Avashyamund (Groom Wanted), I was cringing. The female lead, Nikita (played by Kalyani Priyadarshan), is helping her friend elope. When she is asked if she too plans to elope, she replies, “No, I’m decent. Only an arranged marriage for me.”
“What am I watching?” I wondered, bracing myself for yet another romcom filled with sexist clichés. By the end of the movie however, I was left cheering and feeling grateful for all the people who love me.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, proceed with caution, because there are spoilers below.
When one thinks of on screen love stories, the focus is usually on the young. In Varane Avashyamund, the young Nikita doesn’t want love, as much as she wants stability and reliability –a response to how she has seen her mother being mistreated and judged by others. It is her mother, Neena (the fabulous Shobhana!) who is the romantic, and it is she who is the beating heart of this story. Few movies have explored a senior woman’s heart with so much joy and without any judgement.
Neena has had multiple relationships, has survived an abusive marriage and raised her daughter single handedly. She takes pride in her appearance and in her achievements. She isn’t actively looking for love, but when it comes calling, she doesn’t shy away or wonder if a woman her age should be engaging in “all this.” Even when it causes her to come into conflict with her own daughter, she doesn’t sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of reconciliation.
Her love interest, Major Unnikrishnan, played by Suresh Gopi, is the epitome of a man so caught up with his masculinity that he doesn’t even know how to converse with a woman, let alone be a part of society. He is a loner with anger management issues.
In a wise and unusual move, the makers of the movie recognize that women are not responsible for “changing” a man and making him better, and instead of placing the burden of reforming him on Neena, he is shown as going to a counselor. It did irk me a little that the counselor is shown as a comical character, who along with his counselling practice also runs a weight loss centre, but in the end the therapy he offers is not a joke, and is shown to actually help the Major become a productive member of society.
In fact, at many points, the movie forces one to look beyond appearances. The sibling rivalry between Bibeesh (Dulquer Salman) and his younger brother (Sarvajith Santosh Sivan) reveals a tragic story behind it. KPAC Lalitha’s character, and her camaraderie with the brothers too has an unexpected backstory.
The movie, set in an apartment complex with many residents, could have easily slipped into stereotyping them, but here too, there are surprises. Take the Hindu Brahmin homeowner, who in front of his wife asks Bibeesh not to cook beef in the house, but the moment her back is turned, tells Bibeesh to share some beef curry with him.
It all does feel a bit fairy-tale and unrealistic, but perhaps it is the escapism we need given how fractured society in real-life is these days.
None of this however is done with a “look how progressive I am” vibe. Instead the progressiveness comes through in subtle moments. Given how much pain and angst there is in the backstories of the characters, one could expect some heavy handed melodrama, but the movie glides over them gently. It is empathetic and sensitive, but also holds out positivity and hope.
The movie also explores the relationships between women in beautiful ways. Where the mother-daughter conflict, between Nikita and Neena, is realistically and sensitively portrayed, the relationship between Urvashi’s character and Nikita is poignant.
A particular scene featuring this latter duo will stay with me forever. Urvashi plays the mom of the guy that Nikita plans to marry. However, when Nikita tells him that her mom is in love and wants to marry again, he decides that he no longer wants a relationship with her, and instead sends his own mother to “break up” on his behalf. In a truly moving performance, Urvashi tells Kalyani that while she will miss her, she shouldn’t marry her son, because she will be unhappy if she does.
In a culture where the “raja beta” syndrome is a reality, and the mother-son relationship is so glorified, this scene where a mother is honest about her son’s shortcomings and cares enough for a woman not related to her, to warn her against her own son, is remarkable. Urvashi has always been a versatile and talented actress, but her performance in this scene carries all the anguish and pain of a mother who stands to lose a daughter.
The movie isn’t without its problematic elements. A couple of scenes that feature violence/threat of violence against a child, for example, are used as comic relief, and these could easily have been left out. In one blink and you miss it scene, the movie does give out a great message that a girl doesn’t need to lose weight to “get a guy,” however, by having the girl say that she is losing weight to wear a particular dress, it furthers the regressive thinking that “fat people shouldn’t wear certain clothes.”
A female journalist, Chetna Kapoor, accused Dulquer Salman and his production house of using her pictures without her consent and body shaming her in the movie. Dulquer and the director have since apologized, and Chetna has accepted their “sincere apology,” but the incident shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Varane Avashyamund, is thus, not a perfect movie. In an universe of imperfect and outright sexist comedies though, it does stand out, with its big heart and utopian sense of community.
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