Like any Malayalam movie fan of 1990's, I too waited with a bated breath for the return of THE Manju Warrier and it finally happened after 14 years of her self imposed exile through the movie called "How Old Are You?". I watched it on the FDFS at Coimbatore along with a friend and my initial reaction was mixed. As expected / usual, Manju Warrier was mesmerising but the movie gave a sense of dejavu as the plot was very similar to another veteran SriDevi's comeback movie "English Vinglish (EV)". I happened to see "How Old Are You? (HOAY)" after its DVD release and found that this movie was so unique and more identifiable that EV.
However this post is not about the movie review of HOAY but about the so called "negative role" - the husband and my heart goes for him. In a way this is about seeing the movie from a "male perspective" and why they are actually the catalyst of the protagonists' success. The movie (along with EV) "celebrates" the success of the underdog at the expense of the "catalyst" husband.
Kunchacko Boban played the role of Rajeev, the better half of Nirupama Rajeev, the protagonist enacted by Manju Warrier. Nirupama is a UD Clerk working at a same Govt. Office for 14 years and is a doting mother & wife. Her daughter disowns her after Nirupama loses the Irish consulate interview which causes a setback for their immigration plans. She faces the "indifference" of her husband and subsequently the family minus Nirupama leaves to Ireland. Nirupama happens to meet her college friend Susan who lights up the extinguished fire of her firebrand college friend and brings back the new Nirupama. In turn of events, Nirupama becomes the face of the Organic farming in the city and wins the admiration of her husband, daughter.
In English Vinglish, the reason why SriDevi enrolls in English class is external (an insult by the Coffee shop employee in New York) rather than internal reasons (read as belittling by the family members), whereas in "How Old Are You?", the reason for Nirupama's rise is her own husband & daughter's indifference. Since we see the movie from the Nirupama's perspective, the husband becomes the "negative" character. Sadly it was mentioned the same in the movie promotion and reviews.
Why the husband is a "negative" character in HOAY? The ony time I found the husband character "negative" in HOAY is when he tries to make the wife a scapegoat for the accident he made. Other than that I found Rajeev (Kunchacko Boban) perfectly normal and identifiable by most of the men. Especially when he bursts out that his is a "happily married life". He wanted his better half to understand and appreciate the nuances of his work, getting irritated with the one dimensional caricature wife who finds herself complacent with gossiping in office, mega serial addictions and often floundering in the public domain and in the due process (may be to avoid confrontations) he develops an indifference with her.
Feminists might argue that the husbands in EV & HOAY had turned their attention towards their wives only when the females proved their worth, so the "love" was conditional. In other words, the love is proportional to the success. But I differ from that.
The incidents & characterisations in HOAY are tad louder than EV and identifiable, so that remains my reference for this post. For the normal viewers, Nirupama is a "doting wife & mother" but "despite" that her husband and daughter didn't like her. From what had been shown in the first half (serves as the base for comedy scenes), there is nothing in her which as an "average" husband even I too will find appealing. Ideally the love for somebody starts from the respect towards that individual and when the respect diminishes, the love extinguishes and indifference grows.
Nirupama was so dumb that she didn't realise that her "behaviours" are facing the ire of her husband which Rajeev points out in a confrontation - "Had you even dreamt of becoming a Superindentant? Had you ever gone beyond gossiping with your friend Shashikala? My colleagues' wives call their husbands to appreciate their pronounciations, wordings on air programs, whereas I am bereft of such pleasures... (sarcastically) I am Happily married". Nirupama replies that she had put her dreams in the backburner for the sake of her family. There was a counter for that arguement in the movie earlier part of the movie from her daughter - "Aren't there any successful mothers in the world? You keep bragging about your autograph book entries.. let them be there itself".
Why a woman need an "insult" or "separation" from her family to prove her worth? Aren't the desires / aspirations to be successful or role model inborn with an individual? Why Nirupama let her "firebrand" attitude of her college days die? When she had the inclination to indulge in gossipping or keen interests in mindless TV serials, who else other than her is to be blamed? As a husband who is bit "artistic" (nice choice of profession to underline that - All India Radio Jockey), even I too would have put off by Nirupama's change in behaviour. On contrary, there was an example in her friend Susan (played gracefully by Kaniha) who was a successful globe trotting Marketing head, yet a mother.
Finally Nirupama proves her mettle, brings back her creativity/bold attitude, whatever you want to call and makes her daughter proud for being her mother, makes her husband hold her hands with love/respect. But had Nirupama managed to keep her creative attitude alive before letting the family develop an indifference towards her (ofcourse we wouldn't have got the movie in the first place), there would have been no resentment, separation etc etc. What made Nirupama to let her dreams go away or become lackadaisical despite she was well aware of the fact that the family expects a level of "intellect" from her? What stopped her to sign her life with her dreams and claim in the end as "Your dreams are your signature"? Ofcourse the celebration of "winning by an underdog" would have been missing.
So I suggest all woman who cry of "indifference from the family members", please try to win the respect of the family members first by being a role model for yourself and the love will automatically follow. Find out the winning ways to command the respect / attention of the family members rather than demanding them. Nobody develops a love for a person just because they belong to relationship / family circle. A relationship / family membership might get an entry to the personal circle of an individual but eventually the merit / proving the mettle only will bring the respect and attention of an individual (read as husband) / family.
I am sure that it can be done without compromising on the work-life balance. Once the family understands and appreciates your hardwork to the success, they will go out of their way to make you shine at their cost. This is what happened with Nirupama too. If you had seen "English Vinglish" or "How Old Are You" and cried that "This is my story... this is how I am being ill treated", please look into yourself again from your family's perspective. Ask whether you'll consider yourself to be a role model for yourself if seen from a third person's perspective. That will bring a sea change in your attitude. Just because you are married to an individual, you expect him/them to respect you, there can't be a bigger fool than you to expect a moon for nothing.
I am looking forward to see the remake of "How Old Are You?" in Tamil with Jyothika making her comeback (Looks like that this role had become a template for the yesteryear leading ladies to resume their career). I liked this movie in the second viewing and would have loved it to the core even if Manju Warrier hadn't acted in this. Hope this movie reaches to more number of "frustrated house wives" across the country and bring a change in their "attitude" and lives.