‘Pranaya Vilasam’: the flush of first love and when life flushes it down

What’s first love if not a fleeting aural bird that wings into a destination unknown, unfettered by life’s crushing weights of circumstances that, in the name of known stability, are anchors that stick deep and steady on the bed of relationships that sustain but not necessarily breathe? While that bird circles in an unseen stratosphere, we wait for a glimpse, caged by our obligations, if only to feel what being liberated meant once upon another lifetime. 

In creating this tug-of-war between love and life’s dreary trudges in Pranaya Vilasam (Abode of Love), director Nikhil Muraly, with writers Jyothish M and Sunu AV, tiptoes into the lives of couple Anusree (Sreedhanya) and Rajeevan (Manoj K.U.) who, with their son, Sooraj (Arjun Ashokan) form an uneven triumvirate of familial configurations. The men, when not ignoring each other and letting their egos shadowbox in the home’s corners, are busy looking for love and peace outside the walls of their home. Sooraj is in a relationship with Gopika (Mamitha Baiju), his college friend: at first glance, it seems as though she’s his dashcam of sorts, keeping tabs on his messages and longing looks at other women, observing and snorting at his wayward ways, and yet taking it all in her stride. But you soon realize there’s a reason for her benignant and wide-berth attitude. Sometimes that love can be a cage, and our objet d’affection a bird that prefers peeking into that cage to kiss and coo, but always from the outside. 

Rajeevan, the father, is in a mid-life crisis of sorts while pushing files as the senior village clerk in an office that’s stacked with papers that pile with the velocity of the miseries that befall the population, whose only redemption lies in the movement of their files to a logical destination that bears the visa stamp of the officer. And that combination of angst and carpet-bombing hormones that have no target or mission end up flaring up at son Sooraj—who wants to be up there with A.R. Rahman in music, while he’d rather his offspring dabble in something that’ll lead to another AR: augmented reality. No, they never say so; it’s just me extrapolating here—and his wife, Anu. Who, according to Rajeevan, is a slave to chores and the kitchen. 

Fed and primed for each day by Anu, the men leave to score with other women—is there a gene marked for flirting?—and Rajeevan rekindles a flame lit during his college days: Meera (Miya George), now a professor in Suraj’s college, finds a smoking partner in her ex. Rajeevan finds the justification he needs for this autumnal blooming in his junior, Satheeshan’s (a superb Sarath Sabha) sage advice: deep love subtracted by lust equals a free pass. It’s when life throws a curve ball at the straggling men that they realize how badly they’ve taken Anu for granted. And that the very adjectives they used to label the woman in their home—boring, routine-driven, bland, dull—were the fuel to ensure they were free to mosey about their lives. 

A diary that Rajeevan discovers unpeels the patriarchal double standard in a jiffy: manhood and ego now poked and shot with holes, the situation flips as he’s confronted with the idea of another man for whom Anu’s beating heart fluttered and stopped in rapid succession. Director Muraly uses a road trip for the father-son duo to come face-to-face with life and each other, each exchange a delight, steeped in what could have been, what is, and what was. There’s the tug of lost chances and the dry wit of life’s possibilities; even the pietism that arises when the relationship tables are turned is viewed with the lens of soft mockery that is layered with laughable self-exculpation—a gentle, diffused spotlight on household hierarchies. It’s as if the quiet, silent Anu guides our discovery and her family’s. Played with a quietude by Sreedhanya, the act is a highlight: weathering everyday storms with the calm demeanor of a knowing sailing expert, her expressions flit just that much as a flower would shake in a storm, lose a petal, and yet retain its wholeness. The younger Anu—yes, with some thoughtful editing by Binu Nepolean, the movie flits between the present and the 90s—is played with gusto by Anaswara Rajan: a woman who knows her mind, speaks and acts on it. Her first love is Vinod, and Hakkim Shah endows him with brash and bullish vigor: the arrogance of youth and looks, especially when burdened with a socio-economic drag, can be an irresistible pull. 

In a role that requires her to transmit her neighbor’s seemingly Delphic feelings to the men, Unnimaya Naalppadam, as Ramla, is a quiet force. And both Arjun Ashokan and Manoj K.U. shine in the movie that’s buoyed by Shaan Rahman’s score—the songs are lovely, a paean to the proceedings, though the background score could’ve been subtler in the flashback scenes—and Shinoz’s winning cinematography. As the son, Ashokan transforms from a bratty flirt to an empathetic explorer of the past, ensuring the present and future aren’t rocked any further. Manoj’s act pins down the troublesome behavior that’s self-serving and self-perpetuating, and as his character loses their potency, he segues into comic bravado, coating it with ironic hurt. 

And yet, as director Muraly slowly unfolds the final act, the question about true love never dying troubles even as it creates mini-heartbreaks. That first flush of love can power humans to commit acts of defiance like Anu in the movie. That love lasts forever, yes. And it means something only so long as we’re caged by the mirthless chains of life, for it’s the living who trudge drearily, weighed down—and propelled by—the aural crumbs of first love.

Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers. Pranaya Vilasam is streaming on Zee5 and rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years)

Pranaya Vilasam
Director Nikhil Muraly Time 2h 3min
Writers Jyothish M, Sunu AV
Stars Sreedhanya, Manoj K.U., Arjun Ashokan, Mamitha Baiju, Miya George, Anaswara Rajan, Hakkim Shah