Readers Write In #330: Thalayanamanthram, on Amazon Prime, a Sharp Satire on Greed and Jealousy

Posted on January 24, 2021

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(by Arun AK)

Sreenivasan is regarded as one of the finest comic actors in the Malayalam film industry. His comic timing, unique expressions, mannerisms, and brilliant voice modulation, have been tickling the funny bones of the audience for more than three decades now. But behind this layer of light-hearted humour, is a very serious and observant mind that has been minutely noticing the quirks, stupidities, hypocrisy, and idiosyncrasies of people and culture at large. These observations are not only responsible for his acting brilliance but also for some of the finest satirical films made in Kerala that have been penned by him. He is the brain behind classics like Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala, Vadakkunokkiyantram, and many others. In this essay, we’ll be focusing on yet another masterful satire written by and featuring him called Thalayanamanthram (1990).

The film spotlights the greedy and insecure nature of a housewife Kanchana (Urvashi) who drives a wedge between her husband Sukumaran (Sreenivasan) and his younger brother Mohanan (Jayaram) in their joint family setup, and eventually even creates huge problems for her husband after they move out of the family home to live separately. Thalayanamanthram directed by Sathyan Anthikad opens with Mohanan getting married to his college sweetheart Shylaja (Parvathy) and she becomes the second daughter-in-law of the family. Shylaja’s arrival in the house triggers off Kanchana’s insecure and jealous nature, and she starts to feel inferior as Shylaja is highly educated and has a well-paying job. Kanchana is a housewife and has not been able to pass even the 10th grade despite several attempts. She lies to Shylaja about being academically brilliant as a child but owing to her mother’s illness, she had to drop out of studies. Kanchana’s insecurity deepens further when Shylaja’s brother from the Gulf gifts a VCR to her and many other items for each family member. A jealous Kanchana cribs to her husband that the saree she has been gifted is tasteless and looks cheap. The friction escalates to a tipping point one day when Kanchana’s school-going daughter tries to operate the VCR. A well-intentioned Shylaja simply warns the daughter from touching it fearing she could get an electric shock. Kanchana doesn’t take well to her daughter not being allowed to touch the VCR and blows the issue out of proportion. She lies to her husband saying Shylaja is snobbish and looks down upon them as they aren’t rich. This enrages Sukumaram and he confronts his younger brother Mohanan about Shylaja’s behaviour. Both brothers end up arguing badly and due to Kanchana’s persuasion, Sukumaran decides to leave the family home with his wife and daughter to live separately.

The film becomes more interesting from hereon. The new house that Sukamaram occupies on rent is in a posh colony where doctors, lawyers, and high-ranking govt officials reside. Kanchana lies to her neighbours that her husband is an engineer, and also that their car recently met with an accident due to which their daughter isn’t driven in a car to her school. But the truth is that Sukumaran is merely a supervisor in a construction company and doesn’t own a car. Kanchana in her endeavour to upgrade their lifestyle convinces Sukamaran to buy a washing machine, fridge and other household amenities beyond their means. He is forced to use his savings and also pay monthly instalments for sustaining their modern lifestyle. On seeing her neighbour’s daughter talk in English with her mother, Kanchana wishes for her daughter to also study in an English medium school. She even makes her daughter start addressing her as ‘Mummy’ and Sukumaran as ‘Daddy’. These are hilarious moments in the film as Sukumaram tries to educate Kanchana that one shouldn’t be ashamed of their mother tongue. Then, comes the big moment in their lives when Sukumaran buys a second-hand car by taking an advance from his boss.

Just when life was appearing a bit too rosy for the couple, things begin to take a U-turn. While learning to drive the car from his subordinate, Sukumaram rams it into someone’s property and has to shell out a lot of money for the repairs. To make matters worse, he and his subordinate’s frequent absence from work leads to their boss taking back the advance given to Sukumaran. With piling debts and nil savings left, Sukumaran and Kanchana are harassed and pressured by the shop owners from whom they had purchased household items on instalments. Sukumaran eventually succumbs to taking an unethical route of robbing his company of money. This backfires later on as he is jailed for forgery. Meanwhile, a penniless Kanchana is asked to vacate their rented house by the owner for failing to pay the rent. In the end, it is Mohanan and his wife Shylaja who come to the rescue of Kanchana and Sukumaran by bailing him out of jail and bringing them back to their family home.

Thalayanamanthram smartly wraps inside its humorous dialogues and characters, a sharp satire on the envious and competitive nature of many selfish housewives that eventually destroys their own peace along with that of other family members. This is a must-watch Malayalam film for Sreenivasan’s screenplay as well as his acting, and the brilliant performance of Urvashi as his greedy wife.