It used to be an inevitable conversation wheeler as some of us met in our slightly younger days to bend the elbow, about the partners that some of our acquaintances landed up with. The keenly observant and the philosophical amongst us quaffers would eventually posit the empirical rhetoric that would cause the rest of us to come up with theories for the rest of the evening: “What did she see in that chump?” (Women, one suspects, may have their refined version of this haunter during buzzy conversations.)
Evolutionary psychology aside—that theorizes that partners choose each other based on mating and propagation prospects and even comes up with waist measurement sizes before you can say “ladies tailor”—why do we make such choices that seem oh-so terrible to the rest of the gawking social audience? And once we do, how well do we know our loved ones? For that matter, how deep is our true understanding of those closest to us? At a superficial, epidermic level, we get what pricks them, what makes them turn a shade of blush or fuming lava. But those are just stimuli, not what courses underneath, those subterranean veins of emotions that intertwine with secret tunnels that don’t reveal what they hide but cause secondary reactions on the outside.
The Malayalam movie Aarkkariyam (Who Knows?), streaming on Prime, reinforces these questions in its own subtle, quiet way. Co-writing with Arun Janardhan and Rajesh Ravi, director Sanu John Varghese triangulates his plot between a financially troubled couple Roy (Sharafudheen) and Shirley (Parvathy Thiruvothu) and her father Ittyavira (Biju Menon), a retired mathematics teacher and sole keeper of his estate in Palai, Kottayam. Itty’s life is spent maintaining his place, when not pow-wowing with the cook Sheeja (Arya Salim), who, as with every cook worth their (extra) salt, bristles when criticized. But even this argument is your mini-peek into the past. Meanwhile, Roy’s business is shredded by COVID’s shear attack, and the couple’s forced to head to Palai. As the movie progresses at the pace of life, Roy and Shirley’s affectionate relationship is spotlit with their daughter Sophie (a lovely performance by Thejaswini Praveen) who’s waiting to be picked up from her boarding school, even as Varghese gets you thinking about why she calls her father by his name. These deeper cuts grow and sprout organically as the movie progresses, and you begin fathoming the current configuration of this affectionate family—the scene where the couple arrives at Itty’s place and the three dissolve into an embrace is as much a heart-warming scene of bonds as it is of gratitude, and it plucks at your heart, much like Sanjay Divecha’s background score.
Both Itty and Shirley are deeply religious, something that probably lets them sleep well at night, sticking close to Mary Crowley’s routine of turning over her worries to God, because “He’s going to be up all night anyway.” It’s not just this guiding faith that binds father and daughter together. There’s something more that director Varghese has to show and tell, and when he does, he does it with the swiftness of a sucker punch that takes the wind off your OTT sails. It’s precisely at this point that you realize, having recovered your breath, that the frequently employed phrase in the movie that points to God’s plans is but a sly deflection to just how much the three know (or don’t) about each other. It’s also then that you begin wondering about Shirley’s past choices and the question that my friend-turned-philosopher-after-a-few-pints posed, pops up like a mini-itch.
The three actors headlining this drama are terrific, each lending an extra dimension to their characters. Parvathy Thiruvothu’s Shirley is the connector between everyone, her presence the unsaid and unfelt glue that binds her family. She’s so natural, you just may wonder if she’s ever going to act at all. Sharafudheen is assured, amiable, irresistibly likable, and also haunted by a past he never was a part of but is forced to jump into its present trajectory to ensure it doesn’t ricochet and shatter the future. And Biju Menon playing ambling patriarch and protective father is a highlight, scalping jackfruits as easily as he does his role. In his arc do you see how deep secrets can actually run, until their keeper realizes they’re running out of time and must ensure they stay out of sight.
Director Varghese may not have the answers, but as emotions and revelations glacially progress in the movie, you realize that there’s a reason we don’t need the answers. That there’s a reason why faith moves mountains but never overturns them to reveal what hides underneath them. Why people fall for each other will remain a mystery, never mind the waist sizes and primate urges. But it’s just as well that we don’t know everything about our loved ones, and that their darkest and deepest secrets remain where they are, while we go about self-assuredly that only we understand them. After an evening of philosophizing with friends, that self-created false sense of knowledge is precisely what allows us to sleep unburdened and undisturbed.
Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers. Aarkkariyam is streaming on Prime and rated U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition).
Director Sanu John Varghese Time 2h 6min
Writers Sanu John Varghese, Arun Janardhan, Rajesh Ravi
Stars Biju Menon, Parvathy Thiruvothu, Sharafudheen
Genres Crime, Drama