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Review Malayalam

Run Kalyani review: An affirmative, poetic journey to self-determination

Release Date: 11 Nov 2019 / 01hr 40min

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Sukhpreet Kahlon

Documentary filmmaker Geetha J’s feature film debut brings to the fore issues of class and gender, highlighting female solidarity and labour.

Geetha J’s assured debut feature film Run Kalyani (2019) weaves together poetry, gender and resistance to present an evocative life of her understated titular character, Kalyani.

The film follows a few days in the life of a young woman named Kalyani (Garggi Ananthan) who manages her household alone, being the primary caregiver to her paralyzed aunt Periamma (Sathi Premji) and also managing her work as a cook in people’s houses.

Like in most of our lives, each day brings the same routine while society makes its own demands. Creditors come knocking and Kalyani wards off the pressure to get married. From her humble home, she moves into the homes of her employers — the bachelor Vijayan (Ramesh Varma) who is nearing retirement and a joint family where the members remain mute spectators to their middle-aged son physically abusing his wife Nirmala (Meera Nair). Bearing silent witness to their lives, Kalyani functions as a bridge between the two homes, ferrying secret messages between Nirmala and Vijayan, who share a love for poetry and literature.

When the toil of the day is over, the night belongs to Kalyani alone as she walks back home, enveloped in a glimmer of possibilities, music and joy that her imagination conjures up. The scene in slow motion brings alive the city of Thiruvananthapuram, pulsating with poetry and politics, jostling to reconcile the distance between tradition and modernity. The poetic cinematography gives the streets a unique character with the graphic art, slogans, red flags, and music creating a visual kaleidoscope of the city's rich history and texture. Back home, in a dream-like situation, a young man who is an aspiring film director weaves fantastical stories for her, fuelling her imagination and sense of wonder.

The film excavates several issues, primarily those of gender and class, in its layered and rich narrative. The relationship between Kalyani and Nirmala foregrounds female solidarity in the face of patriarchy as poetry is the only mode of expression available to the latter. The film also juxtaposes the labour of a rich office-going woman with the largely unrecognized labour of women engaged in domestic work in our homes.

While foregrounding women's lives, Run Kalyani is also a comment on the desires and duties of men and what societal expectations hold for both genders. Vijayan’s character bears testimony to that, as he expresses his desire to ‘do nothing’ instead of chasing a career and money like his friends. This is in contrast to Nirmala’s husband, who puts on a dog and pony show to impress his client in a superfluous scene.

Garggi Ananthan’s performance is mesmerizing as she gets into the skin of Kalyani and conveys much with her eyes. The film uses minimal dialogues and lets the situations, gestures and silences speak for themselves.

The routine nature of everyday life is captured in the cyclical narrative that reveals small details each time, but this device can become a bit tedious. The ending is a bit simplistic but, nonetheless, is a joyous affirmation of self-determination, reminding us that in whatever shape or form, we all have agency to take control of our lives and mould it.

Documentary filmmaker Geetha J's engagement over the years with women’s lives and issues has been distilled into a nuanced film.

Run Kalyani was premiered at the Kolkata International Film Festival in November 2019, where it won the Special Jury award. It was screened at the Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFES) 2020 and the International Film Festival of Thrissur, where it won the FIPRESCI-India award. Run Kalyani is also the opening film for the New York Indian Film Festival 2020 which begins today.

Related topics

Kolkata International Film Festival Bengaluru International Film Festival New York Indian Film Festival

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