Parents & Lovers: How ‘Muramba’ the Breezy Marathi Romcom Subverts
Many intimate films are relegated to the status of ‘small gems’ but you end up filing away abundant details for their sheer tenderness. Muramba (translating into a fruit preserve which slowly ages) is a lighthearted film that follows the 500 Days of Summer template but shoulders the mantle of deeper familial and social observations.
Alok hesitantly deliberates upon his sudden breakup with his long-time girlfriend, Indu when he announces it to his parents and unintentionally deconstructs his relationship. The trajectory of his fraying relationship is portrayed in a non-linear fashion. We see the story unfold through Alok’s perspective in flashbacks in the first half. Indu’s stance is revealed towards the end of the film in a masterstroke of a move for a Marathi romcom. The truth always lies in the omissions. We go to the movies to surrender ourselves to manipulation and Muramba’s narrative structure does just that. It unearths emotionally self-defeating patterns that conceal one another like a Matryoshka doll.
The demonisation of female ambition in our culture is subtly rendered by glimpses of Indu’s ‘aggressive’ go-getting temperament as a graphic designer – a triumphant reminder of how far Marathi cinema has traversed from the woman restricted to the domestic threshold a la Alka Kubal in the likes of Maherchi Sadi. The normalisation of a woman who loves to drink without being branded as an alcoholic is also a first for Marathi cinema.
Anchored by convincing performances from internet stars - Mithila Palkar of the cup song and Little Things fame, Amey Wagh, who has amassed a fan following for his straight-faced humour in the web chat show, Casting Couch with Amey and Nipun, it is the roles essayed by Sachin Khedekar and Chinmayee Sumeet as the parents of the lead pair that make Muramba distinctive.
As opposed to the traditional narrative, where parents are the point of conflict in love stories, here they lead the film to its resolution. They are not consigned to being villains or supporting characters. It is through the prism of generational harmony instead of a generation gap that this love story is examined. Not eager to dish out wisdom from the trenches, the parents stand out for their desirable ‘cool quotient’.
The exploration of ‘dating’ in a conservative Maharashtrian household is the stuff of evolved cinema. As shaken as they are about their son’s breakup with a girl they are fond of and with whom he was set to get engaged, their first suggestion is to switch off their cell phones before diving deep into a discussion.
The domestic scenes are reminiscent of a world from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films where problems are resolved or fates accepted over endless cups of tea and dosas slathered with white butter. We see mothers working on laptops and driving cars while fathers navigate the kitchen with ease. The accomplishment lies in the fact that these men and women do not belong to the present-day generation. They even presume pre-marital sex with candour without actually spelling it out, when the dialogue swerves in that direction.
In one of his interviews to a Marathi Youtube channel, director Varun Narvekar reveals the seed of the film – the revival of the idea of parents as friends. “As children we are eager to confide in our parents about everything but this tendency ebbs in teenage years and almost disappears when we go to college”, he says.
In one of the telling scenes, the father tells Alok how he nurtured the clichéd idea of philosophising to him over beer but how he had to do away the thought when Alok introduces him to Indu – a sensitive allusion to space in the parent-child relationship.
Despite the depiction of the progressive ways of the parents, there is a sense of restraint in the writing that makes them credible and rooted in the urban reality of upper-middle class Pune. An elegant lip lock and a talk about sexual history between the lead pair are refreshing departures for a mainstream Marathi film but are unfortunately and expectedly beeped. The subtitles curiously retain these references.
As moving as the film may sound, Varun Narvekar’s directorial debut establishes a warm and droll tone, evocative of American sitcoms, veering away from the sugary terrain. The powerful intimacy of his writing and the fact that it unravels over the course of a day with minimal change of location gives it the immediacy of a play but effectively steers clear of a stagey quality. The slow-burn tension laced with hilarity in a scene unfolding in a car and the exalting use of jazz music to elevate the drama of peak sidesplitting moments are examples of Narvekar’s craft. The standout feature of Muramba is the dialogue that keeps it real and makes you believe that you are eavesdropping on actual conversations.
Alas, the film is not flawless in its predictably easy ending but the way it juggles themes about family, identity, male ego and crippling repressed emotions within the framework of a love story make it an outlier in the romcom space. The millennial male, Alok dealing with his career woes may as well be the hero of an Imitiaz Ali film but it is the way the film unearths the reason behind the disintegration of his relationship with Indu sans the angst, that makes him endearing. It is the economy of the film that makes it unique – it does more with less. Bollywood, are you listening?
(Dipti Kharude is a freelance writer who pens her thoughts on cinema, travel and lifestyle. She tweets at @kuhukuro and is often found on her Instagram account @phiru_phiru.)