Pranaya Vilasam Movie Review: Emotionally stirring tale about finding closure

Pranaya Vilasam Movie Review: Emotionally stirring tale about finding closure

Despite the slight undercurrent of sadness that pervades the entire story, the film is careful not to go so 'dark' as to dampen our spirits
Rating:(3.5 / 5)

Isn't it funny when a married, middle-aged man reconnects with -- and maintains a discreet relationship with -- his former flame but gets upset when he learns that his present wife once had a romantic liaison before marrying him? Before diving into Pranaya Vilasam, I assumed it would be just another run-of-the-mill tale of a group of twenty-somethings simply hanging out, cracking jokes, discussing insignificant matters, and indulging in some cliché romance. Yes, it does some of those things, but only briefly, much to my relief. And since the posters and promos predominantly featured Arjun Ashokan, Anaswara Rajan, and Mamitha Baiju, I assumed it would be a love triangle between these three characters. But mere moments before the interval, it breaks that notion by going in an unfamiliar direction, with an unexpected emotional payoff.

Director: Nikhil Muraly

Cast: Arjun Ashokan, Manoj KU, Mamitha Baiju, Anaswara Rajan, Sarath Sabha

Rating: 3.5/5

We last saw Arjun Ashokan, Anaswara Rajan and Mamitha Baiju together in Super Sharanya. This time, however, Arjun is paired with Mamitha. They are college mates who make up a chill, drama-free couple sans minor insecurities. He has a reputation for being a ladies' man. She is aware of this and his former flings. She is not above the occasional drink. You see, that's one characteristic a few of the women in this film share. They are game for a bit of adventure. 

On the other side, Miya's character Meera, a college professor, shares a smoke with the middle-aged man I mentioned earlier, played by Manoj KU, a senior village office clerk. His wife is resigned to household chores while he is looking to be young again. We can sense a distance between them. We also feel a certain level of detachment between them and their son (Arjun Ashokan). If not for the 'interval twist', the son and father wouldn't have bonded the way they do later. However, the story isn't predominantly about Arjun or his emotions, but he is an essential character. It is more akin to Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, revolving around the seniors. Let's say Pranaya Vilasam would make an ideal companion piece to that film.

Pranaya Vilasam is about individuals looking for closure and individuals trying to facilitate that. After a tragic event, the film doesn't dwell on the accompanying grief too much. When a secret diary gets unearthed, the details bother her husband. He wonders aloud how she never told him about a past romance that everyone else knows. He is immediately called out, though, by his junior, played by the recent breakout, Sarath Sabha (Jan-e-Man, Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey). The young man asks him why he has no problem talking to another woman unbeknownst to his wife but is irked at the information about his wife's past. This development slowly turns Pranaya Vilasam into a road movie where Arjun's character, now privy to his mom's diary, sets out on a trip with his dad to seek out that mysterious lover, Vinod (Hakkim Shah). 

It's time for flashbacks, but the film is smart enough to keep the past and present playing simultaneously. The past is the 90s -- when the kids of the time watched Kunchacko Boban movies and used to imagine similar love stories with them and their school crush, and when audio cassettes became a form of love language. So it's only natural that these portions with Anaswara (as the younger self of Arjun's mother) and Hakkim emanate a mild 90s flavour. 

Despite the slight undercurrent of sadness that pervades the entire story, Pranaya Vilasam is careful not to go so 'dark' as to dampen our spirits. It achieves a neat balance between the light and dark moments by immediately switching to the humour-filled bonding scenes between Arjun and Manoj after a preceding sombre moment. Manoj's witty counters to Arjun's various shenanigans strangely reminded me of Tamil actor Manivannan who possessed the similarly admirable gift of effortlessly shifting between vulnerable and comical in such a way that the funny bits overshadow the melancholic. Some comic relief also comes from the dynamic between Mamitha's character and her father (Sivadas Kannur).

As much as I found everyone else in the cast decently serving the story, even though they don't offer anything new, I felt myself emotionally gravitating more towards Hakkim Shah's performance. I would've liked to write more about him; at the same time, the worry that I might slip some crucial revelatory element nags me. So I guess it's safe to say that he gives an efficiently layered performance that convincingly conveys the complexity of his character's state of mind.

There are some films where I don't find it necessary to focus too much on the craft because the emotions take centre stage. Pranaya Vilasam is one of those. It struck an emotional chord. It attains closure. Mission accomplished.

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