Home tells a touching story about a family but also ends up glorifying insensitive behaviour, especially towards women.

Poster from Malayalam movie #HomeTWITTER/ AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
Flix Opinion Thursday, September 09, 2021 - 14:41

Home, directed by Rojin Thomas and streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is undoubtedly a great movie. It finds us sitting with our family on a Sunday afternoon with silent streams of tears running down our cheeks. The ensemble put up a great show; the actors seeped seamlessly into their characters and we aren’t surprised that some funny moments from the film keep coming back to us. One of the most remarkable things about Home is that it cuts through to different generations, accomplishing the herculean task of narrating the story of each.

Home is the story of a home not unlike ours. It tells a touching story of generations and the subsequent gaps that hang wide open in our households like loose cupboard doors. So many things about the film felt familiar, felt like home. Several scenes in the movie hit home and made it even more cathartic.

The film, which has been widely enjoyed by youngsters, adults, and the elderly alike, comes from a place of good intentions — of empathy, kindness, and compassion. Yet, certain unforgivable aspects have crawled into an otherwise perfect movie. At the root of the film is the story of a generation with greying hairs trying to catch up with the present one that can apparently know of fish tanks that break from several miles away. However, the gender dynamics of the characters in the movie seem rather outdated.

Anthony Oliver Twist (Sreenath Bhasi) is somehow still the “bad boy”, the emotionally distant, distracted, detached, careless boyfriend. Priya (Deepa Thomas) is still the clingy, dependent, emotionally needy girlfriend, having to beg for attention and affection; telling him how he has changed, how he used to be, sobbing and heartbroken and still being the one to keep coming back.

Then there's Surya (Johny Antony) and his wife. There is not a moment of tenderness between them, but the constant bickering is set in the context of humour and somehow normalises such an environment of apathy between married couples at home. Such representations of married couples in Malayalam cinema is all too common. The homemakers of Malayalam cinema are constantly portrayed as being loud, annoying, shallow; a narrative that we are all too tired of.

The “she can’t even make tea well” assertion that a husband (in this case, Kiran) makes about his wife is so relevant that it finds a place in too many Malayalam films. Home is not an exception.

Patriarchy has called. It wants its lazy, outdated, deeply toxic gender dynamics back.

When family movies such as Home take such nuances in the stride of humour or casual scenes, those acts tend to be considered normal at home. When films set the precedent and become harbingers for social change, it is unsettling to have them normalise such depreciating gender dynamics.

Kuttiyamma (Manju Pillai) is one of the most lovable characters in the film. She is the perfect wife and mother —  attending to all her duties with dedication and vigour. There is a little of all of our mothers in Kuttiyamma. We have all been at the other end of such sarcasm — â€śHis account can’t hold all the millions of revenue he’s been earning” and loving assurances from our own mothers. Even then, it seems that Kuttiyamma has been served such grave injustices.

We love her. Of course, we love her. Perhaps, she may even be the character we loved most in the film. Nevertheless, we do not care for her. We don’t care that from the moment she comes on screen, she is seen working. She is constantly uttering deep sighs of fatigue. In all the frames that she exists, she is shown to be working, attending to her chores with a bad leg -— a bad leg that her son is insensitive enough to not even consider when he makes her climb two flights of stairs just because he is too lazy to get up from the comfort of the bed to switch off the fan. It isn’t a funny scene to watch, even though it looks like the makers had meant it to be. It is heartbreaking how the narrative of the hardworking, suffering mother and the prodigal sons who are too uncaring to take an ounce of household responsibility is heavily romanticised in the film.

But perhaps that was the intention? Perhaps the intention was to make the audience empathise towards homemakers such as Kuttiyamma whose frequent complaints of knee aches are unattended and whose sons couldn’t care less about their role in the domestic duties of a home? However, that seems highly unlikely. The relationship between Kuttiyamma and Charles (Naslen) comes off as cheesy and lovely. It is the worst part. We find it cute. We call Charles’s aloofness and Kuttiyamma’s predicament adorable. We claim it’s just home.

Make no mistake, Charles is an excellent character. He knows where to draw the line. He is sort of the glue that holds their family together. He is the one to warn Anthony when he’s crossed the line “What’s this, man? Won’t Pappa be hurt?” and he is loyal enough to distract Priya’s uncle for Anthony’s sake. We love his YouTube videos and his bragging conversations. We love how he is careless enough to go “what’s the matter, darling” and careful enough to know when to be silent. We love his silent conversations with his mother.

