We didn’t realize it before 2020 unfurled its true intent and poison. But we need people around us. We need the stickiness of nose-poking neighbors. The thrust in the door for a bowl of sugar. The coming together for a special occasion. The sudden, unexpected arrival of the trial version of a dish just before repast time. The gossip-mongers who hang around an unexpected corner to spew the last cycle of a tid and collect the next version of a bit. The building up of relations that may last a month or a lifetime. An eventide of directionless jabber. Yes, need people we do.
In this masked version of our fearful existence, all of what was a zig-zag of symbiotic and irritatingly necessary interaction is replaced with a darkness that’s unknown and seemingly unending. In normal years, I don’t know if I’d have liked debut director Anoop Sathyan’s Varane Avashyamund (Groom Wanted) as much as I did now, but I’m a sucker for feel-good slice-of-life cinema. So probably, yes I would. And that’s what the movie is. A light, shining sunbeam on our screens. There’s no heinous villains, no serial-killers, and no scheming in-laws. Except for Aakashavani, played with delightful over-the-top zest by KPAC Lalitha. The stolid matriarch isn’t like this in reel life but plays one in a Tamil TV series where she’s a runaway hit, and her character’s been planning on murdering her son for the last one month. Aakashavani’s shifted to AKS Residency, an apartment in a Chennai upper-middle-class neighborhood, and it’s this apartment that’s the confluence of a bunch of characters that include the finding-her-foot-in-Chennai, single mother Neena (Shobana in a graceful, expressive flight of act) who’s also shifted to Chennai a couple of months of ago with her doughty, independent, groom-hunting daughter Nikitha (a breezy and superb Kalyani Priyadarshan making her debut). Aakshavani has, in tow, her relatives, the two constantly at punches-and-scratches brothers Karthik (Sarvajith Santosh Sivan, like Kalyani, of a strong movie lineage, debuting with a delightful act with his pet-in-real life, aptly named KFC) and ‘Fraud’ (Dulquer Salmaan, also producing the movie and in an understated, tightly-timed act).
There are other folks in the apartment dynamics, that include Major Unnikrishnan who has anger management issues, played by the superbly cast Suresh Gopi who rages and fumes until he finds his anger management doctor Dr. Bose (a glib, rapid-mouth-fire and comic act by Johnny Antony), who has no role to play in the army veteran’s finding peace. Unless you count his office premises that become a fertile ground for a sunset romance. Then, of course, there’s the couple who own the apartment block (K. Gopal and Meera Krishnan) who have differing views on everything including eating beef and one of them agrees to disagree on the sly. Add to these characters Neena’s brother Manuel (Lalu Alex) who’s come to Chennai on a business trip and comes visiting, the apartment cooker lady (Sreeja), Fraud’s ambitious girlfriend at work, and a suitor for Nikitha whose dentist mother drills more sense than cavities (Urvashi in a beautifully crafted act).
Director Sathyan, who also wrote the story, keeps his movie clipping along episodically, cutting through the lives of his characters, and if you’re wondering if there’s any big story moment here, there isn’t, and thank God for that. It’s precisely the point of this likable movie. It’s a fly-on-the-apartment-wall, watching its people fight, celebrate, and fall in love. Aided by a top-of-the-melodic chart score by Alphons Joseph that uses the sitar, nadaswaram, veena, and woodwind to soar and elevate the movie and your senses — the Muthunne Kannukalil number such a beautiful ode to the city of Chennai that you want to go visiting right away — and crackling, high-velocity dialogues that pun on the Malayalam language and a noun (Manuel) with the same punch, this movie is big smiles, pure and simple.
And when he’s done goof-balling, director Sathyan lands some soft emotional punches too. Be it the rambunctious trio comprising Aakashavani and the two boys or the gruff Major Unnikrishnan who discovers all it takes is a thoughtful note to stir his nostalgic journey that in turn stirs you, all the characters have a past to their wacky present. Like Shobana’s Neena, a woman who knows her mind and her body, isn’t averse to compliments and admiring looks, and isn’t afraid of falling in love all over again, never mind the imminent judgment by a bench comprising the society and her daughter.
By the time the movie credits roll, you realize you’re smiling through a misty vision, because, unbeknownst to you, you’ve begun caring for the movie and its characters, but you can’t quite describe that fuzzy warmth. But then, as Suresh Gopi’s army officer discovers, true love isn’t saying “I love you”. It’s mouthing the first inane thing that comes to your mind. Because it’s your eyes that suddenly twinkle and blurt out the truth.Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.
Varane Avashyamund is streaming on Netflix and is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) for some mature themes.
Director Anoop Sathyan Time 2h 25min
Writer Anoop Sathyan
Stars Shobana, Suresh Gopi, Dulquer Salmaan, Kalyani Priyadarshan
Genres Comedy, Drama, Family