Swathi Muthina Male Haniye
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Swathi Muthina Male Haniye review: Raj B Shetty helms a film he can be proud of

The film, directed by Raj B Shetty, starring himself and Siri Ravikumar, boasts of fabulous performances and a fine crew.
Swathi Muthina Male Haniye (Kannada)(4 / 5)

Where does one go when one knows that everyone’s possibility is one’s certainty? What does one do when one accepts what life has in store for them? How does a counsellor in a hospice, used to people fiercely clutching on to the last straws of life and living, deal with someone who seems nonchalant about death?

This is the canvas of Swathi Muthina Male Haniye (which translates to ‘the rain drop that begets a pearl’) and Raj B Shetty, who has written and directed it, besides acting in it, lets go of the broad lines and focusses on the small brush strokes that hold within them a multitude of stories. Each one of those admitted to the hospice run by Dr Manu (Balaji Manohar) has a painful story. Some have accepted it, some wonder what will happen to those left behind, some (an aching Gopal Krishna Deshpande) want to hold on to life and living. Actor Ramya's Applebox Studios debuts as producer with this film.

Counselling is a job Prerna (an excellent Siri Ravikumar) does effectively, even if she took her time to stop being personally affected. When a new patient, Aniket (whose name means ‘one without a home') refuses to divulge details and refuses counselling, she’s piqued. Her face, usually devoid of emotions, shows some curiosity.

Raj B Shetty infuses Aniket with a certain charm and likeability, both in the writing and performance. He’s the person who has shrugged off his former life to exit the world, far away from those who know him. He smokes marijuana in the room, craves thili saaru (a watery rasam) and meen saaru (fish gravy), and is determined to live and show others how to live till his very end. There’s a lovely comparison to Indie dogs shrugging off their identity, but I will let you enjoy that on screen.

Prerna is in a convenient marriage with Sagar, who is the kind of person you’d love to shake some sense into. She knows there’s going to be sex when he removes a condom from the pack well in advance, and knows there’s going to be a lot of sex when he goes on an official tour when the condom pack is missing. She cooks for him, leaves him coffee, and shares a bed. Never a happy smile. Even their anniversary dinner involves another couple, Dr Manu and his wife Aarti, because how much silence can one handle? Siri, an actor I’ve looked forward to since Sakutumba Sametha, is perfect as the counsellor who is dead from within and learns to live again. Her sarees and printed blouses showcase a great job done by the costume designer Bhavya Gowda.

Manu is an interesting character. He looks like a new-age man who is seemingly happy with how Prerna handles her work. He also finds happiness in that she is ‘dignified’ about Sagar’s dalliances and ‘handles’ it well. Aarti, on the other hand, can see through Prerna’s pain and joylessness. Much later, there’s a scene where Prerna shows Manu just what he is, when she speaks some plain truths.

Prerna begins smiling under Aniket’s gaze. She sees herself anew. And Aniket is the kind of man who startles her with the simplest, but also the most personal, questions: can I touch your saree, can I feel it? Prerna is unused to these tender moments of intimacy in her marriage. When Aniket looks at her, she’s usually bathed in light — for she is indeed the light he sees from his very dark space.  

Editor-cinematographer Praveen Shriyan, Raj’s frequent collaborator, gifts the film both light and sombreness. Everyone’s seen the happy, pretty side of the Nilgiris, where the film was shot. Praveen shows what the hills can also feel like — dark and brooding and where time almost stops still, but for the fleeting ray of sunshine sharp enough to burn your skin. He edits the film that way too — with a certain tenderness, where time moves at a pace slower than usual.

Composer Midhun Mukundan, another Raj collaborator, lends the movie a gentle background score that celebrates pauses and silences. “Mellage” is the kind of number that soothes wounded hearts.

While Raj has given us several mass cinema moments in Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana and Toby, in Swathi Muthina Male Haniye, he delves deep to create a universe with very few people, a lot of silence, and some conversation. It is brave to release a 100-minute film, without being tempted to stretch it to fit an accepted idea of what works in cinema. This is a film he can be proud of.

Your heart goes out to Prerna, because a woman who is so nurturing (remembering to ask for black tea for the aged uncle wondering what will happen after his wife’s passing), receives none in her marriage. 

The scenes with Prerna’s mother (the brilliant Rekha Kudligi) are written from a place of deep empathy. The mother, who sees her daughter suffering in her marriage and charmed by a man with a finite time, gives her a ticket to do what she wants. 

JP Tumminadu (yes, Priya’s husband from Sapta Sagaradaache Ello) plays  with gravitas Prabhakar, the silent caretaker and meen saaru maker who drinks himself silly after an inmate passes. He makes no sense of the entries and exits, and asks why he must speak to someone who will die tomorrow. Aniket makes him understand that it is all the more reason to speak. In a way, Aniket is Prabhakar and Prerna’s counsellor — teaching them to make the most of life.

The film has a lovely motif involving the nandibatlu (crape jasmine) flower. Prerna and her mother love it and Aniket plants that sapling in his memory at the hospice. Till Prerna meets Aniket, it is that shrub outside her window whose wilted flowers she sweeps away every morning. He teaches her to look at it differently — it blooms even if no one celebrates it. It lives. It blooms for itself. Like Prerna learns to.

Subha J Rao is an entertainment journalist covering Tamil and Kannada cinema and is based out of Mangaluru, Karnataka.

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.

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