Aashiq Abu’s latest directorial Rani Padmini opened to audiences in Kerala on 23 October and to those outside a week later. It tries to narrate the story of two women with different temperaments and from very different backgrounds, whose lives meet on a night bus trying to teach a lesson to a habitual molester during their journey to the Himalayan regions in and around Himachal. Although tagged as a travel film, it is happenstance that they are travelling here but for their personal reasons however, once there, in the midst of everything happening around them they enjoy the landscape.
The makers have tried to capture through Padmini.. the gullibility of a village girl, the anxiety of getting married, moving cities after the wedding, settling into newer responsibilities as a wife, tackling an overbearing mother-in-law, trying to live a life with her loving yet ardent rally racer husband and then the news that makes her take a decision to travel alone to the Himalayas to meet her husband Giri and talk it out with him.
Rani, portrays a rebellious tomboy of a girl whose mother tries at every step to mold her into a boy, a girl who grows up to look after her family at a young age, and tackle everyone around singlehandly, very street smart until she has to run to keep herself safe from a gang of notorious gangsters. Now, this film has been in news for various reasons, prominently as Manju Warrier’s third film of her comeback season, the meeting of two female acting power houses in Rima and Manju, together in a female oriented travel tale to the Himalayas.
What was troubling was every review I turned to on the net had only good things to say even then all of them rated it a steady 3 stars on 5. On the surface it seemed like the screenplay inverted the Dulquar Salmaan – Sunny Wayne equation in the earlier film where the men took to a bike and traveled all the way to the North Eastern states. In Rani Padmini, Rima-Manju were getting to do the Dulquer-Wayne act.. not in the same tenor even then. The film has tapped into that wanderlust among women to travel, travel alone. In short, two women travelling alone in itself made the women sound bold and strong!! 90% of the women are sitting inside a patriarchal societal home catering to a mother in law and a husband, with/without children with/without jobs like the film portrays .. the thought of leaving with a backpack and a pair of trekking shoes for reasons not for travelling seems to be liberating in itself!
That’s the part I feel is most disheartening. I feel that the idea of liberation and empowerment et al are highly misunderstood and misplaced, but at the same time very desirable concepts especially within patriarchy. More importantly, these are to be understood at a personal level, at a level of our self. What I mean to say is, my sense of empowerment may not be yours.. and vice versa, there are degrees to it.. Take for instance, this idea of travelling alone like it is shown in the film. There is absolutely nothing wrong in it, if somebody wishes to travel, then they should, .. The problem is somebody should feel that kind of pulse for travelling from within not because somebody else is doing it… while it may be a concept of liberation or feeling empowered for a few what the rest of us need to figure out is, does it have the same liberating effect for us like it had for the other person. Look within yourself, there could be other things which are more pronounced like just standing up and saying NO.. [I think my sense of liberation could be to be able to catch the moon while it sets in the morning before the sunrise … to stay awake a whole night or wake up early enough to catch the sight.. 😛 😛 .. ] Travel these days seems to be packaged and sold as such an idea!
Therefore, my concern is of a different order! It is not just for women, it is for everyone.. we need to find out for ourselves about our own selves.. Knowing our own selves truly I think is the first step towards liberating us and empowering ourselves.. before jumping into the bandwagon of the rest of the world!
And in all this, I totally forgot about the film.. I think that sums up its effect on me! Even though I was eagerly waiting to see Rima and Manju share screen space, and an ardent fan of Ashiq Abu films, the film did not work for me as a whole. It worked for me in patches like that shot of Dileesh Pothen in a checkered shorts with thermals! Or Sreenath Bhasi’s reaction to Warrier’s yellow flower and the sneeze story.. or Srinda’s jealous friend act! Or Manju Warrier’s swift change in facial reactions between scenes, the presentation of the wedding video in the first half! The landscape shots of the second half were breathtaking! Himalayas, watch out.. Malayalees are going to invade you with touristy ambitions for a few years to come like they did for Gavi after Ordinary! But none of these can compensate for the lame story line, lamer stories within the stories.
Inference: The more the promotion, beware of the film! Borrowing the tagline of Jeethu Joseph’s Drishyam – Visuals (Promotions) can be deceptive.