In the dim light of a night lamp, a 14-year-old searches the internet for planes and pilots. It's the day she first got on a flight, and had a glimpse of the cockpit. Smiling ear to ear, she walks to her parents' room and announces, “Dad, I want to be a pilot.” A word repeats itself then, the snatch of a song – "Uyare Uyare". The movie has begun and if you were as glued in as I was, you might just end up searching for seat belts.
New director Manu Ashokan grabs the viewer's attention in the first few minutes, the way the dream of a teenager is effortlessly built in front of you and how it grows with her, even as she goes through other stages of life. Like getting into a relationship that’s obviously not doing her any good, similar to how a lot of college love stories end up. Parvathy as Pallavi lets you see this as soon as she is introduced as the fun-loving regular college student, whose smiles disappear as soon as she speaks with the boyfriend.
Asif Ali as Govind is for some reason always grumpy and quick to find faults everywhere – Pallavi recognises it as the frustration of a man in search of a job and not getting one, and tries to be there for him. But this doesn’t seem to help in any way. He is that one fellow we all know to be downright bossy, demanding that his girlfriend lets him know every little move of hers, what clothes she will wear for a dance show, how she would cut her hair, where she would go every evening. Asif gets it exactly right, making you annoyed the minute he shows up on screen.
Sanjay and Bobby have as usual weaved in their magic around this most straightforward script, letting it absorb reality so smoothly. Asif Ali’s character, for instance, is very lifelike for those who have seen bossy boyfriends like him – the reasons that upset them are small, they can then turn overly apologetic to patch up or be emotionally blackmailing. You might wonder if it is normal behaviour and if they need help. But this behaviour is seen to be pretty normal and the woman in such relationships is expected to be understanding. Often, it's difficult to comprehend the hold that such men have over the boldest of women which makes it difficult for them to walk out.
Pallavi tries to explain this to her loving and supportive dad – played by Siddique, shining as he does in such dad roles. But just as he doesn’t get it, we don’t get it either, for we are outsiders - Sanjay and Bobby get that part right too. We only hope then that Govind won’t stand in her way of becoming a pilot. He murmurs his obvious unhappiness when she goes for her pilot training, makes new friends, and studies brilliantly.
The story moves fast, beautifully edited by Mahesh Narayan, and it only takes a moment to change Pallavi’s life, her future that had a lot of promise. Acid attack. Even if you didn't register how naturally Parvathy conveys the efforts of a young woman who has to balance her dreams on one side and a bad relationship on the other, her powerful portrayal of the step-by-step trauma of an acid attack victim will move the coldest of hearts. Gopi Sunder’s music helps too.
You hear the stories of acid attack survivors, you know they exist but you don’t think of the hows and wheres of it. How do they survive every day, where do they spend their time. From being entirely destroyed to slowly, taking tiny steps back to a normal life, Parvathy takes you through many different emotions. Not in a way that's designed to draw your pity but to acknowledge that the challenge can be overcome if you have adequate support.
This is not an easy story to tell, it’s never been told in Malayalam cinema before – and the research the writers have put in for the film is obvious – the way Pallavi, by reflex, tries to hide her face from even her best friend at first, and the way she grows to accept the new face and fate. Without the cinematic drama that could turn the character superheroic, Sanjay and Bobby convey reality in the most inspiring manner.
The make-up team -- Zubi Johal and Rajeev Subba of Bengaluru based Dirty Hands Studio -- has to be lauded. In her pilot costumes, Pallavi appears to wear no make-up at all, but when she changes to a party dress, she is all hep and happy. The most brilliant work comes on screen when Pallavi’s bandages are removed for the first time and she watches herself in the mirror, one side scarred forever. A special kind of prosthetics make-up. If the make-up had slightly gone wrong, this scene and the rest of the film would have been hugely affected.
The film also shows how people can be human but simply refuse to be when the opportunity comes. That’s where Tovino’s character steps in, to remind us of that little fact, and to show Pallavi’s transition. Tovino as Vishal does well as the handsome, flirtatious, rich young man. But this is, by and by, a Parvathy film and let’s hope it is recognised as such.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.