In his fourth film as a director, Mahesh Narayanan depicts the oppression of women, including physical violence, at home and at work without ever seeking to titillate. Ariyippu features stellar performances from Divya Prabha and Kunnchako Boban.
On a cold December morning in gray, wintery Uttar Pradesh, a worker in Kerala learns that someone has mixed footage of her with footage of a woman whose face is partially camouflaged as she performs a sexual act. Her husband discovers that the doctored video is circulating in a WhatsApp group of a factory that produces medical gloves where they are both employed.
Hareesh (played by Kunnchako Boban) seems convinced that his wife Reshmi (Divya Prabha) is not the unidentifiable woman in the video. She is drained because she knows she is not.
The setting is a suburban edge of Delhi in late 2020 when COVID had emptied India’s streets and masks on human faces were the norm. In the new film by Mahesh Narayanan Ariyippu (Statement), the masks fall off and the true colors are revealed as Hareesh resolves to fight for justice and Reshmi is embroiled in a battle not of her making.
Ariyippu premiered at the Locarno International Film Festival. This is Mahesh’s fourth film as a director. He also wrote, co-produced and co-edited it. The veteran editor turned to directing in 2017 with To take off, a story of Malayali nurses in Islamic State captivity in Iraq. So far he has explored thorny political issues in each of his films. Goodbye — a pioneering pandemic creation that was entirely conceived and realized during the 2020 shutdowns — was about online strangers and offline exploitation. Malik dealt with community relations and establishment games. Ariyippu initially seems to be a saga of Reshmi and Hareesh’s desperation to leave India for overseas jobs, but ends up talking about the effect of the fake video on their marriage and work. Along the way, he explores several themes, including the sense of alienation that blue-collar workers feel when crossing borders, even within the country, various definitions of “greener pastures”, how the system Indian judiciary is designed to be easily overturned. plaintiffs, the restraints that age and poverty impose on individuals, corruption in business, and the occasional moral corruption of the wealthy. At its heart, however, Ariyippu speaks of patriarchy and misogyny.
Kunnchako Boban has a disarming personality which he exploits here, so it takes some time to see that Hareesh’s outrage over the fake video is about his own ego and not Reshmi’s concern. More than one man in Ariyippu, while referring to the exploitation of a woman, speaks of himself and his pain, relegating the woman to the margins. Hareesh openly trivializes Reshmi’s trauma and denies her agency every step of the way.
Ariyippu acknowledges the existence of empowering women, as any accurate portrayal of patriarchy would, but unlike public discourse that inexorably focuses on these women and exaggerates their numbers, this film puts a strong spotlight on female solidarity. Ariyippu overturns stereotypes in the way Great Indian cuisine did with its rare depiction of a lonely stepdaughter turning to her stepmother for guidance. We hear that a woman in this plot has been unfair to a woman in the past, but in the setting of this film, Reshmi only receives kindness from her female colleagues and in turn becomes a willing ally in a crusade. undertaken by a senior factory manager (Lovleen Mishra). The two women are the moral compass of the world they inhabit.
The women in Ariyippu are sources of consolation, inspiration and strength for one another. Reshmi’s friendship with her colleague Sujaya (Athulya Ashadam) is marked by a moving and unspoken understanding of mutual suffering. And when a woman stubbornly insists on an important issue, she urges Reshmi to stand up to Hareesh.
Among AriyippuThe pointed observations of gender relations are truths we all know but ignore: that when men clash, they retaliate by degrading each other’s female relatives (as happens in this scenario ) and members of the community; that patriarchy militarizes even innocuous actions and objects. A visit to the toilet is misunderstood in Ariyippua woman wearing a mask to protect herself from COVID becomes a tool to shame another woman in a fake video.
No man in Ariyippu bears the grotesque markers of villainy that commercial cinema often resorts to. Here we have the sweet-looking Hareesh, the avuncular manager Suresh (Kannan Arunachalam) and the merciful factory owner (Danish Husain) – the kind of benign-looking guy whose society would gladly forgive the serious acts of omission or commission. The film, however, is clear that it stands with the persecuted, not the persecutors or their animators.
