As a pair of hands carefully drew spirals with a liquid squeezed out of a towel and they turned into hissing jilebis in a pan, I thought Madhuram was going to be about sweets, a food movie that is so rare in Malayalam. Food plays a really big part in the movie, but Madhuram is more about the sweetness in people that comes from the unquestionable love they have for one another. Joju George, the big burly actor with a beard and a mop of unruly hair, becomes an epitome of sweetness in this film, a world away from the gruff characters he is known for. He, with the help of the unfailing Indrans and a talented crew of younger actors, gives us a cosy ride with Madhuram.
Thereâ€™s still a little bit of the explosive Joju lurking underneath but he pulls it off smartly, especially in the romantic scenes. Thereâ€™s something adorable about a burly manâ€™s shyness, especially when it comes across like a belated teenage he never had. Opposite him is Shruti Ramachandran, in colourful cotton kurtis and long jhumkas, looking at and past him with expressive wide eyes, pretty like she stepped out from an old oil painting. You have to bow to the scriptwriter who thought of writing about a woman so much in love with the forbidden biriyani that she has to sneak backdoors of a restaurant to get it and whistle secretly at a waiter for the salad.
Shrutiâ€™s voice is so markedly different from the stereotyped sweetness Malayalam heroines come with, you listen to her with interest. She contrasts Jojuâ€™s shyness by never looking away or throwing awkward glances. A subtle reversal of gender roles here, the woman looking sharply into the eyes of the man she loves, asking direct questions and laughing less, while the man finds his joy in serving her every way he can.
These scenes appear intermittently as flashes of a past that Jojuâ€™s character â€“ Sabu â€“ narrates or thinks about. He is in a hospital with others, all of them bystanders waiting on dear ones admitted for different stages of illnesses. It is a curious concept, stories of bystanders sharing space in a hospital. Ahammed Khabeer wrote a story about them, got it scripted by Ashiq Aimar and directed it with beautiful visuals (especially of the food) and performances. It is not just the veterans but the newer lot who bring so much feeling into the script.
Watch: Trailer of Madhuram
Arjun Ashokan, now a few films old, becomes an unrecognisably different man in every new movie, except for the Kochi slang he doesnâ€™t shed. If he was an old-fashioned materialist in Jan-E-Man that released only weeks ago, he now turns into a vulnerable, newly married man, easily stressed in life. In the opening scenes he appears like an unlikeable, indifferent man at home who is fun and relaxed outside, a common enough characteristic among Malayali men.
Nikhila Vimal who plays the wife however appears the opposite, not even seeming to notice his indifference while she talks to him, cooks or leaves for work. Again a curious revelation of character types and cool defiance of gender stereotypes. The woman is not always the first to break in a difficult situation. As the pieces of their story fall into place however, Arjunâ€™s character becomes more familiar, likeable. It is a jibe at you the viewer, for having judged too soon, the way we hurriedly form first impressions without knowing more.
The only problem is, in its continuous efforts to be sweet and full of feeling, the script might have overdone itself. Dialogues, which were at first all warm and humorous and real, turn a tad preachy and overly sentimental. It loses the warmth of the unspoken love and the casualness of everydayness when it tries to become too explicit, feeling the need to spell out things. Itâ€™s still a cosy ride, nonetheless, and the food is unforgettable.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.