Kettyolaanu Ente Malakha movie review: Asif Ali is superb in a flawed but important film
The film's makers should be applauded for delicately handling a sensitive issue that needs to be addressed
In his new film Kettyolaanu Ente Malakha, Asif Ali plays Sleevachan, a successful farmer who grew up surrounded by female relatives. But oddly enough, he is unable to find a bride due to his awkwardness around a potential partner. Worried about what he would do after marriage, he attends a sexual education class but suddenly loses interest. "I've never had impure thoughts about any woman," he confesses to his priest later. But being a 35-year-old man with a frail mother, Sleevachan is compelled to find somebody to aid his mother as soon as possible.
When he finally makes up his mind and marries Rincy (Veena Nandhakumar in an effectively restrained performance), the decision is not driven by a desire to quell his sexual appetite or free himself of loneliness. It's because he doesn't want his mother to be left alone. When Rincy arrives at Sleevachan's home, her husband starts behaving oddly. Her expectations of a 'normal' husband-wife relationship are upturned when Sleevachan tries every trick in the book to avoid physical contact. But this is not a compassionless man. He is struggling to break free of the archaic ideas about masculinity and women instilled in him by decades of conditioning. He is usually assertive but is a mess whenever his wife tries to initiate physical contact. He yearns for it but can't bring himself to discuss his insecurities with her. He is like a nicer, teetotaler version of Jayakrishnan from Thoovanathumbikal.
Sleevachan's misguided thoughts about sexuality lead to an embarrassingly scary and awkward situation one night, and his subsequent attempts to overcome its after-effects make up the film's central conflict. The film's makers should be applauded for delicately handling a sensitive issue that needs to be addressed because it happens to many married couples. But not many say it out loud thinking it's 'normal'. Some incidents are not viewed as 'problematic' due to the very fact that two people are married. Some men assume that consent is granted by default because, well, you're married. In Sleevachan's case, there is no malicious intent. It's the confusing information fed to him by the company he keeps. He should've known better because this 'company' comprises men who have not been able to save their own marriages.
Sleevachan is portrayed as an inherently good man, and there are enough situations in the film that serve as testaments to his 'heroism'. Since the film is telling Sleevachan's story, where there is zero doubt about the genuineness of his intentions, you hope for things to go right for him again. The makers make it clear early on that they are going for a feel-good film — and it is very much one — but when an issue with many layers and complications is being addressed, you wish the film spoke in a louder voice. At one point, the same priest suggests that Sleevachan attend a counselling session but you don't get to see him or his wife attend it. I wish more effort was put into exploring this idea instead of exploiting the notion that women are generally forgiving. It may be okay for this film, but in a country where counselling/therapy is frowned upon, I wish the makers had put more emphasis on the importance of communication and seeking expert help. Not everyone is Sleevachan or Rincy and not every sex-related conflict is provoked by the same impulses.
However, there is no doubt about the fact that Sleevachan is one of Asif Ali's finest performances. After Uyare, we get to see the actor delivering yet another nuanced turn. Sleevachan's extreme discomfort and anxiety are very much palpable. Asif's subtle mannerisms are a joy to watch. He succeeds in evoking laughs and tears in all the right places. You really feel the severe anxiety he experiences when he reluctantly goes on a honeymoon trip. And the moment where he finally opens up to Rincy about his internal struggles is powerfully moving. In terms of its storytelling approach, Kettyolaanu Ente Malakha is cut out of the same cloth as Shubh Mangal Saavdhan or Dum Laga Ke Haisha. Even with its minor flaws, this is an important film worthy of discussion and newcomer Nisam Basheer is a filmmaker to look out for.