Anuraga Karikkin Vellam: Some Tasteful, Mature Romance

When one makes a list of the best romance films, it predominantly features stories centred on the falling-in-love part. But what about the part where love has to be – for lack of a better word – “maintained”, or better yet, where love has to be found? As the title suggests, Anuraga Karikkin Vellam (translates into “The Tender Coconut Water of Love”) is essentially a romance film that deals with all this and more. Read on!

Plot

Raghu (Biju Menon) is a rough police officer with a past that haunts him. His son Abhilash aka Abhi (Asif Ali) is fed up with the constant nagging of his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth aka Eli (Rajisha Vijayan) and decides to break up with her. The breakup turns into a sour affair, that incites a string of events that culminates in bringing Raghu’s old love-story into the picture. Will the family sail through?

Here’s everything I liked about the film. 

*Spoilers ahead. I don’t really think knowing these things would affect your viewing experience in this kind of a film, but that’s subjective. You decide.*

1. Its Take on Love 

The story runs between two subplots involving two couples: Abhi and Eli, and Raghu and his wife Suma (played by Asha Sharath). 

While they’re together, Eli is a super-caring (borderline intrusive) partner while Abhi casually two/three/four-times her, not giving an ounce of commitment. He nonchalantly ends their relationship, and over a series of events, Eli ends up creating a sea change in his life, albeit indirectly – by taking on the phone identity of Anuradha, Raghu’s ex-lover, and helping Raghu mend his ways. It is only then that Abhi realizes her true worth; yet he doesn’t immediately make an effort to apologize and get back with her. And when he finally does, it’s too late because she has already said “yes” to another man.

Now their story talks about almost every possible factor that destroys a relationship today: Eli’s over-possessiveness proved a major turn-off for Abhi, while Abhi’s self-centredness and infidelity hurt Eli. His ego hurt the prospects of their relationship as well (when it was still mendable). And so the unapologetic ending makes sense: if Abhi and Eli were shown to be back together, it would somehow normalise all this toxic behaviour.

The setup of two couples, one old and one young, may remind you of Salt N Pepper, and it is the story of the older couple that makes the film what it is (again, like Salt N Pepper) because it deals with the under-addressed part: finding love AFTER marriage. This theme immediately brought to my mind Mani Ratnam’s Mouna Ragam (1984 Tamil film), where the leading lady simply refuses to put up with her spouse because of her tragic romantic past. 

AKV isn’t that dramatic a setting. Raghu and Suma aren’t at loggerheads with each other. There is no marital discord as such, but there’s no love either. They simply…co-exist.Before the entry of ‘Anuradha’ into their lives, of course. The almost ten-minute long sequence where Raghu, upon Anuradha’s telling, attempts to kiss his wife, is easily the highpoint of the film, not only because of the hilarious way everyone in the house (including the cat) is involved but also because it puts in perspective the attitude of a large section of the Indian middle-class society. People are hardwired to marry, co-exist, have children and do their respective parts in running the family.  But something as organic as love…can’t be hardwired, and it’s often overlooked by people as they go about leading their humdrum lives. This probably explains why, after the ‘kiss’, Raghu nervously backs off, says “Sorry!” thrice and scampers off to his room! 

2. The Father-Son Crossplot

In a closing shot, as Abhi and Raghu contemplatively sit by the terrace, and real-life father-son pair (ironic?) Govind Menon and Peethambaran Menon break into the ‘Anuragakarikkin Vellam’ song, I couldn’t help but notice that in a way, the film can be seen as the mental coming-of-age of a father and son.

I recently read Aziz Ansari’s bestseller Modern Romance, where he talks about two kinds of love: passionate love (which is exciting and short-lived) and companionate love (which is relatively mundane but has a strong foundation of mutual respect and trust). AKV has two male leads stuck in the passionate-love phase, who are made to accept their realities and eventually become mature, responsible and…compassionate lovers. It is THEIR story, and this explains why we don’t get much of a glimpse into the psyches of Suma and Eli. Writer Naveen Bhaskar draws good parallels between their love-lives, some thin (like how both their ex-lovers were instrumental in getting their respective careers sorted) and some explicit (like how both the love-stories end at a cemetery, with the lover standing by her newly wedded man). 

“Enikku avalodonnu samsarikkanam. Otta thavana. Oru vattam koodi.” (I want to talk to her. Once and for all.) These words are uttered not once but twice in the film – once by Raghu in the beginning, and once by Abhi towards the climax, both expressing their remorse at having taken their partners for granted and eventually losing them to other men. Both of them, at different points of the film, need closure.

The last 10 minutes elevate the film like crazy, with father and son going about as a team, trying to fix each other’s respective stories and help each other find closure. Special mention to Prashant Pillai’s background score that really helps underline the humour, confusion and feel-goodery that the script holds.

3. The Relatability Factor 

Now, this is where Mr. Khalid Rahman comes into the picture. Taking a script and making it as real as possible is clearly something he loves doing (seen Unda yet?). The Raghu household is an almost-mirror to the quintessential Malayali middle-class family, with many dialogues reminding one of similar situations at his own house. Biju Menon, Asha Sarath, Asif Ali and Ivana do a good job in playing the fam-next-door. Also: Eli’s characterisation, though exaggerated, paints an original and way more relatable picture of the urban lover girl (brought to life by Rajisha in killer form): she is loud and expressive initially (drunk-cries like a child after the breakup), but over the course of the film the viewer realizes the depth in her character: she’s pretty much the anchor of the story. 

One thing a lot of people didn’t like about this film was the sheer number of dialogues with no impact on the story. Yes, they do decelerate the proceedings a bit, but maybe that this was purposely designed to bring in a slice-of-life feel to it all. Dialogue does not necessarily have to drive the story forward; it could also just make the characters seem relatable (Tarantino has set a gold standard for doing this, with Pulp Fiction. We’re yet to get there.) Anyway, this treatment helps flesh out a few memorable supporting faces as well: from the truly janamaithri sub-inspector (played hilariously by Irshad) who during a speech, signs off by requesting everyone to “conquer the world with love, and donate blood if possible” (this is a police officer by the way), to Abhi’s gang including Fakhru and Kichu (played by Soubin Shahir and Sreenath Bhasi respectively) who, like many of our own friends, end up giving some of the worst advice with the best intentions.

In conclusion…

My mom loves films that have a moral at the end. I remember watching this film in the theatre with her, and as we got out, she asked me what I learnt from the film. And that’s when I realized: there are a lot of takeaways here, but they’re not presented as takeaways per se. Take Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol which also deals with husband-wife relations. I found the film far too preachy and after a point, I just wish Mohanlal stopped playing the character and just put on a coat and did a PowerPoint with all the points the director wished to convey. That’s when you realise how subtle AKV is for a mainstream family film.

Do watch it if you’re a fan of the ‘feel-good moments’ (I just coined that term but you get what I’m saying right?), because there are plenty in here. When the film was released for Eid ’16, people liked it, tagged it as a sweet, simple film and moved on. But I believed it was more than just that; there was some nuance to the simplicity, some shape to this (coconut) water. Hence this thousand-word piece, I guess!

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