With every movie, Anoop Menon pushes the envelope a little higher (or the sheets a little lower) in dealing with immorality in the Malayali’s social life. Kerala is a state with a large independent woman class but revels curiously in its suppressed sexual desires – Malayalam sahityam must have broken many of its taboos long time back but its cinema is still circumspect when dealing with sex (a sensibility that did not exist once upon a time, mind you).
Trivandrum Lodge is a non-descript sea-facing lodge in Kochi whose inmates’ humdrums forms the core of the movie. It has its share of oddball characters like Abdu (Jayasuriya), a sex-starved tramp who does small time jobs for survival, Kora (P Balachandran, the director of Ivan Megharoopan), a retired clerk whose sexual exploits are supposedly just one short of reaching the four digit mark, Shibu Vellayani (Saiju Kurup), a small time cinema reporter who has a weakness for women and Dhwani Nambiar (Honey Rose), whose lusty presence awakens the sexual mood in the lodge. The lodge is owned by Ravisankar (Anoop Menon), a rich real estate developer; he is a widower who lives with his son Arjun. The movie largely probes their lives, from an angle of their sexual desires and lust which sometimes becomes not so-subtle and cringe-worthy.
What works for Trivandrum Lodge is that it is largely uncompromising in what it wants to say and make you feel. It sets out to create an adult comi-drama and succeeds to quite an extent; it is unabashedly immoral and celebrates voyeurism, without a hint of guilt. Just as you’d agree that brain is the main organ of sexual activity, it is the writing that drives the intent of the characters, not the visuals which are fairly more conventional. The camera does not try to tantalizingly linger on the female anatomy at any time but has a more relaxed focus, with more attention on the lodge.
Thankfully, for a movie that is steeped in suppressed desires, the camera does not try to titillate but leaves it to the characters to express their feelings in the form of crass talk, kochu pustakangal and sexual exploits of its characters. When the entire lodge is waiting to see what happens within closed doors as one of them massages the naked nape of an imminently desirable woman, it focusses on the crowd outside it as they prance about in anticipation. The audience becomes just another voyeuristic player in the drama who gorges down the fantasies of the lead cast.
Abdu is honest about what he feels (he likes Dhwani’s kundi the most as he tells her without batting an eyelid) and craves for sex but there is an element of innocence in him unlike the others. He does not have the sophistication of Dhwani’s husband or the smartness of Shibu or the loquaciousness of Kora but he is honest enough for her to spend time with him. He tries to bargain with a prostitute, even offering to pay for her services in instalments but backs out when he sees her husband in a pitiable state. It is that small directorial touch where the protagonist’s lust evaporates all so suddenly.
There is a chemistry that exists between the mandan Abdu and Dhwani and while this constitutes a bright speck in a movie that treats relationships with butter hands, it is not exploited enough to make us want to see the two together. Dhwani is a newly divorced woman who wants to breathe her independence by fornicating with abandon (mootha kazahappu as her friend says) and live life devoid of rules. She knows she is the object of raw desire in the lodge but is still more than willing to play up her assets just to enjoy it – her encounters with Kora offering herself as his 1000th conquest and with Shibu when he makes his indecent proposal play out entertainingly.
Devi Ajith has a small but interesting role in the form of Zarina, Dhwani’s friend in Kochi. She’s a St. Stephens product who is happily married to a local panachakku whom she refers to as a mandan mappilla – the kind who has money but no class and is happy to act subservient to his more educated wife. It looks like a rather skewed relationship but then the secrets of a successful marriage are far too many for anyone to hazard a guess! Zarina is spot on when she remarks that in a big city like Kochi, you can get away with any level of immorality but if you are a Malayali woman, the moral police will come after you.
Anoop Menon as Ravisankar plays the only white character in the movie – he is a one-woman man who only loves his wife. His wife Malavika (Bhavana) dies in an accident but he’s still happy to stay single in her memory, even though the world offers him enough opportunities to go astray or seek new love. Trivandrum Lodge is just an old unpolished piece of antiquity but it has a special place for him in his heart because he’s promised Malavika that he will take care of it.
