Why this Malayalam movie left a bitter taste in my mouth. Warning: Spoilers ahead!
I watched a Malayalam movie a couple of weeks back in Kerala, and I disliked it intensely. The others who had accompanied me were less vociferous with their criticism but since nobody particularly stood up for it, I chalked it down as just another bad movie, returned to Chennai, and forgot about it.
The movie Bavuttiyude Naamathil (Translation: In the name of Bavutty) released in Chennai only this week, to surprisingly good reviews. I began consciously recollecting why I disliked about the movie, so I could decide if I had overreacted after all. You decide.
(Warning: There may be spoilers ahead, so if you intend to watch the movie then read this post later.)
The movie starts off promisingly, with poignant flashes from the protagonist Bavutty’s childhood. From the flashback which extensively featured young Bavutty and his best friend, it appears as if this movie is going to be centered on their friendship. Rather oddly, this school friend barely has a role in the rest of the movie, just appearing occasionally to offer Bavutty (sometimes questionable) advice. What the movie actually turns out to be about is the close relationship Bavutty, a chauffeur, shares with his uber-rich employer and his family.
The whole family is so close to him that it is Bavutty whom the employer’s wife turns to when her old (pre-marriage) boyfriend, now a vagabond, turns up at her doorstep and causes trouble. Following that Bavutty gives her possibly the worst advice ever, and if you ask me, the entire mess that follows could have been prevented if not for Bavutty’s well-meaning stupidity (he asks her to keep it to herself to spare her husband the worry).
Now this woman is in a perfectly good, seemingly solid marriage. Her husband is obscenely rich, influential, and quite capable of handling a minor inconvenience. Why would any chauffeur in his right mind want to spoil that equation with such a silly matter? The movie projects the whole situation as if Vanaja (the boss’s wife) committed a cardinal sin, when her only fault was to have misjudged the character of the man she believed she was in love with when she was really young.
Of course she could have just told her husband her history a long time back, but it’s believable that she just wanted to forget the whole episode. Anyway, Vanaja’s devotion to her husband has never wavered since they got married, and for the movie to suggest that even this unreal level of goodness is not enough to be the ‘ideal wife’ is quite preposterous. Yet this is what Bavutty’s advice was suggesting; keep it to yourself lest your husband find out what you did.
Predictably, the matter escalates and the boss finds out what his wife was consciously hiding from him. Boss is enraged, Bavutty is devastated. But within a few minutes of conversation with his boss, Bavutty solves the problem and things are hunky dory again.
What happened, you ask? Well, very conveniently it turned out that the boss himself had been enjoying a generous number of flings during his “official trips” around the world. What he didn’t know what that is keen-eyed chauffeur knew of this all the while. Bavutty gently reminds his boss of his double standards. Boss is taken aback, but instead of being outraged and indignant at his chauffeur’s subtle blackmail, he is grateful to Bavutty for not having told his wife all this time. Boss goes back to his family, an awakened man, and lives with his wife and two little daughters happily ever after. Of course, it may be that the family is based on a foundation of lies now, but as long as everyone’s happy…
In a nutshell
Performances were all really convincing: Mammooty as Bavutty, Shankar Ramakrishnan as the boss, Kaavya Madhavan as the wife, and a lively supporting cast. That could have been why people liked the movie, but the storyline I found disturbingly regressive. The movie suggests that both the husband and the wife made mistakes and they can rid of the skeletons by simply never opening the closet; that the husband’s infidelity is only as bad as a perfectly legitimate love affair the wife had before marriage (anybody smell the misogyny?); and that such blatant interference in somebody’s personal life should not just be tolerated, but celebrated.
(Nandita Jayaraj writes about her encounters with the strange and interesting. You can write to her with feedback, or requests for limericks at firstname.lastname@example.org)