Roshan Andrews in his film 'How Old Are You' takes us along on a woman's quest to unearth her long buried identity. Armed with a bravura performance by Manju Warrier, this superbly acted and emotionally engaging drama is a keeper of a film, and quite an impressive one at that.
Nirupama Rajeev (Manju Warrier) has just turned 36, when we get to see her first, and age is a matter of growing concern for the woman who works as an upper division clerk at a government office. Her husband Rajeev Narayanan (Kunchacko Boban) aspires to emigrate to Ireland, and Nirupama is dejected having been turned down by many an Irish company for a job that would let her travel along with him. That their daughter (Amritha Anil) is least appreciative of her frantic efforts adds to her travails.
On a bright morning, on being summoned to the IG's office, Nirupama learns that the President of India would like to have a conversation with her over breakfast. The disastrous meeting makes her the butt of Facebook jokes, and before long, she watches haplessly as her husband and daughter fly away to Ireland, promising to have chit chat sessions over Skype. As a shattered Nirupama stands aghast, in walks Susan David (Kaniha), an old classmate of hers who reminds her of the firebrand that she once had been, prompting her to take one hard look at the mirror and see beyond the grey hair strands that have been messily colored.
It so happens in several lives - not just of women, but of men too - that after a while, people forget the kind of persons that they had been long back, and start believing that they have always been the paler, weaker, scorched beings that they have evolved into over the years. Entering into a mode of denial, they often refuse to lend an ear to the Susan Davids who walk in and out of their lives, almost determined to carry on with their unreal selves, shaped out of a life that had somewhere in the middle slipped out of their hands.
Nirupama finds herself face to face with almost every situation that an average Malayali woman of her age goes through - ranging from the sly looks that an auto rickshaw driver casts her way, to the caustic tongue of an envious colleague, from a highly uneventful day to day existence that sends her shuttling between the kitchen and her workplace to a family that takes almost everything for granted. The dread of fast approaching the formidable age of forty, her inability to rise up to her daughter's expectations and the sheer discomfiture at her husband being mistaken for her younger brother, are just a few unwelcome additions to Nirupama's uncountable concerns.
Nirupama's journey from an impassive government servant who hides a weekly inside her office file to a self strong woman who finally sets right her priorities in life, is one that transforms her from a slouching female to one that walks with resolute strides and a head held high. With the age old adage that triumph favors only those who are brave enough to lose ringing loud in her ears, she proves a point to herself as she finally leaves a signature in her world.
The film perhaps cannot escape an allegation that this is the stuff that fairy tales are usually made of. Indeed, it is, and yet if you reach out to Nirupama Rajeev and her chronicle of success with a beaming optimism, it is because you so much want women like her to win in this world; it is because of that fervent desire within each of us for such fairy tales to come true. Bitter sweet, smart and insightful, here is some brilliant writing by Bobby and Sanjay, that manages to retain its heartfelt quality right from the start to the finish.
This isn't the first time a film has been made on a woman out on a voyage to discover her lost identity and certainly it wouldn't be the last either. Which is why perhaps the biggest similarity between 'How Old Are You' and the Hindi film 'English Vinglish' should lie in the struggle that it's protagonists put up against all odds. That they are played by two of the best actors in showbiz today is of course, an added advantage.
Which brings me to the mother of all comebacks, that of Manju Warrier, after a long hiatus of fourteen years. Manju has mellowed remarkably well as a person, and the maturity has brought about a charm and magnetism that is incredibly appealing. That she throws in her heart and soul into her astonishing performance vouchsafes the fact that a dazzling gift as this cannot remain idle for long. And Manju, without an iota of doubt establishes with an unparalleled flair that when it comes to her histrionic potentials, she is indeed Nirupama - one devoid of comparisons.
And how could I forget to talk about Kunchacko Boban who has done the unthinkable in 'How Old Are You'. The actor remains a loud round of applause for persuasively depicting a chauvinist husband on screen; a role that perhaps no other actor in his league would even dare touch with a barge pole. And there is Amritha Anil, the tremendously talented young actor, who delivers a precise feat as the couple's daughter, forced to make a choice.
Two other actors deserve a very special mention as well - Kalaranjini who has been around for the last few decades, but who has never ever managed to bring the house down as she does in 'HOAY', and Sethulekshmi who with her naive demeanor and spongy speech lights up every scene that we get to see her in. Diwakaran's frames are refreshingly first-rate, and Gopi Sundar's luscious musical score the best that he has delivered in recent times.
With Roshan Andrews' 'How Old Are You', Manju Warrier affirms that age is just a number. Brimming with optimism, this is a film that should strike a fine chord with millions of individuals out there, and I certainly do not mean the women alone.