After delivering back to back blockbusters, Mohanlal is fully back on track as the box office giant. He plays yet another niche to attract the family audience with this film Munthirivallikal thalirkkumbol (when grapevines sprout).
Mohanlal plays Ullhanan, a grumpy middle-aged man, who is leading a very boring life shuffled between office work and home. He goes to the office, comes back to his uninterested wife, goes to drink with his friends from the colony and returns to the noise of Malayalam serial which further frustrates him. He and his wife sleep in separate rooms and he pays no attention to his children’s needs. His friend Venu (Anoop Menon) is having several affairs and under Ullahanan’s insistence, he tries to hook Ullahanan with beautiful women. One day, a woman named comes to his office and they have an affair. But then epiphany struck him and he realizes that he should begin the comatose romance with his wife and the movie follows his attempts to do the same.
When the movie began with cheesy dialogues, over-the-top comic acting, and the lame scenes with Suraj Venjaramoodu, I was convinced that the quality of the film altogether is decided there. Thankfully, the movie busts the general perception of women’s role in families and highlights what men do and how they redeem their mistakes. The quality of the film shifts completely when Ullahanan finds out about his wife Anna’s singing abilities.
That being said, there are more flaws. The overall direction of the film resembles a typical Sathyan Anthikad film from the 2000s with nothing new on deck. The cinematography is simply executed and focusses on performance aspects rather than the environment. We get to experience the middle-class life and Ullahanan’s days in his office. How people around him behave differently when Ullahanan reforms are well established, notably his relationship with a female colleague who flirts with him. I found it extremely exasperating initially. Most of Mohanlal’s films have women chasing around in a stereotypical way. However, he asks her to bring him her masterpiece fish curry and offers to visit her with his family. The explanation he gives for this is again on point and is the pinnacle in the film.
The movie gives out a great message about how to find love after many years of married life. The positive influence parent’s love is there for children is well done because of which the film deserves recognition and more viewing. Mohanlal delivered a strong willed and versatile performance. No one coulg match up to his sass and sarcasm. He could shift between emotional performances and comic timings at ease. Mohanlal and Meena have great chemistry and it is reflected on the film. Suraj Venjaramoodu did his share of overacting. Anoop Menon, with charms and easy dialogue delivery, made his character more despicable. We have a young girl being judged because of her affair with one guy but Venu’s infidelity makes more of an entertaining/adorable character among his friends.
There is a plot which kept bugging me. Ullahnan’s daughter Jini is shown to be having an affair with a young man named Jithin. The scenario itself is presented in unintentionally laughable manner. There is tensed background music when Jini accepts a birthday gift from Jithin, which has the tagline “I love you”. The music’s intensity escalates when Annie finds it in her cupboard. Annie expresses her fear as Jini is a teenage girl who might lose her track and end up in trouble, that’s what all girls are expected to go through apparently. She finds it difficult to sleep and at one point, opts to lie next to her daughter. She expressed her concerns to Ullahanan asking “what if our love was a bad influence on her?”. Basically, she feared that Jini might lose her virginity or end up marrying the boy before she is ready. This kind of concern is primarily noticed in orthodox Indian households where girls are expected to be within the limits and to draw a Lakshmanrekha when it comes friendship with boys. Girls are supposed to do everything to retain their honor and dignity and this is further upheld when elderly men accentuate in every popular media including those films featuring strong female lead. Due to socially constructed gender norms, biased against girls, daughters are seen as burden or potential troublemaker. Now, in Jini’ case, from the beginning, she is shown as a very bold girl who speaks her mind. She has secrets and even threatens (sarcastically) her younger brother with the same. But, her unconditional love for her family and friendly nature itself shows her down-to-Earth nature, in general. She is someone who knows how to draw a line when necessary and the same notion helps Jini make up her mind and she ends the relationship with her boyfriend because he invites her to a hotel room. Ullahanan becomes proud of her and he says that he doesn’t fear for her safety anymore. Personally, I liked the message “children should be inspired by parent’s love” but did the boy-girl friendship sequence have to be vilified just like that? Ullahnan sees a girl boarding the bike of a male friend and he becomes tensed as he visualizes Jini in the same place. What if the boy and girl were cousins or siblings? What if they were friends? Just friends? The scenario would have been more believable if Jithin was more of a bad influence. Like, he does drugs or has affair with several girls. Jini’s ability to say no and to substantiate is more than enough to highlight her integrity. The movie ended up complicating the whole “boys and girls can’t be friends”, “girls who climb the bikes of her male friends are ‘bad’”, “girls are expected to go off track (‘cause in our nation, although there are two people in a relationship, only the girl is given the focus with vilification, boys will be boys)” and “having a daughter= a big headache for parents”. Can’t Malayalam cinema just upgrade for the sake of giving women the integrity they deserve? Or, why should every sex related issues be one sided?
Munthirivallikal thalirkkumbol is a very pleasant watch, apart from the drawbacks mentioned. Every couple who is leading a happy life could relate to this.
Featured image: cinemadaddy