(Caveat: This review is filled with spoilers. The film does not deserve any better.)
It could have been an inspirational story of a battle of unequals in the sporting and social arenas. Instead it turns out to be the most appalling, misplaced contemporary bow to The Mahabharat since Yudhishthir bet Draupadi away in a game of dice.
Thomas Liju Thomas’s Kavi Uddheshichathu? features actors Asaf Ali – who is also one of the film’s producers – and Narain playing Jimmy and Bosco, both volleyball-crazed denizens of a place called Allimoola in Kerala. Jimmy and Bosco have been enemies from their schooldays. As it happens, Bosco is secretly in love with Jimmy’s widowed sister (Sija Rose), who in turn has been resisting her mother’s well-meaning efforts to get her remarried. Meanwhile, Bosco’s sister Jasmine (Anju Kurian) returns to the village. Jimmy instantly falls for this beautiful woman who was his classmate as a child.
The film gambols along seemingly aimlessly in the first half, recounting a set of disparate events in Jimmy’s life in a slightly confusing fashion that is boring despite the occasional bouts of humour. There is too much happening in those scenes, too many characters are introduced and the direction is loosely handled. The light-hearted tone freezes at one point in a game of revenge. It ends in Jimmy and Bosco ranging their volleyball teams against each other in a local tournament with their female siblings being the stakes they’re playing for. Jimmy is promised Jasmine’s hand in marriage if his team wins the tourney, never mind that she has already spurned his romantic overtures. If Bosco wins, he will marry Jimmy’s sister.
I kid you not. This bet is the lynchpin of the story, and the two men’s proprietorial attitude towards the women in their families does not cause a single eyebrow to be raised in disapproval in the entire community. Instead, Allimoola is all agog with interest, not fury.
The R rating for films in the US stands for “Restricted”. We need to get our very own R rating in India: R for Repulsive. What other word can be used to describe a film in 2016, which is amused by two men who think it fit to gamble away their sisters’ lives?
Asif Ali’s innate charm, Biju Menon’s comic timing in his part as Jimmy’s team coach Minnal Simon who appears only in the second half, Saiju Kurup’s magnetism in a brief role as the rival team’s coach Noble Jacob who has a history with Jimmy, little Allimoola’s prettiness, that chilling confrontation between man and snakes in an unexpected setting (in a self-referential ode to the acclaimed short film Remaniyechiyude Namathil that regular Malayalam film buffs will get), the comparative tightness of the post-interval portion which is a marked contrast to that all-over-the-place first half, are all overshadowed by this preposterous, regressive premise.
Jimmy’s attitude and behaviour towards Jasmine are already disturbing before the bet is placed. It is bad enough that he follows her down lonely country roads, but worse happens. As with so many films produced by Mollywood, her rejection of the hero’s advances becomes immediate cause for him and his friends to label her an arrogant snob. Kavi Uddheshichathu? goes many steps further than the average Mollywood flick though: not only do Jimmy and gang get belligerent with her, they even threaten her. All this is treated as perfectly normal by a narrative that views Jimmy with sympathy.
Team Kavi Uddheshichathu? probably felt there is sufficient compensation for this extreme misogyny in an early scene where the men are chided by one of their own friends for discussing Jasmine cheaply. Nothing exemplifies the film’s disdain for women’s independence better than that final scene in which Lena – playing a businesswoman called Gladys who is feisty till that point – is shown taking off on the backseat of her mobike with Minnal Simon who has been eyeing her ever since they met.
Feminine love, you see, means that a woman who has been riding a motorbike all her life will hand you the keys, vacate the driver’s seat for you and ride pillion as a symbolic gesture of her submission to you. What the heck is wrong with you, Mollywood?