Film, India, Malayalam, Review

Run Kalyani

Run Kalyani is one-time print media film journalist and documentary filmmaker Geetha J’s directorial debut in feature filmmaking. The film reveals how a deceptively simple storyline can enrich the tapestry of life – on celluloid and in real life.  In fact, according to Geetha in an interview given to Indian Express,  “Run Kalyani is a poetic and realist drama about duties, dreams and desires.” The idea for the film originated, to quote her – “from a sense of feeling trapped. Of looking around and seeing how all our lives fall into a pattern and observing how people managed to cope and even change their lives.” Run Kalyani is a film that defines freedom in a rather different way, touching upon emotions with finely nuanced touches.

In Run Kalyani, Kalyani (Garggi Ananthan) is a young woman who lives with her aunt (Sathi Premji) in a rundown agraharam in Trivandrum. The agraharam is a tenanted, two-storeyed small, self-contained apartment. The aunt, once a dancer, is now paralysed and bedridden and has lost her power of speech. Kalyani and her aunt are burdened under heavy debt with Kalyani taking on all the expenses such as arrears in rent, electricity bill and so on. She also has to fend off a persuasive marriage proposal which is not to her liking but we can see her taking some money through the door probably as an “advance” to tempt her to marriage. A driver of the multi-storied apartment complex she works in tries to attract her attention every day but fails and gives up.

Kalyani cooks in two houses somewhere close to where she lives and the people living in these form two interesting sub-plots. One lives alone and is about to retire while the other is a joint family comprised of a patriarch who constantly plays chess and uses competitive chess terms as he plays along. He has two sons, one extremely henpecked with a snobbish wife and the other who beats up his slightly mentally off-grain ex-surgeon wife. But Kalyani does not interact with them at all unless she needs to. She is, in fact, quite reserved and the only place she opens out is when she is talking to her aunt and a would-be young film director who keeps writing absurd scripts but never finishing them. He appears to live on the upper floor ante room of the home where Kalyani lives. But we never see him stepping out of the room or the house so one may safely assume that this is Geetha’s little touch of ‘surrealism’ to an otherwise simple story. Kalyani rests in this room and is unimpressed by his unfinished scripts and smiles at them or just goes to sleep.

Since Kalyani is a cook by profession, the camera and editing focus a lot on different processes of cooking that function like an editing strategy and mark a movement of the film from point A to point B to point C. Kalyani chopping vegetables, roasting onions and red chilllies strung on a tiny seekh and dipping them in a pot full of curry, Kalyani baking fresh idlis for her aunt and placing them neatly on a side table beside her bed, Kalyani serving her employers and so on which also offers an insight into Kalyani’s perfectionism. The difference in the menu among the three houses which includes Kalyani’s own are also very suggestive of their respective lifestyles and eating habits. The minute detailing not only of objects but also of the characters – big and small – is incredible.

Geetha has also captured the changing architectural space of the city of Trivandrum most evocatively where we can see walls covered not only with graffiti but also with paintings and drawings of once-famous celebrities like Kamala Das, Kavalam Narayana Panickar and so on. The music is distinguished by its change with the change in Kalyani’s movement from her work place and back. As she walks down the complex, some percussion instruments can be heard in a definite rhythm, and it changes to the nadaswaram as she approaches the musician under the big banyan tree where the music comes from this strange nadaswaram player. The editing ensures the smooth flow of the story.

With Geetha’s in-depth engagements on gender and cinema and her doctoral writings on representation of women in cinema, it is but natural that her protagonist in Run Kalyani is a woman. Newcomer Garggi Ananthan as Kalyani is outstanding in a very low-key, understated yet confident and dignified performance. A student of the Thrissur School of Drama, she lives the role of Kalyani. Of the rest of the cast, old-timer Madhu, who is one of the best-known actors of his time, makes a pleasantly surprising appearance in a cameo as a chess-crazy old man not bothered about the squabbles going on around hm. Meera Nair is fine as Nirmala, the slightly mentally disturbed ex-surgeon while Sathi Premji as Sonali’s supine aunt is very expressive and does much more with just her eyes and face than with her body in keeping to the demands of her role. The rest of the ensemble cast do their bit effectively enough.

One might crib that the closure is a bit of a commercial compromise but it is in harmony with the rest of the film and comes as a pleasant surprise.  All in all, Run Kalyani is an assured directorial debut in feature films for J Geetha. It would be interesting to see where she goes from here in the world of fiction filmmaking.


Malayalam, Drama, Color

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