Ariyippu depicts the oppression of women including physical violence without ever trying to titillate. Even in the video that triggers the central conflict, sex is implied, not shown. In the film’s most shocking scene, when a man commits rape, we barely see the violence with our eyes.
It took a Kerala-based filmmaker to replicate the heterogeneity of language use in the north in a way that northern filmmakers do not. Malayalam, Hindi and Tamil are effectively integrated from Ariyippu dialogues since these are the languages naturally spoken by the main actors. One of the film’s most charming scenes features four characters in a room conversing with each other in three languages, not all of which they understand. Communication is possible because the person in the most privileged socio-economic position among them – the factory owner, a Hindi speaker – does not dominate the others. Although this camaraderie does not reflect the prevailing reality in North India, it does reflect the best the North can be. The worst is the man who hurls an insult at Hareesh.
By shedding his romantic hero image, Kunnchako Boban, who is also one of the Ariyippu‘s, has presented an astonishing range in recent years, from the role of an insecure spouse to How old are you? (2014), to an adorable villager helping a child achieve his dream (Kochavva Paulo Ayyappa Coelho2016) and a tribal rights activist in pada (2022). hare in Ariyippu is the most detestable of these men, yet Kunnchako inhabits him with a comfort that belies his innate charm. Even the scruffy character struggles to stay above the actor’s clean, scrubbed, and washed personality. It’s a fascinating mix, one that makes Hareesh puzzling even for a hardcore feminist and thus, a triumph of both casting and acting.
Divya Prabha takes on a challenging role that forces her to be by turns inconsistent and confrontational, submissive and rebellious. That a man could write Reshmi’s confusion without seeing it through a lens of judgment is impressive. Her different positions about the video will be best understood by women who know the searing rage that follows every humiliation from sexual predators and discriminatory chauvinists, a rage tempered by the painful awareness that complaining or even reacting in any way whether it be. usually carries consequences – for those who have been wronged, not for the wrongdoer. Divya knows. And she transforms Reshmi into a dormant volcano, seemingly obliterated, but bristling with fury, frustration and awareness.
The cast is filled with familiar faces and strangers, all of whom feel like real people ripped from life and planted in this film. Among the memories Ariyippu leaves us with the earnestness of Lovleen Mishra, the talking eyes of Athulya Ashadam and the truly brilliant Sidharth Bhardwaj as a corrupt Noida policeman asking in all sincerity why Keralites would look for work in the north while northerners head for the south for opportunities these days.
Ariyippu is complemented by extended shots of the assembly line in the factory, highlighting the mechanical relentlessness of capitalist enterprise despite the turmoil in the lives of the humans involved. Mahesh Narayanan tells the story of Reshmi and Hareesh as if he were a silent, attentive spectator from inches away. Ariyippu draws us into their universe from its earliest moments with a prologue featuring cellphone footage of Reshmi playing on our screens as Hareesh films her. DoP Sanu John Varughese watches the pace of events without any disruptive and flashy moves. This minimalist approach is taken through production design by Jothish Shankar and sound design by Vishnu Govind and Sree Sankar. I can think of only a few occasions in the narrative where understatement results in the exclusion of too much information.
Few cinematographers have shot NCR in the throes of winter as brutally as Sanu here.. His compositions in this film are perhaps most closely rivaled by Angello Faccini’s cinematography for Ivan Ayr Meel Pattar (2021) and Avik Mukhopadhayay in Shoojit Sircar’s October (2018). In the daytime, Sanu presents the exteriors of the city and the factory with all the colors and the warmth drawn in, reflecting the monotonous routine and the sadness of the protagonists. It switches to dreary lighting at night, including the shabby and shocking interiors of their home.
Slice-of-life cinema has rarely been truer to reality than this.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5 stars)
Ariyippu premiered at the Locarno International Film Festival on August 4, 2022
Anna MM Vetticad is an award-winning journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. She specializes in the intersection of cinema with feminist concerns and other sociopolitical concerns. Twitter: @annavetticad, Instagram: @annammvetticad, Facebook: AnnaMMVetticadOfficial