A critique on the glorification of parenthood and an authentic take on adult relationships in a conservative society
Rima Kallingal and relative newcomer Jitin Puthenchery play Maria and Jitin respectively in one of Malayalam's most unique cinematic experiences. The film follows the conversations of the couple inside a car as they are on their way to a hospital to do a medical checkup for a pregnancy test. The narrative focuses on the anxiety Maria has about having an unplanned baby out of wedlock and her resentment towards Jitin for his nonchalant attitude about the situation. The whole film is shot in a single take with the entire plot resting solely on the screenplay.
There are so many ways the film could have gone wrong, but fortunately, it didn’t. It is no walk in the park to craft an engaging screenplay for a single shot film which focuses entirely on a single conversation between two characters. Writer and director Don Palathara has successfully created a gripping story that takes on several social issues within the Malayali society.
Each character offers a glimpse of the different ideologies within the state. For instance, Jitin represents the educated and privileged young man who refuses to take up any sort of responsibilities unless it is absolutely necessary. His character does not shy away from it, however, he is blissfully optimistic that he would be able to overcome any challenge that comes across his way.
Despite his guile and apparent disinterest in social conventions, he comes off as well read and articulate. Maria, on the other hand, is the pragmatist; she is ambitious and has clear ideas on what she wants from life. She is certain that the arrival of a baby, at that moment in time, would derail her career and her aspirations. She represents the ideology that women themselves, not society, should be allowed to make decisions about their life and their body.
There are two other characters introduced in the story - Vineeth, Jitin’s friend who converses with him over the phone, and a middle aged woman who hitches a ride with the young couple. Vineeth represents the stereotypical Indian male or more accurately the Malayali male whose worldviews are formed by highly misogynistic and hypermasculine commercial films from the 2000s. Their idea of a relationship is deeply flawed, and as a result, it reflects on their perspective of women in general.
The middle-aged woman, on the other hand, embodies the conservatism deep rooted into the fabric of Malayali society. The cynicism and prejudice projected through her character, the inquisitive nature of trying to pry into the private lives of an already fractured relationship of the protagonists is a reflection of how the society in India as a whole. It is ironic that the protagonists had gone out their way to offer her, a stranger, a lift back home in their car during the pandemic risking their own health and well being.
The film may have sent mixed messages about the fundamentals of a successful relationship through the protagonists. While the film does eventually show their mutual care and affection, throughout the entirety of the plot it is shown to be a mutually abusive and toxic relationship. In the process of pinpointing the flaws with regard to romanticism of parenthood, the film has inadvertently glorified a toxic relationship.
The effort and commitment by the filmmakers and the actors to create this film on a shoestring budget in a single take is quite remarkable. The actors in particular deserve praise for their consistent performance from the start to finish. The film is an excellent addition to Malayalam cinema’s excellent pandemic era films.