Udaharanam Sujatha

Udaharanam Sujatha

Udaharanam Sujatha tells the story of Sujatha, a hard-working single mother, and her attempts to ensure her daughter Athira studies and passes her year 10 school exams. Sujatha has big plans for her daughter, but the problem is that Athira isn’t interested in studying and rather than thinking about her future, her dreams involve movie stars instead. Phantom Praveen has directed this Malayalam remake of Hindi film Nil Battey Sannata by Ashwini Iyer Tiwari (who has also remade the film herself in Tamil), with a more Kerala-centric screenplay from Naveen Bhaskar and a few changes to the lead characters. It’s a simple story that focuses on the mother-daughter relationship and features excellent performances from both Manju Warrier and Anaswara Rajan as her somewhat rebellious daughter. I did have a few issues with some parts of the film, but the overall feel good factor and balanced mix of drama and humour ensures Udaharanam Sujatha is well worth a trip to the cinema.

Sujatha (Manju Warrier) gets up well before dawn to start her seemingly endless round of jobs to raise enough money to pay for her daughters education. Sujatha herself left school after 9th standard which she feels has severely limited her choice of occupation, and as a result, she resolves that her daughter needs to do well at school. However Athira (Anaswara Rajan) doesn’t care at all about her studies and has no thought for her future. She lives in the present, watching music videos on TV, playing with her friends and day-dreaming about Dulquer Salmaan. Athira doesn’t appreciate the long hours that her mother works to fund her education and even tells Sujatha that a doctor’s daughter will be a doctor and an engineer’s daughter will be an engineer, so since she is the daughter of a kitchen maid, that is all that she will become. Since Athira also regularly and quite spectacularly fails her tests at her school it seems unlikely that Sujatha’s grand plans will succeed no matter how hard she pushes Athira.

For one of her jobs, Sujatha works for prominent script writer George Paul (Nedumudi Venu) who listens to her daily recitation of her worries and fears about Athira with a surprising amount of tolerance. He finds a friend (Alencier Ley Lopez) who runs a tutoring service and who is willing to offer Sujatha a substantial discount, but only if Athira scores more than 50% in her maths exam. When Sujatha complains to George about the unlikeliness of Athira reaching this target, he suggests that Athira needs some competition and persuades Sujatha to go back to school herself and complete her Year 10 education.

A scene where Athira discovers her mother’s plans and attempts to cajole her mother with promises of improved study interspersed with pleas and general teenager angst is brilliantly written and perfectly performed by Anaswara. Her mother’s response is just as good and gets to the heart of the relationship between the two. Sujatha is determined to make her daughter succeed in life and is willing to go through the humiliation of going back to school to force her daughter to study. Athira’s subsequent tantrums and her refusal to acknowledge her mother’s presence in the classroom are also well handled, while Sujatha’s gradual acceptance by the other students seems plausible given her ability to cook! The good points though are mixed up with some terrible clichés such as the bespectacled nerd of the class who helps Sujatha understand maths, and the horribly abusive teachers who seem out of place in a film about the benefits of education.

Also problematical is the inference that doing a job such as working in a factory or as a maid is somehow shameful and to be avoided at all costs. While I can sympathise with Sujatha’s desire that Athira gets a good education and has options to choose from, it doesn’t follow that working in these jobs is wrong. Every parent wants the best for their child and particularly would prefer to see that they have a comfortable life, but this doesn’t mean that a house maid should be looked down on, just because of her occupation. However, aside from these points, the rest of the story is a heartening tale of the importance of a good education and how Sujatha manages to change her daughter’s attitude. It’s surprising that Sujatha manages to attend school at all, given her busy schedule of work but Naveen Bhaskar doesn’t let logic get in the way of a good story and after all, perhaps Sujatha has a time-turner hidden away somewhere.

