Sometime in 2020, in our PinkLungi Entertainment group, we were discussing our all-time favourite Jayaram films. I’d watched most of the usual suspects that cropped up in the conversation – Krishnagudiyil oru Pranayakaalam, Summer in Bethlehem, One Man Show, Friends… but one film that I hadn’t watched, which drew high praise from Shahabas (this man’s film sense can be trusted, FYI) was Veendum Chila Veetukaryangal.
After multiple rounds of postponement, I finally watched the film a few days back. I understood the film’s appeal and why families would have kondaadaled it back in 1999. At first, it would seem like a film about inter-religion, inter-class marriage. Eventually though, one realizes that the film is about being mindful of one’s privilege, taking ownership, and hustling their way to the top. Maybe you could call it a message padam for pramaanis.
Anyway, let’s leave the messaging part aside. (It’s 2023, and there are enough blogs and listicles to give you adulting gyaan, whichever situation you’re in.) It’s the writing – and the superlative performance – of one particular character that intrigued me the most: that of Kochuthoma (Thilakan).
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In many ways, Veendum Chila Veetukaryangal feels like an ode to art – particularly theatre. Objectively speaking, the plot is heavily focused on Roy (Jayaram)’s theatre troupe in the first half, so naturally we see a lot of theatre work on screen. But beyond that, we also realise (through the conversations that Roy has with Kochuthoma) that it is a common love for theatre – and theatrics – that unites father and son in this seemingly unbreakable bond.
Pre-interval, Roy has brought in a lower-class Hindu girl Bhavana (Samyukta Varma in her debut), into the household as his newlywed, and his aristocratic elders are furious. One would expect Kochuthoma to step in here and stand up for his son, but he instead goes bonkers and throws Roy out of the house in fury. The viewer is… confused, at best. Sure, when Amitabh Bachhan does this to Shah Rukh Khan when he brings Kajol in Kabhi Kushie Kabhi Gham, we aren’t surprised, because the man always maintained that rigid personality. But when Kochuthoma – tender loving brat of a dad that he is – does this, it feels very off. One would half-anticipate Kochuthoma to end his angry monologue with that signature wink, smile, welcome the newlyweds and put an end to all the drama. But no, this man is for real. His furious expression doesn’t change, and Roy and his wife walk out.
That interval block in 1999 must have left a lot of folks intrigued.
Second half begins, and we see the slow but gradual growth of Roy as an independent adult, ably guided by his more mature spouse. There are constant back and forths between Roy and Kochuthoma who are now arch enemies (disowning of property, desertion from family weddings et al). Finally, when Roy has found his ikigai (job that he is skilled at, enjoys doing, one that pays decently well, and has a demand in the market), Bhavana tells him that the whole disowning drama was a set up by his father in an attempt to make him responsible.
I absolutely love how this film’s screenplay doesn’t have the usual ‘pre-climax portion leading into an emotionally charged climax’. We see a series of days in the life of Roy, and one such day, when he gets to learn the truth, he walks back into his house, calls cut on the drama, and shares a hearty laugh with his father. Shubham.
Sharing an interesting snippet (anecdote) about the film’s climax that Jayaram recently shared during a Ginger Media interview.
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Anyway, tying it all back to where we started: the intriguing Kochuthoma character, and how it all feels like an ode to theatre. I have a theory that makes for an interesting rewatch, so just hear me out.
Kochuthoma is essentially a paavam theatrics-loving man. While he enjoys his wayward son’s company (hanging out at his theatre troupe etc), he also wants him to course-correct and become a responsible adult. And he knows this can’t be forced on Roy, as his son is a ‘vaashikaran’ who does things out of passion. So far, Roy’s passion has only been limited to theatre, but when a new avenue of passion opens up in the form of Bhavana, Kochuthoma senses their union as an opportunity to push Roy into the deep end. And thus he begins a nadakam, and plays his ‘cruel appan’ character to the T. This is where the film progresses into a meta-theatre zone. If you observe Kochuthoma’s fiery dialogues in the second half without the emotional BGM, you’d realise that the man is just imbibing all his theatre knowledge to look as convincing as possible in his ‘role’ as the angry old dad. Watching his wife (played by KPAC Lalitha) being heartbroken at his dramatic outbursts, may at first draw sympathy; but on a rewatch, when we’re also in on the joke, we end up sniggering at how craftily Kochuthoma has tricked her and the rest of the family into believing his antics each time. Thilakan has done a bunch of dad characters in his illustrious career, I’m sure, but this one stands out tall and mighty, for the amount of tenderness and believability he brings into it.
There’s also a little satirical jibe on the trope of art coming from pain. Somewhere in the first half, Roy blames his dad for raising him in luxury, which he considers the cause of his creative block. This segment actually foreshadows the rest of the film, as it is exactly what Kochuthoma puts him through later: pain. The pain doesn’t help Roy turn into an artist, but it does turn him into a responsible young man.
Written by Lohithadas, Directed by Sathyan Anthikkad. Go watch this one again, friends!
PS – Being a Samyukta Varma stan, I can’t not write something about her. There’s a warm fuzzy feeling when her introduction card arrives (“Malayathinu oru puthiya naayika”, reads the title.) Her character’s introductory scene has to be one of the better sales pitch scenes in Malayalam (she is quick on her feet to cross-sell products and rebrand them as per the consumer’s need – she takes a head massager and sells it to Jayaram as a creativity inducer). Also, her performance is super understated and subtle for the era this film was released in. Okay, fanboyism over. Njan potte.
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