Films are the reflection of our times. They record and preserve the ever-evolving culture of our society. It also shows how our previous generations struggled to choose between the status quo and change. Director Priyadarshan’s Mithunam is one such film that echoed the way of life and the belief system of ‘90s Kerala.
I know elders in my family who could relate to the experiences of the protagonist in the film. I have heard stories about why people used to relocate to other states to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Because back then Kerala was considered a very difficult place to start a business. Mithunam is so firmly grounded that it still strikes a chord with the generation that lived through those confusing times. And that’s mainly because of the script by Sreenivasan, who captures a toxic culture in a comical tone.
Mithunam opens with a shot of the sunrise. The shot does not only signify a new day but also the beginning of the first daybreak of the month of Mithunam according to Malayalam calendar. And it is also the birthday of our hero, Sethumadhavan (Mohanlal). Amid a slew of new beginnings, we also find out that Sethumadhavan is stuck in a rut. He has been running pillar to post to get the necessary approvals from government officials to make his biscuit factory functional. In about 10 minutes, the film lays out the full picture of Sethumadhavan’s dwindling financial condition. The plot is set: a middle-class man with piling debt must overcome red-tapism and bribery should he realise his start-up dream. And throw in a dysfunctional family to the setting, you have a perfect recipe to whip up a blockbuster melodrama.
Mithunam also shows how a gentle and kind protagonist is forced into a culture of toxic masculinity. Either, you see a man like Sethumadhavan, who overburdens himself with responsibilities. Or a man like Sethumadhavan’s brother Kurup (Innocent), an aimless drunkard who misuses his male privilege in a patriarchal society.
We understand how much Sethumadhavan has changed when his wife Sulochana (Urvashi) points out how unromantic he has become. He has no time to appreciate her beauty or give his undivided attention to her like before. He is always in a rush, impatient and, in fact, indifferent to her feelings. The film stresses so much on Sethumadhavan’s inability to meet the simple needs of his wife that it makes you go, ”What an idiot!” Of course, by the end, the film makes a strong case justifying why the protagonist ignored the needs of his wife.
The film is set in a time when everyone was conditioned to believe that women were subservient to men. A husband need not have to tell anything to his wife as long as he puts the food on the table. A wife must be understanding of the stressful life of her husband and should not make a big fuss when he even forgets to wish her on her birthday. Priyadarshan and Sreenivasan, who has also played a key role in the film, don’t examine the patriarchal society of the time. The film rather plays into the hands of that ideology.
I can go on pointing out everything that’s wrong about the film. I can complain about how common it is to see a husband slapping his wife. Or the fact that the landscape of this film is nearly devoid of a woman in authority. But, remember, a film is the reflection of our time. As an adult from a different generation, I am quick to see the flaws of my previous generation. For starters, it is somewhat confusing to me why didn’t Sethumadhavan share his problems with his better half, for he may simply feel better? Sulochana may not have pressured him to take her on a two-week-long honeymoon trip to Ooty, only if she was aware that the previous day, her husband ran on the streets like a mad man to avoid paying the auto-rickshaw fare.
A wise man once said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” In that sense, this film offers a lot of wisdom.
Meanwhile, Mithunam also has a lot of entertainment to offer. Especially, the funny banter between Mohanlal and Sreenivasan.
Mithunam (1993) is streaming on Hotstar.
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