The star here is undoubtedly Manju Warrier who is excellent as the harried mother desperate to wake some ambition in her daughter. Her work ethic is amazing and well portrayed, but what really stands out is the love she has for her daughter and her strength of will to make sure that nothing will get in the way of her dreams. She is fantastic as a concerned mother and completely inhabits the character of a cook/pickle-maker/house-maid/cleaner from a slum area of the city. Anaswara Rajan is also excellent as the bratty and ungrateful Athira who resents her mother’s interference in her life. Her whining is brilliantly irritating and her self-absorption typical of a teenager who naturally knows better than her mother. Together the two actors make a formidable team and it’s the warmth of their relationship that takes the film up a level to make it more than a simple moral tale about the value of education.

Udaharanam Sujatha

The other characters all have a small but significant part to play in the drama, and do it well. Joju George is excellent as Sreekumar, the headmaster and maths teacher who reluctantly agrees to take Sujatha on as a student. His role provides much of the humour, but he also succeeds in making his eccentric character more sympathetic than first appears and he plays a part in assisting Sujatha to further her own dreams. Nedumudi Venu is excellent throughout and he also adds some more light-hearted moments as does Sujatha’s potential suitor while Abhija Sivakala provides drama as a coconut seller who has lent Sujatha money and wants it paid back. Mamta Mohandas is also good in a small role as the local collector who takes on the task of bringing a supply of drinking water to Sujatha’s area and acts as the inspiration for Sujatha’s dreams.

The songs from Gopi Sundar are generally upbeat and suit the mood of the film, but one or two in the second half slow down the narrative and could have been excluded without losing anything from the story. Technically the film looks good, although Manju Warrier’s face is distractingly shiny at times, presumably due to the lack of make-up to give her character more authenticity. The moral message is hammered home a little too heavy-handedly at the end, but for the most part it’s the drama between mother and daughter that takes centre stage and gives the film its appeal. I like that Sujatha has the confidence to go back to school to improve her prospects and that she sees education as vitally important to secure her daughters future. It’s also heartening that she doesn’t need a man to prove her worth and prefers to manage alone despite having a suitor with a good job who could make her life easier. There are enough good points here to balance out the few negatives, and even if the dialogue is occasionally a tad shaky the performances are excellent and the story captivating. Recommended for Manju Warrier, Anaswara Rajan and a reminder that it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

 

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Ennum Eppozhum (2015)

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Mohanlal and Manju Warrier together sounds too good to miss but despite the casting and potentially interesting storyline, Sathyan Anthikad’s Ennum Eppozhum doesn’t quite meet up to expectations. The film tells the story of an erratic, middle-aged journalist and his attempts to interview a crusading local advocate but although the central storyline works well, diversions off the main path are rather less successful. However Mohanlal and Manju are excellent, the supporting cast is equally good and the down-to-earth ordinariness of the characters does work in the films favour.

Mohanlal is Vineeth N. Pillai, a lazy middle-aged bachelor who is notable more for his lack of hygiene and questionable work ethic than his skill with journalistic interviews. His lack of energy is noted by Vanitharatnam magazine’s new editor in chief, Kalyani (Reenu Mathews) which doesn’t bode well for Vineeth’s continued employment. Kalyani is just returned from London with plenty of new ideas and has no time for a slob of a journalist who doesn’t pull his weight. Luckily for Vineeth, the former chief editor still has a fond spot for him as the son of her dear friend and ensures that he gets a second chance to prove his skills.

Vineeth is sent to interview Deepa (Manju Warrier), an advocate who has been in the news for successfully campaigning to have potholes in the road fixed.

Deepa is the antithesis of Vineeth. She is a single mother and not only manages to raise her daughter, work as a successful advocate and campaign for better roads, but she also teaches dance and performs too, as seen in this beautiful piece from the film.

For more information on the dance style and more of Manju’s beautiful dancing check out the excellent post by Cinema Nritya here

In his attempts to speak to Deepa, Vineeth is accompanied by bumbling photographer Maathan (Jacob Gregory). Maathan also lives with Vineeth and the interactions between the two form one half of the comedy track to the film. The other half is supplied by a shady developer (Renji Panicker) and his inept security guard, but this is one of those diversions that doesn’t add anything to the storyline while the comedy is slapstick and not particularly funny. The comedy with Jacob Gregory also fails to raise much of a laugh but there are a few moments that warrant his inclusion. Vineeth is further hampered by his car that continually runs out of petrol, some dodgy advice from a young employee and his own inertia regarding the assignment. However as he watches Deepa, her busy life starts to make an impression and Vineeth is drawn into assisting when Deepa and her daughter are involved in an accident.

