*Major spoilers ahead and the entire plot is revealed. This is not a review of the film but a commentary. If you don't like spoilers, read this after you watch the movie.
She's dancing onstage in abandon at a college cultural event. The students are cheering, recording the performance on their phones. He is watching her in resentment, his face twisted into a scowl. No, it's not because Govind hates Pallavi. It is because he loves her. Or does he?
Manu Ashokan's Uyare, starring Parvathy, Asif Ali and Tovino Thomas, is an uplifting film about an acid attack survivor who triumphs despite the odds stacked up against her. As Pallavi, an intelligent and ambitious young woman, Parvathy takes us through the trajectory of an intense relationship that turns toxic. We've seen several Indian films on "love failure" from the perspective of the man, his melancholy, his depression, his alcoholism, and even his violence. Most often, he's glorified for his behaviour and the woman is held responsible for his self-destruction.
Uyare, however, forces us to turn away from this popular narrative and watch the horror unfold from the woman's eyes. This unflinching portrayal of a romance that begins as a comforting friendship but turns vicious is a story that needs to be told again and again till we break the mainstream mould of what it means to love and be loved.
Here are seven lessons on toxic relationships that Uyare gives us:
1. Intelligent, ambitious women can be in toxic relationships too: We all have an image of the ideal victim. She's meek, helpless and dependent on the man. Uyare could have been the story of one such woman who survives an acid attack. But it isn't - it's about the ambitious Pallavi Raveendran who wants to conquer the skies. She's smart, beautiful and independent, but she's still entrapped in her relationship with Govind (Asif Ali).
Why doesn't she walk out? Why doesn't she break it off with him? Those who know Pallavi are puzzled but she has her reasons. She feels she owes it to him because he helped her out when she was an emotional mess during their schooldays. Despite their volatile arguments, she keeps going back to him like a moth drawn to a flame.
2. Control is not love: Govind expects Pallavi to tell him every little aspect of her life - from which dance costume she will wear to what length she will cut her hair. She has to report to him when she goes to bed and stay available all through the day to take his calls and reply to his messages. When her friend and classmate at the flying school Sariya (Anarkali Marikar) suggests to Pallavi that this is absurd, the latter says that it's because Sariya does not know the feeling of security, of someone watching over her to this extent.
Pallavi knows that Govind goes overboard with his possessiveness and she even hides things from him so as not to upset him. But all along, she justifies his controlling behaviour as "love". When her father (Siddique) intervenes, Pallavi jumps to Govind's defence. But she finally reaches a breaking point when she realises that Govind's controlling behaviour means putting an end to her own dreams. How can it be love when one person has such scant respect for the wishes of another?
3. Emotional blackmail is a strategy: Govind will go to any extent to grab Pallavi's attention. When she doesn't answer the phone during class and later yells in frustration at him when he repeatedly calls her, Govind slits his wrist and sends her a photograph. Pallavi is shocked and immediately contrite, as if she's responsible for his self-destructive behaviour. She rushes to his house as soon as she can. Govind tells her that he slit his wrist because he wanted her to be the first person to know that he'd got a job and couldn't take it when she screamed at him.
Instead of seeing this as a warning sign, Pallavi buys his assertion that he loves her deeply. Later in the film, after Govind throws acid on Pallavi's face, he and his family still expect her to forgive him because a court case will ruin his cherished career. However, it's too late for the emotional blackmail to work.
4. It isn't love if it consumes your entire life: When advising Pallavi, Sariya puts up five fingers and tells her friend that a romantic relationship is just one aspect of life and that it must not take over everything else. The first time she says this, Pallavi laughs it off. But the second time is when Pallavi is beginning to understand that Govind is suffocating her and that she can never be free of his control.
And indeed, when she reaches home, she finds Govind waiting for her at the gate. Pallavi at last takes the call to break up with him, a decision that Govind refuses to accept.
5. Dependence and love are not the same: Pallavi and Govind stick to each other because of dependence. At first, it's because Pallavi as a schoolgirl needs Govind's emotional support when she's bullied by others. Later, Govind needs her because his career has not taken off and she's the sponge who's expected to absorb all his frustration.
When Pallavi breaks out of this cycle, Govind tries to force her back into it. He flings acid on her face when it becomes clear that Pallavi does not want anything to do with him. At the court, Govind's lawyer tells the judge that his client is willing to marry Pallavi even now. Govind's assumption is that since Pallavi can no longer become a pilot and no man would want to marry someone who looks like her, she has no choice but to return to him. However, Pallavi is incredulous when the judge places the "offer" in front of her and rejects it outright.
6. There can be no excuses for violence: Our newspapers often justify male violence against women as "crimes of passion", with headlines calling the man "spurned lover". This is nothing but victim blaming and cushioning the horror of the act to the benefit of the man.
In Uyare, when Govind gets on board a flight where Pallavi is now working as an airhostess and harasses her to drop the case against him, there's a tense moment when she has the chance to fling a cup of hot liquid on his face and scar him. But she chooses not to do so, throwing plain water instead and telling him that she does not want to do what he did to her. There can be no justification for violence, whatever be the equation between two people.
7. It's possible to move on: Uyare has the ring of a fairytale to it, though the heroine isn't an unblemished princess. Not only does Pallavi find good people like Vishal (Tovino Thomas) to stand by her, she refuses to give up on her ambitions. She remains confident about her abilities. When her father tells her that he will inform her about the court's verdict the next day, Pallavi says it's not necessary for him to do so. She's also unperturbed by the news that Govind has tried to harm himself once again.
She has moved on from her past and is finally flying free of the shackles that bound her to the ground. Her life has been turbulent, but it's still possible to make a smooth landing.