Abhiyude Kadha Anuvinteyum movie review: Pia Bajpai and Tovino Thomas play the Barbie and Ken of Indian conservatism

Anna MM Vetticad

May 26, 2018 13:23:45 IST

1/5

Language: Malayalam with some Tamil dialogues

It takes more than just charisma to rise above the inadequacies of a script. It takes experience. Tovino Thomas made for an irresistible scamp as a gangster hopelessly in love in Aashiq Abu’s Mayaanadhi last year and blazed across the screen with his intensity in Oru Mexican Aparatha, but his rawness becomes clear when his character who is meant to be a lovable young fellow turns out, in fact, to be quite irritating as he romances the heroine in the new Malayalam film Abhiyude Kadha Anuvinteyum (Abhi’s Story Is Also Anu’s Story), titled as Abhiyum Anuvum (Abhi and Anu) in its simultaneously shot and released Tamil avatar.

He is not alone of course. Pia Bajpai, who plays Anu to his Abhi, is hampered as much by the writing as by her own acting limitations. Her Anu is just as irritating as Abhi is when their characters woo each other in the film’s first half.

Tovino Thomas and Pia Bajpai in a poster from the film.

Cinematographer-turned-director B.R. Vijayalakshmi’s Abhiyude Kadha Anuvinteyum (AKA) is written by Udayabanu Maheswaran. Before I proceed with this review, let me register my protest at the absence of English/Malayalam subtitles for the sizeable number of Tamil dialogues in the film. This calls for a separate discussion. Here for now is the story. AKA revolves around two youngsters who are poles apart – he works at a regular office in Chennai, she is a free-spirited organic farmer in Idukki, his preoccupations are personal, she is a social worker. Anu and Abhi encounter each other on the social media, then meet, fall in love and marry in a jiffy, before fate threatens to tear them asunder.

(Possible spoilers ahead) The revelation about Anu and Abhi’s relationship that comes in text on screen at the end, answers a question that was staring us in the face for almost an hour. It is a wonder that the lead couple were either too stupid or ignorant about biology to think of asking it. Without giving anything away, this is it: whose egg was it? Watch the film and you will know what I am referring to. When the answer comes in the finale, the entire premise of the tragedy that befalls them collapses. (Spoiler alert ends) 

Vijayalakshmi spares no effort in embellishing AKA’s wrapping. Compared to the other two Malayalam films I have watched this week, Kaamuki and Aabhaasam, this one is clearly the most technologically accomplished and appears the most costly.

Dharan Kumar’s background score, for one, adds to the surface allure of this package although the songs are too many and too generic. Cinematographer Agilan has made optimum use of the locations at his disposal, from thickly vegetated mountainous regions that lend themselves to great visuals to a less conventionally handsome urban high-rise apartment complex. His work in home interiors in the city and the countryside are facilitated by Shiva Yadav’s spiffy production design.

However much fluff and gloss AKA couches itself in though, it cannot hide the fact that it is a regressive film convinced of its progressiveness. Among other things, there is the exasperatingly clichéd route taken by Anu and Abhi’s courtship, rejigging tropes that should be familiar to anyone who regularly watches commercial Indian cinema across languages. Everything these two do is positioned as cute and sweet and breezy and forward, but at the end of the day she turns out to be a tease who plays a cruel game with him to test his love for her, in scenes that conform to the standard assumption that this is precisely how all women behave with men, that when a woman says “no” what she means is she wants to be chased.

In some ways, AKA reminded me of Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani in which the veteran director gave us not a true-blue young romance but his vision of what today’s youth do when in love blended with a quaintly traditional older person’s idea of coolth. AKA is far more harmful. For genuine coolth born of conviction and broad-mindedness, not just a desire to engage with a new audience, watch Mayanaadhi, my friends.

Anu and Abhi are the Barbie and Ken of Indian conservatism, with all the trappings that tend to be viewed by mainstream Indian cinema as hallmarks of modernity – a bustling social media life for both, short skirts, strappy tops and teeny shorts for her – although they camouflage a dangerously conservative core.

(Spoiler ahead) It must rank as one of the longest running conspiracies in human history that generations of women have chosen to hide from their daughters and friends or even outrightly lie to them about the extreme discomfort and pain involved in pregnancy and childbirth and the emotional difficulties that follow, painting instead a picture of mommydom as unadulterated bliss. Via Anu, Vijayalakshmi plays along with this nonsensical romanticisation of motherhood (which denies young women the right to make informed choices about whether or not to have babies). When Abhi expresses regret that he cannot share the difficulties she will endure to give birth to their child, Anu replies, “Idiot, no woman sees what she goes through for childbirth as difficulty blah blah blah.” Speak for yourself, Ms. The truth is, no woman can bust the myth without risking being shamed as selfish and unfeminine. (Spoiler alert ends) 

At first, the post-interval portion of AKA raises interesting and pressing questions related to the pro-choice versus pro-life debate, but the mask is blown off its superficial liberalism once and for all in a speech delivered by Abhi’s neighbour Revathy (Suhasini) to his mother Bhuvana about the true meaning of maatrithva (motherhood). While there is no doubt that Bhuvana has been a neglectful parent to Abhi, she is no less deserving of condemnation than her husband, but he, of course, is spared a lecture because, as we all know, fathers are held up to lower standards than mothers.

Quietly implied in this sermon is also an anti-abortion message.

For all its shimmer and sparkle, pretty pictures and pretty 21st century people, Abhiyude Kadha Anuvinteyum is just a bunch of medieval values wearing expensive make-up.

Updated Date: May 26, 2018 13:24 PM