Deepa has her own problems to deal with, including her over-protective neighbour Kariachan (Innocent) and his wife Rosy (Usha S Karunagapally). They hover attentively around Deepa and her daughter Miya (Baby Adhvaitha) but seem to be more of a hindrance than a help. Deepa is also visited by a friend Farah (Lena Abhilash) who is another character who seems to run out of steam just when her story starts to get interesting. Farah talks about her marital problems which could potentially have been a major plot point, given that Deepa is also divorced from a rather obnoxious-sounding character. Instead the story goes nowhere and Farah’s inclusion seems fairly pointless except as a glimpse of ordinary middle class life in the suburbs.

There are more odd and pointless diversions that peter out just when they start to get interesting. Deepa has dealings with a gangster who seems to help her when she wants to keep some cases out of the court system. This had potential since Vineeth spots Deepa paying money to some shady looking characters, but instead the story fades away without reaching any resolution. Vineeth also seems to be on the cusp of developing a romance with Kalyani, who in turn has an amazing about-face when it comes to Vineeth and his work. For no apparent reason, other than perhaps a shared like of Rod Stewart songs, Kalyani decides that Vineeth can take as long as he likes to finish the interview, and even doesn’t seem to mind when he admits he may not be able to interview Deepa at all! The romance which almost starts in one scene then vanishes completely without Vineeth even appearing to notice.

The slow pace of the film suits the scenes of day-to-day living that form most of the story but it does mean that it takes a long time for Vineeth to approach Deepa. It takes even longer for the two to actually start speaking to each other, but when they do, they have a lovely and easy chemistry together. There is no real romance in the story, although the possibility is hinted at towards the end, but instead it is the characters and the details of their lives that are the focus of the story.

Ennum Eppozhum is at its best when showcasing the lives of the two main characters, their strengths and weakness and their interactions with the world around them. Without all the added threads that go nowhere this could have been an interesting picture of two very different personalities, but the noise created by the sub-stories dilutes the effect. However, it’s always good to have a strong female lead character and Manju Warrier is adept at portraying such roles. Mohanlal does an excellent job with his rather unpleasant reporter and yet still makes appealing enough that we want him to succeed and keep his job. Not a great film, but one still worth watching for excellent performances from all the cast and the pleasure of watching Manju Warrier dancing. It just could have been so much more. 3 stars.

 

 

How Old Are You?

How Old Are You

How Old Are You? is a completely different film from the last Rosshan’s Andrew’s film I watched, Mumbai Police. Rather than a complex murder mystery, this is a small domestic drama that nonetheless deals with weighty topics such as empowerment and never losing sight of your dreams. It could easily have become preachy given the subject matter but writer duo Bobby-Sanjay keep it light and close enough to home, making it easy to relate to the main protagonist. The title is perhaps a little misleading, since it’s not really Nirupama’s age that’s the issue, but rather her routine life which is slowly grinding her down. The film is the comeback for Manju Warrier and like Sridevi in English Vinglish she brings experience, maturity and a little glamour to a role which seems to suit her very well.

Nirupama (Manju Warrier) is a government employee who isn’t at all engaged in her work. She has no empathy for her clients and secretly reads magazines before going home to look after her family. At the start of the film she is rejected for a job in Ireland due to her age (actually that would be illegal in Ireland – you cannot discriminate against someone due to their age) which means that she won’t be able to accompany her husband Rajeev (Kunchacko Boban) and daughter Lekshmi (Amrith Anil) in their move overseas. Rajeev is fairly unpleasant, but in a way that doesn’t stand out as being unusual or even abusive. He doesn’t notice when Nirupama has changed her hairstyle, and when it’s pointed out to him, he doesn’t like it. He expects his wife to be there and make his dinner, but also to be able to work and earn money during the day. To cap it all off, when he’s involved in a motor vehicle accident he persuades Nirupama to say she was driving to make sure it has no effect on his visa application. But apart from his chauvinistic attitude he’s not a difficult husband. Rajeev and Nirupama seem to have a good relationship and chat amicably about their daughter and their respective workdays without any acrimony. Basically it seems like any other relationship where the wife does what the husband wants because that’s just the way it is, nothing more and nothing less.

