Maniyarayile Ashokan, actor Jacob Gregory’s first film in a lead role, opens with Dulquer Salmaan’s voiceover introducing us to a quaint village in some part of Kerala. The place is picture-perfect, with green meadows, backwaters, idle villagers and a beautiful woman who is the cynosure of all eyes. Old men wilt at her gaze, cops chasing thieves get distracted by her and children are left in giggling awe by her loveliness. Then one day, she runs away with the postman, leaving behind a trail of broken hearts.
But the woman keeps reappearing as a reference throughout the narrative. It is as if the film’s makers (debutant directors Shamzu Zayba and Vineeth Krishnan) were anxiously trying to infuse some novelty into a plot that can, at best, be termed ordinary. The core storyline for a rom-com holds some intrigue (spoiler alert!)—after many failed attempts to find a bride, a young man with an “unlucky” horoscope decides to wed a plantain tree, only to fall in love with it. The thread offers some quirky possibilities but unfortunately, nothing really holds our attention in this haphazard narrative.
There’s a small scene that shows a sweaty, nervous Ashokan (Gregory) on his wedding night as he tries to bolt a creaking door,—“The door is protesting as I haven’t greased it,” he says—which made me think the makers were attempting a variant of Sreenivasan’s humour here. Even Ashokan’s characterisation seems clearly influenced by Sreenivasan’s own heroes—he is dark, short, low on self-esteem, is awkward around women and desperately wants to get married. But the similarities end there—there is nothing relatively intriguing or quirky about Ashokan, he is more a shadow of a wannabe Dineshan or Vijayan. Ashokan is someone who sits by the pond but prefers to bathe using a bucket of water and mug. This, like the earlier suggestion of that beautiful woman, is a nod to his relationship with a childhood friend.
He has two friends, Ratheesh and Shaiju, who have their own brief back stories. In fact, Ratheesh’s (Krishna Shankar) fleeting romance is more endearing than all of Ashokan’s own trysts with women. Shaiju (Shine Tom Chacko) brags a lot, and is separated from his wife and child. A cameo by Sunny Wayne, who appears with his bride much to Ashokan’s chagrin, is sufficiently cringey. Even Dulquer Salmaan’s cameo can’t do much for this film.
The female characters come across like momentary, beautiful distractions. It begins with a ho-hum hallucinatory song Ashokan has with a Muslim bride (Sid Sriram going haywire with the Olu song), another predictable bit around a girl who rejects him for his looks and then Shyama, the girl (Anupama Parameshwaran) he almost ends up marrying. Shyama has a controlling father who thrashes her regularly and she is used to it. Some of the dialogues did get my goat. Sample this one between Shyama and Ashokan around their height difference— “I would rather bend my head to look at you than strain my neck to look at a guy who is taller than me”. It has been a while since I have seen such unimaginative characters in Malayalam cinema.
The scenes where Ashokan decides to marry a plantain tree and gets unusually attached to it are not very effective, partly because the makers are not sure how to treat it. Should we empathise with him or laugh at his predicament? That is a dilemma that remains constant in this badly written film. The supposed emotional or humorous jabs in the narrative never really hit you, and Ashokan’s plight starts to bore you almost as soon as it begins. Isn’t it high time we get out of these ‘single but desperate to get hitched’ narratives?