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How old are you? A review of the malayalam movie
“How old are you?” is not an extraordinary movie. Perhaps, the most extraordinary thing about it is the fact that it is the gifted actress, Manju Warrier’s comeback vehicle after a decade and a half of domestic exile. The people of Kerala had been keenly looking forward to seeing Manju on screen again especially as news of the separation between the actress and her actor-producer husband, Dilip, became public.
It belongs to the genre of movies like ‘Veruthe oru bharya’ which portray women who lead lives of “quiet desperation” within the suffocating confines of their marital homes.  Though some TV channels, in their promos, tended to focus on aspects like the importance of fitness and people’s obsession with maintaining a youthful appearance, the movie is not actually about all this.  Its message is motivational not just for women but anyone who has given up on their dreams because time has run out.  One is never too old to go after one’s dreams—this is the inspiring message behind “How old are you?”

Manju initially seems a little lost but soon gets into her stride.  As Nirupama Rajeev, she leads a non-descript life as a dutiful wife, mother and daughter-in-law.  She also works as a UD clerk in the revenue department, a job which she got after her father died in service.  Her husband, Rajeev, played by Kunchacko Boban, is a typical male chauvinist who is self-centred and dominating.  The deft touches with which the director, Roshan Andrews, shows how a monotonous job and life can stunt a person’s growth and limit her horizons to the extent that a sense of achievement is felt by the heroine when she manages to outsmart a spiteful co-worker or assert her authority with a junior are worth a mention.  

Many of us have seen such people in government offices who work listlessly and behave arrogantly with those who need their help.  The fact that she has been working in the same post for 15years reveals her lack of drive and initiative.  Meanwhile, her husband Rajeev who is frustrated with small town life and his ‘boring wife’ is desperately trying to flee to Ireland.  As for Nirupama’s daughter, she is ashamed of her mother who is not cool enough.  Worse, she flunks an interview for a job which would have facilitated their departure for Ireland.  And then, to everyone’s astonishment, Nirupama is invited to breakfast with the President of India because of a question her daughter had put to him.  

Unfortunately Nirupama faints (she has high BP) during the meeting and this brings further humiliation down on her.  She is even ridiculed on Facebook and it is the last straw for her husband and daughter who fly off to Ireland without her.  But something good comes out of it as an old college mate, Susan David (Kaniha), gets in touch with her after seeing the comments on her friend on Facebook.  Susan then takes on a mentoring role to dislodge Nirupama from the rut she is in and bring out her latent talent and potential.  Nirupama’s journey to self-discovery and empowerment begins here. 

One of the things that seems redundant is the accident for which Nirupama is made the scapegoat.  It is as if the director wanted to rub it in—the fact that Rajeev is a selfish boor. It is tempting to wonder if there is something of Manju’s story in this movie.  Even if there is, it is nothing unusual.  This story could be that of any woman anywhere in the world who cuts off her wings lest she fly too far away from her loved ones.  In “Ringmaster” of course we were treated to Dilip’s take on things—the ungrateful woman leaving her lover for fame and money.  

Nirupama does redeem herself in the eyes of her family, winning their respect and admiration, but she has to be selfish to do it. She resigns her dull job and becomes an entrepreneur, showing the spunk and grit she had once displayed in her college days, when she had been an inspiration for friends like Susan.   And in the process she realizes that as a woman her dreams are no less important than a man’s and the only person who has the right to put an expiry date on them is her own self.  The movie cannot claim to boldness or newness of theme but it does force us to introspect on the challenges the modern woman faces in her quest to balance happiness and self-fulfillment. 

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