However the planned move overseas puts a strain on their relationship, and Lekshmi in particular is obnoxiously bratty about her mother’s failure to get a job in Ireland. One day Lekshmi is part of a group of school children who get to ask the Indian President some questions and so impresses the President that he asks about the origin of her question. When Lekshmi explains it was from her mother, the President (Siddartha Basu) requests a meeting with Nirupama. Unfortunately things don’t go well, and Nirupama finds herself being ridiculed on social media and teased by her work colleagues. This makes her relationship with Lekshmi even more difficult and it seems that no matter what she does, nothing will ever be right. Part of the reason why I feel the film resonates so well is that most people have been in a similar situation at some time in their lives. We’ve all done something stupid, or something we regret and at the time it seems as if there is no way out of the mess without further embarrassment or loss. At any rate, I could definitely relate to Nirupama and her feelings of inadequacy, along with her increasing need for reading glasses and her discovery of grey hairs!

Nirupama’s notoriety allows a former University classmate to track her down and Susan (Kanika) is dismayed by her friends humdrum life. She reminds Nirupama that she was a firebrand and activist at University with plenty of ambition and drive to succeed. Along with the absence of her family who have moved to Ireland as planned, Susan’s memories provide the motivation for Nirupama to kick-start her life. She stands up to her husband and makes a new career for herself – in the process allowing the film makers to add in some valid points about organic farming and the benefits of city food production.

There is a side story involving an older lady who gets the same bus as Nirupama each day. Although the two don’t really know each other, Nirupama helps Madhaviyamma (Sethulakshmi) when she is ill, and gets more out of the relationship than she expected. I would have liked there to be more of Madhaviyamma and her problems, but sadly most of her relationship with Nirupama is skipped over. Mainly the friendship is a plot device to allow Nirupama to realise that she is not the only one with difficulties, and that in fact her problems are rather trivial compared to those of Madhaviyamma. Madhaviyamma also provides the inspiration for Nirupama’s business venture but there is not enough of Sethulakshmi, who does a wonderful job with her role.

There are a number of other familiar faces who appear as part of the support cast, including Vinay Forrt, as one of the office workers, while Thesni Khan and Jayesh Pazhanimala are good as friends of Nirupama. Kanika only appears briefly as Susan, and it’s a strength of the film that Susan doesn’t change Nirupama’s life for her. Susan is after all more successful with plenty of connections and the ability to give Nirupama a new job or bail her out financially, but instead it’s Nirumpama who comes up with the idea that turns her life around. It’s all Nirupama’s dream, her vision and she is the one who sets to and organises everything. With a little help from Madhaviyamma and her boss Seetharama Iyer (Devan).

Although mainly the film is realistic in the portrayal of relationships and in the intimacies of Nirupama’s life, the plot is occasionally rather too fanciful. The episodes with the Indian President seem unlikely, although the fuss and security around the visit is plausible, and the whole Immigration plot is generally rather nonsensical. Nirupama also seems to turn her life around rather more easily than I expected. However, the basic idea of a woman caught in a rut of her own devising is one which appeals, particularly when the character is played so skilfully as here. I felt most of Nirupama’s reactions were accurate in portraying how an average person would behave in similar situations, and her ideas and new business venture seemed to fit her general persona. It’s always good to have such a powerful female figure as the lead in a film, and How Old Are You? has a strong message and excellent cast too. Well worth a watch for Manju Warrier, Sethulakshmi and the idea that you’re never too old to change your life. 4 stars.