Ranjith Shankar’s Ramante Eden Thottam (Raman’s Garden Of Eden) is a romantic-drama centred around an introverted and submissive danseuse, Malini (Anu Sithara). The story is about how she is stuck in an abusive marriage, and decides to stand up for herself and embrace life. The film showers a lot of affection on her, almost as if this is Shankar’s way of apologising for his last film, a mediocre, perverse horror-comedy, Pretham.
In a surprising deviation from Ranjith Shankar’s usual style, the love story at the heart of the film is rebellious and heartening. Raman (Kunchacko Boban), a 40-year-old widower who runs an eco-resort called Eden inside a forest in Wagamon, is a metaphor for the nature that nurtures and inspires everyone who stays close to it. And Kunchacko Boban, with those flowing locks, gentle demeanour and earth-toned clothes, rightly looks like someone who has discovered the essence of life and happiness.
When Malini, married and mother to a 10-year old, arrives at Eden with her family for a short vacation, Raman falls in love with her.
There is an interesting scene in which Varma (Ramesh Pisharody), Raman’s friend, confronts Raman about his relationship with Malini. Raman is sitting by a campfire, playing a tune that Malini was heard singing a while ago on his guitar. “You have feeling for that woman. Don’t you?” asks Varma. “No,” Raman replies. “You don’t?” he asks again, and this time, Raman says, “Yes,” almost like a reflex, with a tint of playfulness. You expect the film to warn him of the consequences of falling in love with a married woman. Another film might have made Varmaji say, “This is wrong. She is a wife and more importantly, a mother.” But in Ramante Eden Thottam, everything is fair in love.
Kamal’s Meghamalhar was the last Malayalam movie that portrayed the forbidden allure of extra-marital relationships. However, in Meghamalhaar, Nanditha (Samyuktha Varma) is nervous and guilty for falling love with Rajeev (Biju Menon), while the latter is carefree and happy. The female in Kamal’s unconventional love-story adheres to conventions, while the man enjoys a superior status.
In Ramante Eden Thottam, love binds them both, making them happier and livelier than ever. It helps Malini rediscover the artiste in her, and it prompts Raman to set up a mobile tower inside his Eden, so that he can exchange sweet and short text messages with her. They yearn for each other’s presence, and the film embraces the sensuousness of their relationship. It’s as much a physical desire as it is platonic.
There is a sequence in which Malini comes down to Eden unaccompanied, reminiscent of a scene from Aniruddha Roy Chowdhuri’s Anuronan. This sequence is full of laughter and love, without a sense of foreboding. The film’s most beautiful song “Akale Oru Kaadinte“ plays in this part, lending the background for Malini’s breakaway from a monotonous life, towards something meaningful and enriching.
Joju Joseph plays Elvis, Malini’s husband and a scion of an illustrious cinema production family. A trained civil engineer, he chose to produce movies even though he knows nothing of cinema or art, because it seemed like an easy business. Even while building up reasons for the audience to despise this man who treats his wife like she is a domesticated animal, there are sympathetic scenes that portray his despair. Ranjith Shankar’s film chooses not to hate Elvis, even when he stoops to becoming a wife-beating criminal.
For the most part, Ramante Eden Thottam belongs to Madhu Neelakantan, the cinematographer who breathes life into the film’s characters and spaces. Like the nondescript yet unforgettable opening sequence, in which Malini is recording a video for Raman while driving her car through a near-empty road at night. He blends the street lights and the myriad colours of the night to create a visual that hints at how beautiful and complicated the duo’s romance is.
The writing wavers from top-notch to something written by an ambitious high-school child. The initial conversations between Malini and Raman at Eden would corroborate this. The clumsiness of the lines are particularly jarring because everything else on screen – the good-looking actors, the ethereal mountain and the forest that surrounds it – looks picture perfect.
The actors are great. Kunchacko Boban’s Raman might come across as a I-Know-It-All man at first, but soon Malini takes over the narrative, and he is, thankfully, reduced to his normal vulnerable self.
However, it’s Joju Joseph’s performance that is the most nuanced and layered one. He makes you understand Elvis’s frustrations, which, had it been portrayed by a less talented actor, would have been a run-of-the-mill villain role with some familiar dark shades.
Ramante Eden Thottam is a movie that stays loyal and empathetic to its unconventional romantic genre. If the film signals Ranjith Shankar’s growth as a filmmaker and a writer, Mollywood should rejoice, for it displays the maturity that the age demands.
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