Ms Representation: The deliberate slowness of Anjali Menon's Koode
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author talks about the female characters of Koode
In Koode, Anjali Menon offers viewers and her cast a dreamlike landscape in a surreal story. The ordinariness of the supernatural in this film, reminded me of Murakami, in fact. It is unexpectedly light for a film whose leads are dealing with burdens so heavy. It was also an interesting choice for Nazriya, who’s been on a break for a few years, post-marriage to Fahadh Fasil (both of whom also starred in Anjali’s previous hit film, Bangalore Days), to have made her comeback in a role such as this. Indeed it feels like relaunch coup of sorts, for Nazriya is cast as a teen or at best, virginal 20-year-old, college student and she looks the part, every bit. Contrast this with the kind of roles south Indian actresses have been offered and have been playing traditionally after their ‘break’.
There’s a deliberate slowness to Koode that delights. To me, that is what makes this a remarkable landmark film. After the success of Bangalore Days, you’d think Menon is under pressure to deliver something even more bombastic. But instead she slows down, and this indulgent, if I may call it that, female gaze is what announces the arrival of an exciting phase in mainstream south Indian cinema. Anjali’s self-awareness and the breaking of the fourth wall, where Nazriya’s Jenny says something to the tune of, ‘If we are quieter than this, this will turn into an art film’, for me defines this film. With this one line, we know just how fun Jenny’s role is going to be, and where we are to place this film – not an art film, but a slower commercial film that breathes.
Though I have read online that Koode is the official remake of the Marathi film Happy Journey (and the lead from Happy Journey, Atul Kulkarni, plays a small role in this film too), there have been no references to the film in any official manner. Nazriya’s Jenny and Prithviraj's Joshua (in his career best?) perfectly complement each other as they play siblings. Joshua’s story unfolds beautifully, slowly, and as a creepy uncle’s hands land on his shoulder (props to Zubin N who plays Joshua Jr) the horror of abuse is established amid chilling silence that screams out loud. Indeed Joshua’s silence, his withdrawal, his resentment at losing his connection to family, as he’s sent to the middle east to work so as to support the family and pay for Jenny’s congenital condition… they ring loud. Joshua is antithetical to toxic masculinity, in fact, he’s written to show us how it breaks some men. As Joshua stands under a shower, and the camera ever-so-slowly moves away from him, you know just how hard he’s still trying to forget about the abuse, even though nothing is mentioned. Except perhaps once, when an inquisitive Jenny asks him if he’s a virgin.
Parvathy as Sophie complements this duo in a manner that feels natural. Indeed both Joshua and Sophie are withdrawn, quietened by life’s harshness and almost blend into each other, as they form a happy whole, while Jenny is written to stand out. It’s amazing how Parvathy, who so rightly describes herself as a shapeshifter on Twitter, transforms herself into a new human being in every film. She looks so different in this film that I almost didn’t recognise her when she first appeared on-screen. She plays her role with a degree of dignity and that lends it much more gravitas. Just as Joshua’s abuse does not define him but is there, inside in a dark corner, Sophie’s abusive ex-marriage does not define her, though the scars still seem raw. She stands in front of a mirror and observes some scars and then quickly wears the buttons of her high-neck blouse. And we know.
Koode takes all of the things that make life hard and turns it on its head. It is life-affirming. It shows us that despite everything, love can make life bearable. A little something that we all need to be reminded of in these grim times.