Tesni Khan plays Kanyaka (her same name as in Beautiful), a smart prostitute and gets the cockiest lines in the movie – whether it is her complaining of the difficulty in doing business in high-fi places or her wondering on why the act should generate a lot of noise! There is just a glimpse of her husband’s bed-ridden state but that’s skipped immediately because the director doesn’t want us to sympathize with anyone – it is all in free will. There are no half-hearted justifications or apologies for what is seen and what you see is what you get and the old man scene is the nearest that VKP gets to offer some sort of an explanation for the behaviour of any of the characters.
But it is the same writing that lets the movie down when it tries too hard deliberately to tell the audience that this is a different movie and we are trying to be bold. A lot of the dialogues is on the face and the corniness with a capital C makes it a contrived attempt to make it cool and seemingly open-minded (though not as extreme as the offensive Bachelor Party).
The dialogues seem largely driven by the attempt to go along with the atmosphere of the movie than driven by any real need to do so, as demanded by the characters. The plot is over-sexed and everyone in it is on a high driven by the sex hormone than anything else. To that extent, the movie plays out like a fantasy in the libidinous mind of the makers instead of a realistic snap of immoral life in such circles. It could have raised more questions on the newer definitions of morality as modern Kerala changes hesitatingly but it is too self-obsessed to look at a larger picture.
Take the father-son conversation between Ravisankar and his father (singer P. Jayachandran in a small cameo) as they discuss Ravi’s mother’s wayward life. Yes, much water has flown down the bridge and life has moved on but is it so simple to dissect one’s own mother’s life in such unflattering ways – the brilliance of a ‘vaishya’ or female Cassanova whose husband could not satisfy her, possibly in bed? I confess to be intrigued when Ravi asks his father Nammal nammude budhiyum kazhivum vilkkarille, pinne shariram vilkunnathil entha thettu but the conversation seems to be abjectly devoid of any emotional content as if the lady in question was a character in a novel and not one’s own mother.
Ravi as the faithful husband is an oasis in a sea of voyeurism but without enough emotional investment in him, it is difficult for us to appreciate his character. He looks less a business tycoon and more an artist with a relaxed life. I wish the character had been fleshed out more (actually, no character is given enough space to grow, except maybe Kanyaka and Abdu to a certain extent) so that his love, his feelings appear more concrete and we get a peek into this man, whom Dhwani is attracted to for the simple reason that she believes that no man can love a woman so much that he can stay single, even after her death. Even as a father, he treats the incident of the porn book in his son’s bag far too lightly for my comfort.
Ravi’s son Arjun’s romance is more out of a Karan Johar production than VKPs and greatly overdone and could have been avoided. Kid romances may be cute but is jarring in a movie whose style is below the belt variety. There are a couple of scenes at the beauty parlour which also have no connection with the movie and are more there only to make it sound horny – scenes that are reminiscent of any Bhandarkar movie. The plot does meander a bit wondering how to treat its wide assortment of characters (didn’t Janardhanan look a bit lost) but it manages to trace an honourable exit route for itself, without creating too much fuss.
Trivandrum Lodge is a bold, unconventional experiment and celebrates voyeurism without guilt. It is funny and blatantly immoral and Anoop Menon enjoys cocking a snook at our hypocritical ways but I think that he just tries too hard to make it a different New Age cinema and so it comes off as partly pretentious and deliberate, unlike the natural flow of Beautiful. Nevertheless, it succeeds in putting across a tacky subject in its own uncompromising way and this in itself is a reason to watch the movie….
The film pays obeisance to Padmarajan’s immortal Thoovanathumbikal by getting Babu Namboodri to reprise his role of Thangal, as the famous strains of the movie’s background music plays out when he enters the frame. Even in the last scene, you see Kanyaka in a second hand Maruti-800 with him; remember Jayakrishnan talking about Maruti-800 being the best vehicle for such girls!