It’s only a part of June that is set in school, as opposed to Oru Adaar Love, that came out a day earlier, and was almost entirely shot in school. Not that the two movies which deal with high school angst and adolescent lives need to be anything like each other, but you cannot help comparing the two when you watch them one after the other.
Oru Adaar Love came first, and 'adaar' in Malayalam is slang for something superb, amazing etc. Omar Lulu, the director known for his choice of casting young actors and throwing innuendo in the script, decided to release the movie on Valentine’s Day. The movie had, by then, been talked about a lot for the ‘winking girl’ Priya Prakash Varrier, who became a sensation ever since the first song was released. It was said the director then changed parts of the movie to give more screen time for Priya. And sure enough, the movie begins with a pair of eyes and a wink, and Priya walks into the new school, watched keenly by Roshan, another new admission, love at first sight and all. He pretends to be a senior and rags her before the actual seniors catch up with him. Juniors and seniors here are 11th and 12th graders respectively. And it would seem everyone coming to Class XI is a newcomer and the students of the school who went there till Class X have all disappeared. The very beginning sticks out awkwardly, the introductions are lousy, the dialogues lousier. But you wait, in the interest of not judging too soon.
In June, the first day of school begins at the home of our protagonist, also called June. How she prepares to be a 11th grader, with a shorter skirt to show off the legs, and the make-do makeup she can manage to put together. It is a surprise that a male director, and a new one – Ahammed Khabeer – could get these little details so right. Girls of several generations would relate immediately, that’s how naturally Rajisha Vijayan looks at the mirror, satisfied with what she thinks is a Preity Zinta hairdo. The mother catches her, of course, and the father (Joju George) laughs, before she reaches school and runs in, to escape the June rain. Like in Adaar, we meet the boy who is to be the boyfriend soon enough, a camera in his hands. June is an old student, the boy – Noel – is not. She watches from a distance as he shoots a little boy in the rain with his camera, and a familiar glint forms in her eyes.
Adaar too has rain, but it is used to get Priya wet and Roshan make an annoying wisecrack about her appearance, which apparently she likes. June and Adaar begin with Class XI – 15 and 16-year-olds with new interests and curiosities. In June, you find boys and girls murmuring separately, “It is the same old ones, bah” until new students like Noel and Fida walk in and they immediately light up. You can see that most are already in their friends’ gang, formed in the earlier classes and therefore comfortable with each other. June tells off her bespectacled friend who checks out the new boy Noel and says, he is Christian, not for you. The friend then asks the girls to check out another boy, in the second last row, “but not together, he would notice”. The earlier connection that Ahammed made persists, makes you forget June is a movie on screen and takes you to your own school memories.
Adaar does the opposite, reminding you every single second that you have spent money and time to come and watch this mockery of a school story. You are introduced to the new class here too – and the students, one by one. Soon after Priya, Roshan meets Gadha, who “saves” him from ragging and immediately becomes a friend. From that scene on, they do fist bumps whenever they meet, showing that they are thick friends. It’s not just pretentious, but entirely artificial, the way friendships are “made” and romances built. Soon after the first song – 'Maanikya Malaraya' - that went phenomenally viral before the movie came out, and in which Priya winks at Roshan (both characters have the same names as the actors playing them), he believes it is proof of her love for him and goes on to kiss her on the lips. That’s about their second or third meeting and the whole scene looks so much like a puppet show, with an expressionless Priya, who later pretends to have not liked it. Omar perhaps was trying to create on screen his idea of how fake girls can be, through Priya, and how “nice” girls can be, through Gadha.
In June too, there is a kiss, but it is so natural and childlike, you find it adorable. Noel is backstage during the annual day programmes, and when June calls him to go on stage, he quickly plants a peck on the cheek and rushes away, leaving her blushing and smiling to herself. Their relationship, as relationships did in the mid-2000s, grows through “codes” like missed calls on the landline and notebooks kept next to one another, working together for a school play and other real scenarios.
Not through a “rain dance” on the balcony of the girl when her parents are not home, and flying kisses sent shooting in the class – another famous Priya Varrier scene. Nothing wrong in either of the scenarios, except how unreal they feel and how tiresome they look, the way it’s all scripted and picturised. In both movies, however, there is the very familiar depiction of Commerce versus Science groups that high schools are famous for. How Science students look down on Commerce kids and how the Science stream is shown its place.
A big turning point in Adaar comes when in a class WhatsApp group, some porn photos are shared accidentally from Roshan’s phone. Omar takes a lot of trouble to justify this whole sequence leading from the pictures being shared, to Priya getting upset over it and a suspension that follows. Throughout the sequence, the action itself is to be taken as something light, silly, that boys of this age do anyway and the reactions shown as too grave – how could the principal scold or suspend the boy for it, how could a girlfriend question him for doing something as trivial as enjoying or sharing porn. So, it’s not just that the movie is a poor presentation of school life, it is also exploiting a medium to glorify inappropriate behaviour as "masculine". After this bit, there is also blatant misogyny when Roshan goes on to tell off Priya with a “podi pulle” as she breaks up with him, and he does this, walking slowly to a background score to underline the apparent heroism. In another scene, he slaps her when she acts possessive. These scenes seem targeted for a certain audience comprising young men, who apparently agree with the director on how women should be treated.
June doesn’t make loud statements about the independence of women. It just quietly shows this as a way of life and nothing to be so alarmed about, because such women exist without having to blow their trumpets about it. June’s love story gets a blow too, but not because of anything as dramatic as a porn sharing boyfriend. It is for the simplest and most natural reason, viz, being caught. It’s an age most unpredictable and June, unlike many rebellious teens, declares her love for her parents, making her closer yet again not because she made the right choice but because she echoes lines many among us would have spoken or heard. But the same June doesn’t hold herself back when she is an adult, an earning young woman, and has another chance at love. Life changes, your outlook grows, your decisions become your own to make at a point. June simply tells you that without noise.
But even as she is all grown up, ready to begin a new life, she’d easily go back to being a kid when she catches up with her old schoolmates. When you watch with her, the old school scenes that Noel had once shot with his camera, you gulp down with her, feelings that only memories could bring, whether you call it nostalgia or sentiments or love for a lost time. You feel it because even in the short time her school life is shown, the characters have all been portrayed deeply, their individual traits coming out very clearly – you know how the three-boy gang is close to each other, you know Noel wants to be a photographer, you know the dreams of Fida to be a supermodel and another girl’s to be an actor. They become people with stories and dreams unlike the sad pretentious stereotypes Adaar tries to present. Perhaps it is apt that June shows a school story but steps out of it to take young adults to the real world out there and Adaar is metaphorically stuck in a school trapped in narrow-minded ideas and the beliefs of a century gone by.