Alamara movie review: Of paavam men, nagging women and lukewarm comedy
Director: Midhun Manuel Thomas
When problems beset a marriage, a couple’s interests are best served if they are left to themselves to sort out their differences. Egoistic, interfering relatives tend to make matters worse. This has been a recurrent concern in Indian cinema, but when the director of the screwball comedy Aadu Oru Bheegara Jeeviyaanu zeroes in on the theme, it is natural to expect novelty.
Midhun Manuel Thomas’ latest film, Alamara, stars Sunny Wayne as Arun Pavithran, a young bank employee anxious to be married. After several attempts to find a girl for himself, he falls for Swati (Aditi Ravi) who reciprocates his feelings. Swati also works in a bank.
Arun and Swati’s problems begin from the beginning, when their respective families get off on the wrong foot. The first nail in the coffin of their relationship though is driven in when, just days after their wedding ceremony in Kerala, her parents gift the couple a large wooden cupboard (alamara, hence the title). The two move to Bangalore to work there, but their nosy relatives and that alamara hound them all the way.
Parallel to the lead couple’s marital strife is the tale of a piece of land purchased by Arun and his pals, Prasad (Saiju Kurup), Suvin (Aju Varghese) and Justin (Sudhi Koppa). Poor Arun starts feeling crushed, as he handles the tension with his wife on one side and on the other, resists a land-grabbing attempt by a Karnataka gangster (Indrans).
The narrator of Arun and Swati’s story is their alamara, which in itself is an intriguing starting block. Well begun is not always half done though, as this film proves.
Alamara probably sounded great at the conceptual level, especially in the hands of the maker of Aadu. It flounders, however, in its execution. It is not that it is bad, but that it is lukewarm. Bad can still be fun, lukewarm is boring.
There are some laughs to be had at first, especially because the four male friends share a relaxed chemistry, the actors playing them have good comic timing and it is easy to identify with the family ego hassles that swamp most Indian marriages. Anyone who has attended a desi wedding and seen relatives grumbling about arrangements, in-laws grumbling about gifts, etc, will recognise this bizarre milieu where everyone seems to want everyone to get hitched yet everyone seems determined to mess up everyone’s marriage.
Take for instance that moment when Swati presents Arun’s Mum with a gold bangle in the presence of dozens of family members and local busybodies, and the bangle does not fit. A normal human being ought to see it as a minor problem, but in a traditional desi set-up it could lead to assumptions, presumptions, gossip, politics, years of taunts, hell and humiliation for the bride.
This well-observed episode and the little touches that precede it could have served as a great kick-off to satirise the Indian family system and our obsession with matrimony. Unfortunately, as the story rolls along, a lack of zest sets in. Thomas seems to mistake absence of verve for wryness, and thus is Alamara lost.
Part of the reason for this missing spunk could be that all the characters are stereotypes. Every man in the film is dying to be married, unless he is already married, at which point he starts feeling hemmed in by that marriage. And why would he not? After all, every husband in the film is a victim. Every man is a paavam (bechara, simple, innocent) fellow whose life is being ruined by a woman. Every woman is a nag who is ruining her paavam husband’s life. All the men are stupid. All the women are manipulative. All the men lack spine. All the wives are unreasonable, belligerent witches. Yawn.
(Spoiler alert) Everything is sorted out in the end when the paavam male protagonist takes charge as only a man can, and the women immediately keel over in submission at a speed you see only from women in films. Yawn. (Spoiler alert ends)
Except for Arun, none of the other characters is fully fleshed out by John Manthrikal’s writing. For the conflict between Arun and Swati to be immersive, she needed to be as clearly etched out as he is. She is not. Swati never rises above being a mere outline.
While it is possible to blame this flaw on the film’s resentful male gaze and a writer who seems not to see women as people, the fact is Manthrikal’s characterisation of the men too (other than Arun) is inadequate.
It is hard to imagine how Midhun Manuel Thomas managed to assemble such a talented cast of actors and still churn out such an average film. Wayne is a natural, Varghese and Indrans are brilliant comics given a good script, but all three are bereft of any spark in this film. The women artistes are lost to the cliched, superficial writing of their characters.
The only one here who makes some sort of a mark with his performance is the attractive Saiju Kurup, even though Prasad too is a stereotype.
Alamara starts off brimming with possibilities and laughter, but peters out early on under the weight of its commonplaceness. Perhaps this scanty script should have been locked up in the cupboard of the title and left there until someone thought of a way to rev it up.