A still from <i>Varthamanam.</i>
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Review: Parvathy’s ‘Varthamanam’ Is Amateurish and Forgettable

A review of Parvathy Thiruvothu-starrer Varthamanam.

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Movie Reviews
4 min read

Review: Parvathy’s ‘Varthamanam’ Is Amateurish and Forgettable

Ever since the regional office of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in Kerala had denied permission of screening to Malayalam film Varthamanam, it’s been even more of an anticipated film. It had all the right ingredients to interest a highly politically involved audience. Topical, stellar star cast, and presumably taboo content. Well, it could have been so much, but the delivery falls terribly short.

Varthamanam can mean many things - a conversation / daily news / the present. However, the execution of a film with such a nuanced title is quite amateurish and shoddy.

Directed by Sidhartha Siva, the movie narrates the journey of a Malayalee girl, played by Parvathy Thiruvothu, who goes to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in New Delhi from Kozhikode to research a freedom fighter. Right from the start, it tries hard to be many things all at once… and fails. The conversation in the opening scene in the cab, is stilted and the comedy falls flat, and you know right then, it’s not going to be a comfortable ride.

One can’t really blame the actors for it. The script by Aryadan Shoukath tries to pack in virtually every political situation that is happening in the country into this one film - a veritable checklist of all current news items, resulting in an unwieldy mess. From targeting student leaders by branding them as anti-nationals to discrimination against Dalit students in higher education to absolute control of freedom of professors to lynching in the name of cow slaughter to moral policing to religious student groups to censorship of artistic expression in campuses to political thuggery in universities… it’s a confusing collage of incidents spanning assorted govt abuse. As a result, Varthamanam doesn’t explore any single theme in detail. Even the political dialogues just skim the surface and are nothing we all have not exchanged over drinks and dinner.

A still from <i>Varthamanam.</i>
A still from Varthamanam.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

They’ve conveniently made the protagonist Faiza a poster child for it all - making it even more diluted. Faiza is shown as a shy but diligent girl and her unlikely, unjust metamorphosis into a wanted criminal for her outspoken views on justice and freedom should have had us rousing to her defence mentally. But, one is left wondering why the bunch of student leaders gave her any attention at all. Why was she given the stage to speak when she so clearly had nothing to say. The student leader Amal (Roshan Mathew) and Faiza’s roommate Tulsa who hails from a Dalit family in Uttarakhand seem the only two who lend some credibility and freshness to the film. Though, there is one poignant scene which stands out where Faiza finds herself on the police wanted list and in a moment of vulnerability states that she had come from a home of a freedom fighter but now it will be called the house of a terrorist. This almost transports us into the minds of a Disha Ravi or Safoora Zargar or any of the countless imprisoned or activists accused of anti-national activity in recent times. One only wishes Varthamanam had more such evocative scenes.

Getting to the point takes the filmmaker a long time, in fact it’s only after the interval that we see any of the fiery political situations unfolding. Taking that long to create a setting or to establish relationships just fatigues the viewer. Even then it seems so caricaturised and forced. Varthamanam unfolds stodgily with a bunch of cliches strung along - a fat obnoxious comic who’s Faiza’s local guardian, a suave banker who supports demonetisation, rude right-wing goons in a perpetual rage. In fact, most of the supporting cast are very average or sub-standard. The juxtaposition of Hindi and English with Malayalam also seems most forced.

A still from <i>Varthamanam.</i>
A still from Varthamanam.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Yet, one must admire the resoluteness to stick with the point of the wrong in politics. Varthamanam is a gutsy film to make in a terribly hopeless time. It screams out about fascism and uses the word anti-national more than a couple of times. The diversity within the campus is presented well. It succeeds to a certain extent to drive the point of the importance of such institutions for students from all corners of India too. Yet, for all that bravery, it doesn’t give us - as a cinematic experience, a single new idea of any kind. The dialogues are preachy and contrived. Casual conversations too sound like political speeches and none of the characters really stay with you.

To be totally honest, the most interesting part of this film seems to be, ironically, its banning by the regional CBFC.

(A writer, active theatre person and deep sea diving enthusiast you can connect with on Twitter @Sanginamby)

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