Monday, January 07, 2013


You step into a Shyamaprasad movie, thinking here’s another angst-ridden story that you are going to experience. There are signs that your fears may be true – there is a lonely woman with a tragic past who has no expectations in life and is confronted by various men in her life, you are prepared for the worst but you are pleasantly mistaken. An almost breezy, under-played romance lights up your screen and while its culmination is a deviation from its initial path, the subject is not so heavy to make you squirm or twitch – it simply makes you reflect on what love could mean.

Arike, based on a Bengali short story by Sunil Gangopadhyay is a Basu Chatterjee-meets-Woody Allen romance that moves slowly peeling the layers of love that exist till it abruptly reveals that love isn't as simple an emotion as it looks like. A couple is in love and a melancholic friend facilitates their romance by playing the dove but when it collapses suddenly, you are struck by the same question that Shantanu (Dileep) asks Anuradha (Mamta Mohandas) – did Kalpana (Samvrutha Sunil) ever love him or was it just a passing fantasy? Honestly, the answer is not quite evident and it is upto the viewers to figure out where the fissures developed in their relationship.

Kalpana is a rich, brahmin girl who falls in love with a more modest Shantanu, a researcher in linguistics. Her parents do not approve of the non-brahmin man in her life while Anuradha, her best friend, helps in playing Cupid so that the two can spend time together. But eventually, there is a small twist in the tale and the pyramid is turned upside down (a bit too drastically to my taste). The two women are the central protagonists in the movie while the man plays a more ancillary part in the proceedings.

Anuradha has had a sour relationship in the past when her own cousin cheats her. It is a wound that has never healed; she yearns for love but no longer believes that it exists. She wants to be loved but is unable to commit herself to the thought. She resents the presence of the men in her life – whether it is a silent neighbour whose wife is ailing, a teenager who makes passes at her or the various men who keep looking at her as single and available and willing to be taken. She is resigned to her fate and there are moments of loneliness that are slowly eating her. For her, Kalpana/Shantanu manifest true love (ee lokathil avasaanathe kamuki-kamukanmaaru) and she thinks that she must help them be together.

Kalpana comes across as the practical, loud playful lady who knows what she wants and is determined to ensure that she gets it. So, it does come as a surprise when she walks out of a relationship at its peak – but then we know so less about love that maybe it should never surprise us. She has had her share of romances that have died away with time and does not carry any baggage of the past, unlike Anuradha. She’s strong-willed and is not about to accede to her parents’ wishes that easily, despite their apparent emotional blackmail but after all that bravado, she just as simply turns around and embraces a new life.

We don’t really know Shantanu, except that he is in love with Kalpana but he’s not entirely sure whether she really loves him. Maybe it is their economic disparities or his feeling of being overwhelmed by the first love that comes across in his life – there is an uncertainty and an almost sense of disbelief that he has and maybe, just maybe that explains his somewhat-rational response to his loss at the end.

There is a difference in the way we see Kalpana and Anuradha – well-lit open spaces in contrast to darker and more congested interiors of her house. There are very few-closeups and most of it is taken in long shot with soft visuals and a retro background music that plays when the couple meet. The close-ups exist only of Anuradha and we see what she wants to see – the romance between the couple, the leering men and dark world outside her life.

But did love really exist between the two? Did they invest in each other emotionally enough to take it to the next stage? We can only guess that neither believed that the final step would eventually happen and so the occasional delays in their marriage registration date. The greater the love, the greater the tragedy when it's over but when it eventually peters out and the outpouring of emotions is so subdued, you realize maybe that the tragedy is not so depressing after all, maybe the absence of love was not so apparent after all. Was there an element of sacrifice involved, in the sense, does Kalpana think that post-the accident, she is no longer the same woman that Shantanu loved? Does she think that he no longer needs her or even vice-versa?

Shantanu and Anuradha spend much more time together than he spends with Kalpana. Even Kalpana’s letters to Shantanu are written by Anuradha – the letters that make him feel closer to Kalpana than he is. When he falls sick and meets them after a few days, Anuradha notices it but Kalpana is blissfully unaware about it. Shantanu repeatedly wonders if he’s the right one for her and there is an indication that he may just be drawn to Anuradha but this is treated by the director with a degree of ambiguity.

Dialogues are not the high point in the movie but a brief conversation between Guruji (Madampu Kunjukuttan) and Kalpana's parents sparkles as he makes them understand the futility of their attempts to get her married off to someone of their choice. He wonders whether a celibate Guruji like him is an appropriate person to advise their daughter on her marriage choices! His arrival in the scene marks a change in tempo in the film and it picks up a few rough edges in the form of a building quarrel, an arrest and a game-changer accident – all signs of bad omen, keeping in mind the tone of the movie.

When Shantanu eventually interprets his feelings, we are not sure what it means for Anuradha. Has her quest for love been achieved or does it reiterate her position that true love does not exist in this world. After all, can love simply be transferred from one person to another, just so easily, the way Shantanu expresses himself? Can a man who is so much in love with her friend suddenly fall in love with her? She realizes that she had created a mirage of true love which eventually comes tumbling down but it ironically leaves with her with somebody who probably loves her.

After all the display of  affection that you see on screen, the ending can be perplexing, for the simple reason that no explanation is given. Maybe the movie moves largely from Anuradha’s perspective and so you see only the bright side of the relationship and so when it sours, you are left scratching your head to think of a rational explanation to it. Shyamaprasad leaves it to us to infer why Kalpana walks out of a sure-shot loving relationship but doesn't give us enough clues to wonder where it went all wrong.

Mamta Mohandas is clearly the star of the show, with her absolute restraint and melancholic brooding self, towering over all others in the movie and also the song Iravil viriyum poo pole, sung beautifully by her. But I must admit that her Malayalam accent does not jell entirely with the notion of a small town girl from Kerala. While Dileep does look the role of an unsure academician who is in love, I felt the performance was a bit strained and he was putting in an extra effort to appear that part (The difficulty of fighting against the image created by the likes of Mr Marumakan and Mayamohini!).

Critics would have admonished a lesser director for an abrupt twist in the last 10 minutes but we are generally more generous towards the classier ones. Was the last scene just an attempt to bind the loose threads of two young minds who have lost their faith in love? Arike which means so close has multiple definitions for everyone in the story - a couple is so close to getting married but they don't, friends who are so close to each other but still unable to understand each other, two persons so close to each other but don't realize that they love each other. Whatever it may be, the movie drives home the notion of love being an abstract emotion that defies all logic, just as Anuradha and Shantanu discover eventually....

Originally published in MadAboutMoviez -