The film is so heart-touching and beautiful that it is hard to point fingers at it. But sometimes, it’s hard not to. Kuttiyamma at one point tells her house-help:

“Leela, can’t you tell your daughter-in-law to clean the fish?”

“What can I say, Kuttiyamma! She doesn’t enter the kitchen. She can’t stand the smell of fish it seems.”

“Does she eat it?”

“She can eat it once it’s cooked. No problem with that.”

It is impossible to overlook this one, not when she has to climb two flights of stairs with a bad knee just to collect her sons’ dirty clothes for laundry. Are they off the hook for such responsibility because of their gender? Does Kuttiyamma not hold them accountable for such duties (which she insists on the help’s daughter-in-law) because of their gender? Or is it implied that household chores are something that comes only with marriage?

Characters are allowed their fatal flaws, their hamartia. It gives them room to grow and us a chance to learn. But the thing about Home is that the characters are not given space to redeem themselves despite having their issues and flaws depicted in grave details before.

We find ourselves itching for a gesture, a word that can give us closure, that can make up for some resolution. But the little that the film has to offer, as opposed to the lengthy and deliberate scenes of conflicts, seems scanty. It is hardly enough.

Does Anthony ever admit to being toxic and redeem himself in his relationship with Priya? Does Charles account for his aloofness, does he ever start washing his bike rather than dumping even more work on his father, Oliver (Indrans)? Does Anthony ever acknowledge his addiction (as suggested by the psychologist; whether or not the entirety of his problems can be summed up under it is another matter), become a better son, brother and boyfriend? Does the issue of the generation gap between him and his father ever get solved? Does he finally bridge the gap between him and his family, the one that had caused his brother to say “He is not going to come here anymore” at the beginning? Does all the bad blood between him and his family dissipate because he had proof to believe that his father indeed was an extraordinary man?

One can only hope.

Joseph's (Srikant Murali) autobiography has been brilliantly used as a symbol in the film. It stands as the mark of distinction between Joseph and Oliver. Joseph - who has done extraordinary things, who Anthony turns to for advice, who he admires, and whose grasp of technology he is impressed by: “You should hear him talk about gadgets!” And Oliver, whom Anthony deems not to have done anything extraordinary, who he is embarrassed by, whose lack of technological prowess he detests, and to whom he says, “Remember it is your stupidity I am paying for right now.”

As it turns out, it is a huge moment of anagnorisis when Oliver and Anthony find out that the very cause of Joseph's life and Joseph's autobiography is in fact, Oliver. Painted on the significant symbol of Joseph's persona is but a drawing of Oliver’s good deed. There couldn’t been a better moment of realisation for the character of Oliver Twist. Period.

However, the smile and the half-embrace of reconciliation that Oliver and Anthony share at the end of the movie are barely sufficient. Does that mean that Anthony was willing to love and respect his father only as long as he had done something extraordinary and he had reason to believe it? Neither is it adequate to find Priya leaning on his arm, sharing a delicate moment after days of heated quarrel as though nothing had happened. We find ourselves going through the film again, desperate for Anthony’s redemption. Since there is hardly any, we have to make do with what little we are offered.

All we are left with is a meager “I am imperfect at my home.” The conflict between Anthony and Vishal (Anoop Menon) is a significant plot in the film, but most of the story is about the dynamics between Anthony and his family, his father, in particular. And the “I am imperfect at my home” comes off as a lousy excuse for being a shitty person. It is anything but an apology. It is anything but a disclaimer that he continues just as he was before. (What about Anthony’s established addiction issues? Are we to assume that it is dealt with from how they all are at the park going through the movements together? And what about the rift between him and his family that had caused him to leave in the first place?)

Or are we to presume that he was humbled by his father’s humility? This presumption, however, does offer some comfort.

Although we are hoping for the protagonist, Anthony Oliver Twist to make amends and resolve his conflicts, since the character never shifts on screen, the arc feels incomplete. It feels like we are left with loose ends, ones that do not add up, no matter how desperately we want them to. Anthony Oliver Twist remains the exact same person he was at the beginning of the film, except he now believes that his father had done an extraordinary act. And has that made all the difference?

Neetha John is a post graduate student in Creative Writing and is a fierce lover of films, books and anything that can tell a story.

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