Ms. Representation: Love-Trouble in paradise
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema, and this week the author discusses Khalid Rahman's Love
A few days ago, I stumbled upon a Twitter hot-take on why young men resist feminism. The post reasoned that men, especially younger men, tend to be anti-feminist because they have grown up thinking that they would get to enjoy the 'perks of patriarchy' in their prime: that ‘they would have a submissive wife they can control’. But women are retaliating, even dismissing this idea completely. This ‘gap’ is crucial because it often ends up defining the male gaze that sets the standards for what a woman should aspire to, how she should love, or even merely exist.
Khalid Rahman traverses this tricky space in his latest film Love, streaming on Netflix. A drunk Anoop (Shine Tom Chako) kills his pregnant wife, Deepthi (Rajisha Vijayan), during an intense argument about their marriage. But does he? Structured as a psychological thriller, Love feels like a lovechild of Inside Out and Fight Club, in terms of treatment and form. It is all about the mind games; after all, isn’t that what toxic relationships are all about? The film delves deep into the chaos that exists in the mind of a man who is trying to comprehend the changing woman, using characters to make us understand his struggle with himself. And there’s a lot to unpack here. For example, Anoop talks to a ‘friend’ about the need to be honest and communicate well with one’s partner to solve marital discord, all while he has a ‘dead body’ in his bathroom!
It is terrific how Khalid brings all the different threads of thought alive on screen and illustrates the consistent double standards in the patriarchal mind. On one hand, there’s the wife-blaming, the jealousy, the projection of his insecurities on his wife. “Is there any man who hasn’t wished that he could kill his wife at least once?” he argues. But he also knows that the minute it gets physical, he has no redemption. He knows society will let him get away with emotional abuse, but not physical abuse. Yet, he continues to straddle the line to satisfy his male ego. He even convinces himself that, as a husband, he has the ‘right’ to hit his wife. One can say that he deserves the slap he gets in return for that.
Love is also revelatory in showing us how different women are in real life, from the way they exist in a man’s head. In the early minutes of the film, Anoop and Deepthi have a violent tussle. According to his account, Deepthi looks at a used plate with ants all over it and loses it completely. She breaks things that are around, violently lashes out at Anoop, and even throws her spectacles. Anoop then pushes her against a wall in response to her actions. But this is starkly different from what happens. Deepthi, in reality, washes the plate with a stern word about his habits. She just takes off her spectacles to wash her face. All she does is not give in to what he wants and instead calls out all his mistakes and manipulative behaviour in a reasoned manner. She doesn’t even take his hate bait and rather shuts him off, saying, “I know you've said all those things about me to save yourself.” The spectacles act as a nice metaphor for how misunderstood women are. (No one who wears power spectacles would actually throw it away.) The spectacles symbolise Deepthi’s 'lack of vision' — which is Anoop’s perception of her. However, in reality, she is just clearing the muck of her face, to ensure she sees life and herself more clearly. Rajisha gives an explosive performance that adds immense depth to Deepthi — whether she is staring with cold eyes or is in a full-blooded argument.
However, the final twist, where Deepthi ends up killing Anoop is the most important of them all. This part does feel rushed/contrived. Is it in self-defence or an accident? I wish we knew more. Nevertheless, it makes Deepthi more human, complicated, and real. Women are often put on a pedestal and deified to a fault. And it's time we're brought to a fair, even ground.