B 32 Muthal 44 Vare Movie Review: An insightful take on body politics

B 32 Muthal 44 Vare Movie Review: An insightful take on body politics

Despite all the inconsistencies, it's a commendable effort discussing a subject that has rarely been attempted in Malayalam cinema
Rating:(3 / 5)

The primary challenge for any filmmaker who sets out to make socially relevant films is to come up with an engaging narrative without being overtly preachy. If the narrative and craft aren't captivating enough, it's hard to interest the viewer with the characters and their conflicts. To put it bluntly, good intentions alone don't make good cinema. Thanks to some earnest storytelling, Shruthi Sharanyam's debut feature ends up not just a well-intentional film but a well-made one too. The director picks five women and a transman from different walks of society to discuss the insecurities women have about their bodies. Despite inconsistencies, it is a commendable effort to explore a subject that has rarely been attempted in Malayalam cinema before.

Cast: Remya Nambessan, Anarkali Marikar, Zarin Shihab, Ashwathy, Raina Radhakrishnan, Krisha Kurup

Director: Shruthi Sharanyam

While watching B 32 Muthal 44 Vare, I could not help but think about Zachariayude Garbhinikal (2013). In Aneesh Anwar's film, the narrative revolves around a gynaecologist and his five patients, whose stories were connected by unconventional pregnancies. Similarly, in B 32 Muthal 44 Vare, there are six protagonists whose stories are connected by one common theme—their relationships with their breasts. Among the protagonists in both these films is a teenage pregnant girl. However, the similarities end right there, as the themes discussed in the two films are entirely different.

The title B 32 Muthal 44 Vare, which refers to the bust sizes of women’s innerwear, is apt for this film as it deals with how a woman’s breasts have a telling impact on the course of her life. Though not exactly an anthology, the screenplay is structured and divided like chapters, with each chapter named after the protagonist and their bust size. 

Malini (Ramya Nambessan) is a breast cancer survivor who experiences compatibility issues with her husband post her Mastectomy. Ziya (Anarkali Marikar) is a transman with chest dysphoria. Nidhi (Raina) is an 11th-grade student whose family tries to distance her from her newborn. Imaan (Zarin Shihab) is a young woman facing workplace discrimination because her features don't suit the company's beauty standards. Jaya (Ashwathy B) is a domestic help who is forced to take up lingerie modelling because of her family's financial burdens. Rachel (Krisha Kurup) is a budding actor who is assaulted by a director who poses himself as a feminist filmmaker.

A major problem when it comes to anthologies/films with multiple protagonists is that we don't get enough time to form a strong emotional connection. Most of the lead characters get only limited space, and it becomes a daunting task for the makers to tell their stories convincingly within that time frame. Shruthi's film also encounters this problem. Among the six stories, not all of them have the same depth and, as a result, emotional resonance.

For example, the story of an aspiring actor and her casting couch experience has seen many iterations, and this film doesn't offer any fresh insight. Similarly, Ziya's character, which has a chilling introduction, is grossly underdeveloped in the larger scheme of things. Inspired by a real-life incident, it is a scene where a schoolboy casually asks if he can grope her. It is a disturbing moment that instantly helps the viewer understand how insecure the world out there is for a woman. However, we don't get to see enough of Ziya after that. It is also strange that a straight actor was chosen to play a trans person in a film that talks about such progressive politics.

Shruthi displays glimpses of her true potential while handling the stories of Malini, Nidhi, Imaan, and Jaya. It is interesting how the relationship between Malini and her husband Vivek (Harish Uthaman) is showcased without getting into the familiar patriarchal and toxic traits angle. Vivek comes across as a caring and supportive husband but is also someone who is yet to come to terms with his wife's physical and mental changes post-surgery. The changing dynamics between them are carefully constructed and both actors efficiently handle it. Malini's arc from someone who chooses not to have kids to becoming a foster parent is also neatly developed.

Apart from Malini, the other two characters who get well-defined arcs are Imaan and Jaya. With Imaan, the film offers an insight into how 'aesthetic labour' works in the hospitality industry. Through her coming-of-age, the film attempts to challenge such beauty standards as an undesirable social construct. Similarly, through Jaya's transformation from a humble maid to someone who finds her true calling as a model, the film addresses the taboos surrounding modelling as a career option. 

Though the film begins with a depressing tone with all the characters wading through tough times, the narrative ends on a rather optimistic note by celebrating sisterhood. By the end of it all, we see a young boy standing clueless during a discussion about gender roles. It's nothing but a reflection of a harsh reality, and if films like B 32 Muthal 44 Vare can help spread some awareness, why not encourage?

Cinema Express