A middle-aged woman (Manju Warrier), trapped between family duties and a mundane clerical job, discovers herself after a disastrous encounter with the President of India.
How Old Are You marks a fine comeback to screen acting for Manju Warrier after 14 long years. The film, directed by Rosshan Andrrews, is tailored perfectly for her, and has, I suspect, strong autobiographical elements from her life as well, as she lived a ‘normal’ life as a wife and mother these 14 years away from the arc lights, before reclaiming her identity and individuality just as her character, Nirupama Rajeev, does with this film. The film is also perhaps reminiscent of another film, that also saw a fine comeback by another actress (Sridevi), whose character finds herself in pretty much the same situation, and who too finds herself by the end of the film, English Vinglish.
That said, Warrier deserved a better vehicle overall for her fine talents. While the film is extremely relevant and highlights what countless women in India go through in their lives as they lose themselves and their dreams after matrimony, it also falls prey to being perhaps a tad too simplistic and making full use of typical cliches to get its point across in its treatment of the subject. Sure, it is eminently watchable and makes some astute observations as well but finally, it ends up as a film, where its lead actor rises above the script to lift it that extra notch.
Though well-intentioned, the problem with the storytelling is that it’s too obvious and lacks subtlety. The narrative flow is choppy especially with the beginning sequences being quite haphazard before falling into place leading to Nirupama’s first meeting with the President. The plot takes too long to kick off and you actually wish there was more hold and stay with the story and with Nirupama coming into her own in the second half. And while the story seems to be about a woman who breaks the shackles of patriarchy and learns to live her own life, it is well within limits, like with English Vinglish, Both women find success that are food related, strictly sticking by skills of the ‘normal’ housewife. When Nirupama meets the President again at the end of the film and he asks her what is he happiest moment, she says, “Now”. And that is not because she is in front of the President, but because her husband holds her hand under the table to show he finally approves of her. This when throughout the film he has treated her with absolutely no respect, and even hooks off to Ireland with his daughter leaving her behind. Yet, her biggest success is when he too respects her. There are clumsy inserts into the narrative like the running of the marathon that too nothing for the film and if metamorphic, well then as I said, too obvious again. The plotting too is a mite convenient, even unbelievable at times, and perhaps some complexity within the characterizations might have made for a genuinely multi-layered, heart-warming film.
What makes the film finally count is Manju Warrier. She makes the film (and the role) her own and scarcely hits a false note and draws you into the film and into her character. Her body language, her demeanor, her character graph, her inter-character interactions – everything is well worked out in a rich performance that makes you glad that an actress like her has returned to her craft and enriched Malayalam cinema. The rest of the cast support her well, even if some of the characters like that of the husband (Kunchacko Boban) are caught in thankless roles. One track that works particularly well is that with the old woman she sees in the bus everyday.
The technicalities are adequate, the background score a mite obvious and overloaded.
Overall, How Old Are You is definitely watchable fare that needs to be seen but that’s more due to Manju Warrier’s riveting performance rather then the merits of the film as a whole. Sure, it has its heart in the rights place, looks at an extremely relevant issue, and has it share of moments, but that’s really about it.
Malayalam, Drama, Color