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Polandine Patti Episode 4

Last updated on August 25, 2021

Today we begin what will be a three episode look at the theme of Urban/City Life, with our examination of director Mathukutty Xavier’s 2019 film Helen.

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We begin with a discussion of Drishyam 2 flowing from the Clubhouse chat organized by The Other Banana podcast.  As always, there are SPOILERS.

02:18 Katherine mentions an article that explores Drishyam 2 as victim blaming (find in show notes and share link).

02:40 Harsha takes issue with the idea of victim blaming, rather, she sees part of the problem as taking away the victim’s agency.

03:55 The lack of agency for Rani, too, is problematic.  The core here is that Georgekutty ends up the sole actor around which everything in the film turns.

05:11 Katherine struggles with the film’s moral world view, but at the same time recognizes Georgekutty’s cleverness.

07:30 This family has a picture-perfect life they don’t want disrupted, and any issues they have get buried along with the body.

08:30 The first half of the film explores the family’s guilt and the impact it has on the family.

09:12 Harsha sees Georgekutty as an intellectual version of the kinds of role he did in Narasimham, where his character is a larger-than-life, superhuman kind of figure.

10:15 If you see the twist coming, it deflates the whole film.  But Katherine thinks the twist in Drishyam 2 came seemingly out of nowhere, but when you realize what they were doing in the first half, you can appreciate that set-up more.

11:30 Harsha talks about the trauma for the family and the community and how it informs the first half of the film.

12:25 Georgekutty’s sooper seekret plan!

13:05 How easy is it to leave a community and make a new start?

15:30  When a film goes straight to streaming, what is the challenge faced by an audience that’s not your primary target audience? 

17:13 Katherine gently tries to discuss Mohanlal at the risk of offending the star’s diehard fans, and Harsha points out that there are fans and there are paid trolls online.

18:19 Katherine notes that the die-hard Mohanlal fans she knows have generally been happy about sharing his good performances, and are aware when the films are not up to the usual standard.

19:15  How hard is it for actors to navigate a career as they age, especially when there is an audience that expects you to be an ageless, timeless, eternal hero?

21:56 Harsha notes that Mohanlal has a face that Malayalees have loved for its expressiveness – and like many other Malayalees, she’s an ardent fan.

22:58 Mohanlal is not Rajnikanth (who, as Katherine points out, doesn’t resort to hairpieces and all that when he’s off screen).

24:53 Katherine wants to encourage people to go seek out Mohanlal’s earlier films (especially from the 80s), which are much more widely available now.

25:56 Harsha mentions Cassanova.  Katherine has no words. 

26:28 Katherine suggests Lucifer did a good job of tapping into the idea of Mohanlal as a larger-than-life iconic hero.

27:05  Harsha notes Mammootty has more connections to the New Gen filmmakers, and has been in two of her fave new gen Films, Munnariyippu and Pranchiyettan and the Saint.

27:40 Mohanlal is not a risk taker.

28:35 Katherine points out that there is a view that Malayalam cinema is what is redeeming all of Indian cinema, but as we all know, there is lots of rubbish in every cinematic culture, but also suggests that sometimes a rubbish film is a palate cleanser, like reading a trashy novel, which is satisfying in a different way.

29:25 Harsha points out that Malayalam cinema had a very rubbish period, which has, thankfully, undergone a transformation since the early 2000s.

31:20 The pandemic is expanding people’s entertainment choices, and ultimately that’s a good thing.

32:58 We begin a discussion of our next theme:  Urbanism and City Life in movies.

34:50 Harsha gives a summary of the film Helen, the first film in this theme, which is essentially a film about survival.

36:36  Katherine notes that this film taps into her fears of cold and being locked in a cold storage.

38:02 Katherine was very invested in the film; Harsha wonders if there is a cautionary tale there about moving to Canada.

38:50 What kind of resources do you have to draw on when your survival is in the balance?  The film is meticulous in its writing and plotting.

39:57 Compare Helen to Trapped (directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, 2016) – Harsha sees something poetic in how the film uses the mouse that also ends up in the freezer.

41:28 Cities can be very impersonal places, where you are just another face in the crowd, but Helen’s survival also depends on the fact that she has made connections with others, like the mall’s security guard.

44:14 Having a sense of community is important in a city.

45:09 The other side of city life is that people might not realize you’ve gone missing, because people have jobs where they work late and it’s not unexpected, it’s the norm.  There aren’t as many restrictions on people in a city, especially true for a young woman like Helen.

45:30 Cities can be places of disappointment, but you can also have more freedom. 

46:08 Katherine meant to say you have the personal and impersonal in the same film (the film works on both these levels).

46:40 Harsha notes that the fast-food restaurant where Helen works is depicted very romantically, perhaps not surprising because Malayalam cinema loves its food porn.

47:10 Malls everywhere are examples of American capitalistic empire; the mall for Helen is a gateway to the life she’s planning in Canada.  Katherine notes the mall in the film is very much like any mall anywhere in the world.

48:18  The mall exemplifies the better life Helen hopes to have by moving to Canada.

49:00 The police officer played by Aju Varghese represents a more small-minded, narrow attitude – Katherine wants to smack him (metaphorically!)

50:50 The police officer is representative of someone with a much smaller life.

51:13  Helen is not fearful of what people will say about her, probably the most urban thing about the movie.

52:05  The city offers a choice to not feel desperate; a city offers a lack of judgment that makes young people thrive (see also Varane Avashyamund for this).

52:35  We begin to wrap up:  Harsha suggests that Helen gives us a good and bad balance of what a city is like:  the coldness of a city and how you can survive in it. 

53:44  Our next film in this theme is Bangalore Days, a film about young people moving to a bigger city for opportunities that might not exist for them in Kerala (Harsha points out that it’s a very rose-tinted view of city life).

Check out the list of films we’ve discussed on the podcast.

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You can connect with us on Twitter: @PolandinePatti

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