A love symphony seasoned with a tinge of history

Making a biopic is a tight-rope walk. You can draw a life sketch touching up on the major life events of the protagonist or make a focused movie on a particular phase or dimension of the protagonist’s life. A good number of Oscar nominees of the recent times have been biopics. Bollywood too has come up with its fair share of biopics such as Bhag Milkha Bhag, Mary Kom, and Manjhi. Movie enthusiasts often wonder whether biopics carry some kind of advantage over works of fiction because of the authenticity associated with the stories the biopics narrate. Striking the right balance without ruffling many feathers seems to be the key while making such a film.

TV journalist-turned-director R S Vimal’s directorial debut, Ennu Ninte Moideen, draws inspiration from the epic love story of B P Moideen and Kanchanamala. He first made a documentary, Jalam Kondu Murivettaval, and then turned it in to a full-fledged feature film with some high-profile star cast and crew. Ennu Ninte Moideen, contrary to what the title suggests, is not Moideen’s narration of the story. It is the story of two individuals who grew up together falling madly in love and sacrificing their entire lives in protest against the orthodoxy in the family and the society that prevented their union.

History and politics are not mere add-ons in the Moideen-Kanchanamala love story as both of them belonged to influential political families of the time. The heads of the families shared a warm friendship with each other. The opposition that Moideen and Kanchanamala face from the families show that the progressive thinking the families boast about was only skin-deep. It turns out to be a mask worn for social and political standing and to hide the regressive mindset they carry. Curiously enough, the women characters in the film do not lag behind their male counterparts in speaking their mind or taking decisions on their own. Moideen’s cigar-smoking, outspoken mother walks out of the house after strongly condemning her husband who stabs his own son (this incident was described as fictitious by the real-life Kanchanamala in a recent interview). Kanachanamala’s confinement is partly her own choice out of the compassion she had for her siblings because an inter-religious marriage in the family could be detrimental to the marriage prospects of her younger siblings.

To his credit, Vimal has worked tirelessly for years and come out with a clean love story that has all the elements of a box office hit rightly blended. The film’s stupendous success is testimony to how all the elements have fallen into place, catering to the sensibilities of the family audience. The script deliberately underplays the baggage of history associated with the story, but sadly that is not music to the ears of one of the central characters who is still alive, walking selflessly on the path of social service shown by her dearest. The film in its earnest attempt to turn the vivacious love story into a visual spectacle goes overboard with melodrama at times and manipulates history. Even if you discount the mix-up in establishing the historical context and time frame, political changes, leaders, and so on, adding events to dramatize a real life story is a potential spoiler for people with a sense of history.

While Vimal’s documentary focuses entirely on Kanchanamala, his big screen version dramatically shifts its loyalties to Moideen. The slow-motion introduction scene for Prithviraj establishes the perspective amply clear and sets the tone. That the movie ends with the tragedy that claimed Moideen’s life denies Kanchanamala her due. Wish there were at least a few lines before the end credits about how she has been living since then. The real-life Moideen had been a versatile personality with interests ranging from football to writing, acting, and politics. The reel-life Moideen pretty much reflects these characteristics, but some of those traits are changed to add a good amount of humour to the proceedings. The scenes in which he stages a drama in Kanachanamala’s neighbourhood and his campaign for the local body elections are examples of such treatment. While much of screen time is dedicated to how Kanchanamala suffered at the hands of orthodox elders in the family for loving a person of another religion, the scenes involving Moideen, his father and the general public are overly dramaticised.

Parvathi Menon gives her character a whole new dimension

Parvathi Menon
Parvathi Menon

Ennu Ninte Moideen stands out for its perfect casting, visuals, and melodious music. On the casting side, every character that appears in the movie has a role to play, may be because they were all real-life characters. The performances of Parvathi Menon as Kanchanamala and Lena as Moideen’s mother are top notch. Prithviraj does justice to his role as Moideen, but his performance is clearly eclipsed by Parvathi’s outstanding ability to infuse electric passion into the romantic and determined Kanchanamala, much like the character Panimalar that she played in Maryaan. She is one of those rare actors who pushes the envelope when she gets a meaty role and takes the character to a whole new dimension.

Lena has carved a place for herself in Malayalam cinema through some powerful performances over the last few years. Her portrayal of Pathumma reassures that she is a seasoned character artist that any director can rely on. Jomon T John has captured the scenic beauty of the river and the village on screen in sync with the soothing BGM and poetry penned by Rafeek Ahamed and the late Changampuzha. Among the songs, Pandit Ramesh Narayanan’s Sharadaambaram, M Jayachandran’s Kathirunnu, and Gopi Sundar’s Mukkathe Penne are real gems.

For anyone who relishes watching a passionate love story on screen with good music and visuals, Ennu Ninte Moideen is a real feast. However, the “based on a true story” tag attached to the film, though a commercial advantage, ends up as an ethical burden on the film. Wish the makers had made and promoted the film as a work of fiction and avoided using the real names of the characters that inspired the story.

After the director pulled out the film from the International Film Festival of Kerala protesting its rejection in the competitions category and his claims that the movie was one that the world must watch and appreciate, the film has been inviting much sharper critiques. Though Ennu Ninte Moideen does not break any new ground and carries many flaws, it is still an eminently watchable piece of work that is made with a lot of passion by a debutante.