So far, I’ve mainly spoken about huge commercial films with their high budgets, big dance numbers, larger-than-life stories and famous stars. So for my 7th movie intro, I will like to talk about a small, independent film known as Mr. and Mrs. Iyer.
Mr. and Mrs. Iyer is a 2002 Indian film starring Rahul Bose and Konkona Sen Sharma. For starters, it’s not technically a Bollywood movie because the film is primarily in English. Plus there are no dance numbers but I’m not going to let that stop me from talking about it, okay? It’s a romance that unfolds in front of the backdrop of Hindu-Muslim riots.
Raja (Rahul Bose) is a wildlife photographer who’s about to take a bus to Calcutta when a friend introduces him to a young housewife, Meenakshi (Konkona Sen Sharma) who’s taking the same trip with her young son and is asked to keep an eye on her. He agrees but it’s one of those situations where neither party really expects him to keep his promise.
We are then introduced to a large cast of characters meant to showcase the diversity of India. There are people of different ages, ethnicities and religions.
Because Raja and Meenakshi look like a young couple traveling with their son, everyone assumes that they are. Everything is going well till they hit a roadblock and the driver decides to take an alternate route. This is when they find themselves in the middle of a riot.
Prior to this, despite their reluctance, both had to interact because of Meenakshi’s crying son. Raja is a very urban, liberal type with no personal commitments who’s free to do as he pleases while she’s a very traditional woman who holds her beliefs close to her heart. So naturally, they are prejudiced against one another.
This story is about how these two bond and support each other as they share a harrowing experience together.
Their bond really starts to form when Hindu Meenakshi, who had shown her prejudice against Muslim Raja, rises above it to protect him in the face of horrific violence. Some murderers board the bus in search of Muslims to kill them. They start off making the men strip to check to see if they are circumcised and the woman who didn’t want to even touch him after learning that he’s Muslim, places her son on his lap to shield his identity.
Another key moment is when, after disembarking from the bus, they manage to find lodging in a rundown house. As one would expect, Meenakshi refuses to share the only room available with Raja and is in fact, very rude to him. Tired, she falls asleep and awakes to find him gone. I enjoyed watching her panic as well as seeing her relief on finding him. And that was when her attitude towards him really began to change.
Another scene was when, in the midst of the larger group, they were asked to tell their love story and both told a mixture of truth and lies that in a sense, really was their love story.
Violence forced them to not only be together but to look past their prejudices and labels and instead, find similarities and draw strength from each other. And when the two people in question are a cute man and a cute woman, it’s not hard for an attraction to also develop.
One big flaw in this movie is the very slow and boring start. About twenty minutes into watching it, I hit the pause button and wondered why in the world anyone would recommended such a boring film. Then I remembered that the recommendation came with a warning of slow start, yet, it was a lot worse than I ever imagined. I wish the writer- director, Aparna Sen, had managed to introduce the large cast of characters in a more colorful and enjoyable way. As it stands, it is almost as boring as morning roll call – except a lot longer.
But once I managed to get through that hurdle, I found a beautifully shot gem. The acting by both was superb and made me hunt for all their other films. Some have been good and others not-so-good but all in all, I think Mr. and Mrs. Iyer was their best work.
Meenakshi was a woman that was very sheltered by her religion and culture and through this experience and particularly, from interacting with Raja, she was able to see what else the world offered. Instead of simply being a young woman who’d met her husband through an arranged marriage, she was also able to experience romance.
While their surroundings were filled with high emotion and drama, once they got through their prejudices, their relationship developed in a very sweet, simple and natural way.
I definitely recommend this to anyone interested in learning a bit more of India via an array of undoubtedly cliche characters as well as those looking for a sweet and touching story. But unfortunately, I can’t recommend you skip through the very clunky and boring beginning because sadly, those parts are important. As hard as I am trying to manage one’s expectations, one thing to note is that no matter how boring you think the beginning will be, you’ll find it even worse. You’ve been warned!