Director: Jibu Jacob
Cast: Biju Menon, Anaswara Rajan, Aju Varghese
Cinematographer: Sadhik Kabir
In one of the early scenes in Jibu Jacob’s Adhyarathri, a wedding turns tragic. Minutes before the ceremony, the groom’s parents find out that the bride’s horoscope has a glitch. They want to call off the wedding. The bride and her parents break down in tears. Middlemen begin to negotiate dowry amounts. Enter the protagonist, Manoharan, a young man in early twenties, who puts on board a way-out. Why not find another boy to wed the woman? His eyes fall on a young man in the crowd – an unemployable loafer who is infamous in the village for his perverted ways with women. In no time, the wedding resumes.
Adhyarathri is one of the most obscene Malayalam films to release in theatres this year. What turns the film into an obnoxious work isn’t its morally dubious characters but the lazy filmmaking that treats them with utter insensitivity. The narrative is predictable and takes the beaten track. Scenes come with heavy-handed background score, and actors are used in the most clichéd fashion. The film’s sense of humour is stale and exhausting; jokes are cracked regardless of the nature of the situation.
In the remote village where Adhyarathri is set, a woman’s consent for marriage is an unintelligible idea. The aforesaid scene resembles television soap operas where horoscope-related issues weigh the same as a hole in the heart. For the people around him, Manorahan is a noble man who saves a family’s honour. He also saves the village’s women by sending the region’s chief pervert into the gallows of marriage. But the problem is in the film’s depiction of this situation. Adhyarathri pats itself on the back when the newly-wed husband closes the bedroom door flashing a twisted smile. The comic background music in this scene is self-congratulatory.
Jibu Jacob’s films, when summed up, are about the importance of traditional family set-up where the arguement of “what will the society say” takes a precedence over matters such as love, logic and consent. His last film, Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol, was a moral tale about the importance of keeping young women in reins. In Adhyarathri, Jacob makes a case for arranged marriages.
There is nothing novel about Adhyarathri‘s take on marital relationships. It shares our society’s scorn for marriages where men and women are equal.
Manoharan (Biju Menon) grows up to be the village’s moral gatekeeper and an official matchmaker. He takes special care in ensuring that no woman in the village marries outside her caste or religion. He has cut ties with his younger sister who eloped with a man of her choice. He keeps a strict watch on the village’s young people, restricting them from falling in love or indulging in something as simple as talking to the opposite gender. Jibu replicates instances from mediocre comedies like Salperu Ramankutty, where Jayaram hammed up as a village moral guardian who detests the idea of love marriage, and Hitler, where Mammootty was a puritan who barred his sister from talking to her fiancé because that isn’t what women from good families do.
Anaswara Rajan, the spirited teenage actor from Thanneermathan Dinangal, plays Achu, the grand daughter of Manoharan’s friend. She is an undergraduate student at a college in Bangalore. The choice of city is vital here. Adhyarathri cracks several jokes on a popular perception of Bengaluru as a morally corrupt place. There are scenes that reiterate the same. When Manoharan and his righthand man (Manoj) arrive in Bangalore to meet Achu, they are welcomed by a young crowd celebrating Valentines Day. The camera excitedly finds angles to objectify the girls.
Through Achu, the film pretends to explore what the ideal way to get married is. Her family and Manoharan find an under-educated but wealthy young man, Kunju Mon (Aju Varghese) who is revealed to have been in love with Achu from school days. Achu has found a man for herself—a good-looking Bengalurean (Sarjano Khalid). Manoharan, for the first time in many years, finds himself confused in a matchmaking task. Does a woman’s consent matter in a wedding? Who should I give Achu to, he asks his assistant. Throughout the film, she is talked about like a piece of cargo, or property waiting to be taken over by its rightful owner.
How many times will Aju Varghese be cast to play the ‘perfect rejection material’? Kunju Mon is repeatedly body-shamed and ridiculed for his lack of education. But there is little in the script that validates the film’s portrayal of him as a clown. The actors are alright. Sarjano Khalid, who might have it in him to be a good actor, is wasted in a role that uses him as an eye-candy and a physical contrast to Kunju Mon. Biju Menon excels in a role he has perfected several times before. However, there is only so much a cast can do to save a movie that plays out like an ode to the mediocrity that existed in 90s’ Malayalam cinema.
The Adhyarathri review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.