The film revolves around the troubled bond between a son and his mother, but takes a familiar path that glorifies motherhood like most Indian films.

Reba and Dhananjay in Rathnan Prapancha still
Flix Review Friday, October 22, 2021 - 12:37
Worth a watch

Rathnakara’s (Dhananjay) world revolves around his mother, the cantankerous Saroja (Umashree). He’s constantly irritated by her nagging, her way of speaking and doing things. Directed by Rohit Padaki, Rathnan Prapancha is about a man’s journey to discover the world beyond his mother. But does he?

Saroja’s characterisation as an annoying, sharp-tongued woman had my attention. Mothers in Indian films are typically depicted as self-sacrificing, divine beings with no desires of their own. The sons, too, are shown to be devout mama’s boys who don’t ever defy her words. The premise of the film, therefore, is intriguing to begin with. The back and forth between Dhananjay and Umashree is entertaining, with one walking around with a hangdog expression and the other always looking remarkably cheerful despite the damage that she does.

Rathnan’s world is in dull, muted colours and his yearning to step out of its confines is palpable. The camera captures the smallness of Rathnan’s life, how stifled he feels. However, Rohit does not really push any boundaries with the material. Rathnan makes a discovery about his past that propels him into making a journey; but the film takes a much beaten path with tonnes of mother sentiment, dragging it back to the all too familiar, glorified depictions of motherhood in cinema, even as its central message seems to be that there are many ways to become a mother.

I found myself thinking wistfully about Kalpana’s character in Anjali Menon’s Bangalore Days, a rare, unsentimental and hilarious depiction of a mother with a mind of her own. Why don’t we see more such mothers on screen? Does it have to do with the fact that most films are written and directed by men?

Reba Monica John plays Mayuri, a journalist, who accompanies Rathnan on his journey from Kashmir to Gokarna. She has a heart-warming track involving trans rights activist Akkai Padmashali. But Rathnan’s journey becomes quite predictable after the first stop – you see where exactly the film is going and there are no surprises.

This is supposed to be a sweet, sentimental drama with occasional laughs; but I was troubled by how easily the film excuses toxic behaviour (the music is enjoyable, but again serves to dilute much of this). As endearing as Saroja might be to the viewer, she’s not only abusive to her daughter-in-law (calling her names like ‘porcupine’ and even castigating her for not being a good enough mother), she also behaves abominably to the bride at a girl-seeing ceremony. It’s true that Rathnan is irritated by this behaviour, but his ‘journey’ only leads him to excuse it in the guise of motherly love. The way his mother has clamped down on his life is also romanticised.

Watch: Trailer of Rathnan Prapancha

Pramod plays Uddala Babu, a local goon, and his creepy moves with Benni (Vainidhi Jagdish) is passed off as comedy. At one point, he asks Mayuri what her size is, and both Rathnan and Mayuri take offence – but when he apologises [that too, to Rathnan and not Mayuri – as if the comment was made about the former], all is forgiven and we’re back in saccharine land again.

The film attempts to show different kinds of mothers, but unfortunately ends up stereotyping all of them at some level. Apart from the lead cast, Anu Prabhakar, Shruti Krishna, Achyut Kumar and other supporting actors also turn up good performances and keep the film going despite the blandness of the narrative.

Rathnan Prapancha’s ‘mother’ sentiment is sure to work with most audiences [especially Indian men who can never have enough of it], but isn’t it high time that we cut the umbilical cord and made films that are more honest about motherhood, parenting and adulthood? Take it from a mother who lives in the real world – it really is.

The film is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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.

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