Director Mathukutty Xavier’s debut movie Helen is a rare kind of survival drama that reflects on the pettiness of society. After a point, the movie becomes an allegory of the superhuman strength that a woman must mobilize within herself should she survive the cold-blooded and highly complicated world dominated by men. And yet, it is not a feminist film. It is rather a movie written and directed by men about how a group of men make a woman’s life a freezing hell. If the woman is lucky and strong enough to survive all the iciness, maybe, just maybe, men in her life would become a little considerate and wake up to her predicament just in time before she literally freezes.
And that’s the story of Helen (a lovely Anna Ben). She is a perfect daughter to her father Paul (Lal). She wants to go to Canada against her father’s wish. Paul wants to keep her close and take care of her. Or rather, the other way round. The bottom line is he’s not happy with the idea of sending his only daughter to one of the coldest countries in the world. Well, the writers (Alfred Kurian Joseph, Noble Babu Thomas, Mathukutty Xavier) picked Canada as the desired destination of the protagonist not just because of the strong economic opportunities, high standard of living or medical benefits, the country’s icy climate is in step with the movie’s theme.
Paul is a man of faith. And his easy-going nature and his progressive outlook about Helen’s job, which keeps her away from home till midnight, comes with some limitation. The moment he finds out that Helen has a boyfriend named Azhar (Noble Babu Thomas), things fall apart. Overnight, Paul changes from daddy-cool to daddy-just-the-opposite. He is now more than willing to pack his daughter away to the coldest place on earth on the earliest flight available because she no longer fits his idea of a “perfect daughter.” And his constant cold-shoulder is what pushes Helen into an icebox that leaves her gasping for some warmth and companionship.
In a way, I find Helen as a spiritual successor to director Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped. The 2016 Bollywood movie followed the struggles of a man, who accidentally locks himself up inside a high-rise building located right in the middle of a busy street in Mumbai. The movie examined the urban culture of social isolation that makes us deaf and blind to the plight of fellow human beings. Helen talks about the traditional trappings and cultural isolation of a woman, who falls outside the conventional definition of “a respectable girl.”
Helen (2016) is available on Amazon Prime Video.
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