It’s been over a week since I saw Lijo Jose Pellissery’s “Angamaly Diaries” and the film is still top of mind. Although there are many reasons for this earnest flick to linger in my thoughts – the giggle inducing jokes, the fantastic camerawork, the wonderfully natural performances, Anthony Varghese’s dreamy looks and mesmerizing eyes, etc. – the film has actually stuck with me mostly for a different reason…
Most reviews on “Angamaly Diaires” have discussed the rugged action sequences and the witty story on the tempers, friendships and simple/complicated livelihoods of typical men in a typical Kerala town. However, one of my favorite features of the film were its understated, yet wholly realistic, love stories. And it got me thinking: Malayalam cinema does romance so much better, right?
There’s just something about most Malayalam films that seem to grasp a concept I totally appreciate – and that is ‘love that is not at first sight’. Instead, some of the biggest Malayalam movies of the past few years have focused on relationships that take a fitting amount of time to develop to true love, such that we realists can actually believe these fictional characters truly have a shot at ‘happily ever after’ once the credits roll.
In its own quaint manner “Angamaly Diaries” actually gave us a look at 3 different types of mature romances via the charming Vincent Pepe. We saw a quaint childhood crush develop to a cheeky college romance, a pair of grownups date in a more modern-day setup and part for pragmatic reasons, and finally a lifelong friendship blossom into a loving, intimate relationship. At least to the audience’s knowledge not one of Pepe’s romantic pursuits were borne of inappropriate stalking and/or an overdramatic proclamation of love as soon as he first laid eyes on a woman, basing his ‘love’ solely on her physical beauty and his overactive hormones.
And this got me thinking about other recent Malayalam movies that have done very well, in my opinion, to paint reasonable, genuine love stories - not those based on immediate infatuation. Much like “Angamaly Diaries”, Rajeev Ravi’s gangster epic “Kammatipaadam” also contained a moving lifelong romance first sparked between childhood friends. Albeit it didn’t end the way most of us viewers hoped (it was personally very difficult to watch Dulquer Salman’s fetching Krishnan not end up with his love), but the careful unfurling of this sweet romance in a script filled with so much other complicated relationship and political drama must be applauded.
I especially appreciate how Malayalam cinema seems to do more in the realm of exploring couples on the rocks, and how regular people might work through their relationship difficulties. For instance, one of my favorite movies of 2016 – “Kali” – told a fairly simple tale of how a newlywed husband struggled to work on his own flaws for the sake of his wife’s happiness, and how she tried her best to give him her patience and faith throughout. Similarly, “James and Alice” starring Prithviraj and Vedhika, explored a couple filing for divorce, and how they individually debated whether or not they could get past their differences and rekindle their marriage. Heck, even Ranjan & Priya in “Ezra” worked through some pretty messed up stuff in their marriage! It seems hard-pressed to find such complex explorations of romance in most of the other Indian releases we see each week.
But it doesn’t even have to be that intricate. Some of the most successful Malayalam movies of the past few years have not necessarily had such complex romantic issues at hand – but they did however show something we don’t often see in the mass entertainers dominating our box offices: a proper courtship. Take Aju and Sarah in “Bangalore Days”, or even George and Malar or Celine in “Premam”. It wasn’t necessarily love at first sight; it took time to grow, to flourish, to bloom. And in the end, regardless of how their romances turned out, we as an audience were treated to some credible, convincing and romances – that may not have been as filmy as ‘love at first sight’, but were still no less dreamy than Anthony Varghese’s eyes.
Written by - Dilani Rabindran