Benjamin Franklin had once said famously – In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
What does an ordinary man or woman do when faced with the wrath of the Income Tax Department that comes out to hound you? As somebody who was puzzlingly served an IT notice a year back, I can relate to the scare that Income Tax can create in one’s life.
Molly Mammen (Revathy) is an unlikely protagonist – a slightly elderly woman whose family is in US, who comes back after a long leave to continue working in her small little job in a public sector bank in Nemmara in Palakkad. She is a committed hardworking employee who can brook no nonsense and is willing to fight her way out of any situation, if she believes she is right about it. She sells her husband’s ancestral property, takes a voluntary retirement from her job and is about to return to her family in the US when she runs into the iron hands of the Income Tax department and the battle begins to prove her innocence!
You first see Molly as she comes late for a religious family function and bangs her car onto the priest’s scooter, knocking it down (a symbolic rejection of conventions?). Family gossip marks her out as being unwelcome to the family and her sleeveless dress does not help matters. As the daughter of a Communist leader, rebellion is in her genes and she isn’t someone who can be knocked around that easily. She is liberal-minded but adamant, egoistic and you’d have to admit that diplomacy is not her forte.
Molly isn’t a firebrand woman out to change the world making fiery speeches or a staunch feminist but somebody who is willing to make the best of her situation and stand up for what she thinks is right. As her husband Benny (Lalu Alex) says, there is a Molly in all our families, in some form of the other who makes everyone around her insecure. There is no point in being upset about it and one has to adjust to the way she is.
As she struggles with many of her small-time problems in life, it acts as a mirror to many of the issues that we face in day-to-day life. How many of us have not struggled in government offices waiting for hours, without any help at all. Even the slightest of help comes with a suggestion of short-cuts that we are forced to accept because there is no way out of the mess. Reminds me of my trip to the IT dept office last year where we spent more than a couple of hours just waiting for the man who sent us the notices to turn up but no one ever bothered to ask what we wanted when we landed in a placid Govt office.
Molly’s struggles are not always driven out of her conviction but also due to the simple necessity of doing things independently when alone. She is married to a large family headed by her matriarch mother-in-law KPAC Lalitha but finds no support when in trouble, except from her mother-in-law and a benign neighbour. It doesn’t help that she has brought no dowry after her marriage and is an independent lady who has come down all the way from the US of A to a place where her outgoing nature is a source of genuine bewilderment. Like Molly, haven’t many of us Non-Residential Keralites seen our relatives think that we have minted money outside and that we are stingy for not spending money – the effort and toil just does not show!
As a single woman who tries to live independently in a small town in Kerala, she struggles with house owners, head-load workers, nosey people, co-employees who are happy to keep away from work at the slightest of pretexts and of course, the ever roving eye of men who are keen to ‘help’ her whenever there is an opportunity. It isn’t a world that Molly is unaware of having brought up there; she, however, does not go about bad mouthing the place and unlike many others, she is not willing to simple live with her problems.
The women around her are more or less satisfied with the kind of lives that they live, living in a frog-in-the-wall kind of existence and being happy about it. Her neighbour Usha (Lakshmi Priya) lives a contended life of a teacher and is more obsessed with the progress of her TV serials than the world around her; she leaves it to her husband, Ravi (Krishna Kumar) the dentist, to handle things outside her house. Molly’s mother-in-law may be her only support in the family when in Kerala but there is a generation gap that cannot be bridged. Yes, they get along well and enjoy a rare sense of camaraderie but it happens with a sense of acceptance that exists between their worlds – a world where cooking and taking care of the house is a woman’s job and a world where women can stand up on their own and take the battle to men.
There is a subtle social commentary on the world around her in the form of bandhs, busy government offices and names that tell us a lot of the times we live in. New Generation lower caste names like Fleming Raj (with mother as Mulla Devi) indicating a western influence to a starry-eyed auto rickshaw driver with cine ambitions going by the name Gunesh Kuttan and an auditor called Paraman who is busier with making arrangements for the local festival than providing tax advice.
It is a mark of the changing times where the young priest Father Joby Matthews (Sharath) is a divorcee and is called in to settle a tax dispute between his parishioners! When Molly suffers a small fall on the road, the onlookers are more keen to capture the scene with their mobiles than actually give her a helping hand. The bank manager is impressed by her abilities at work and is more than willing to be persuaded that the American system is wonderful; in an absolutely hilarious moment when she is down with an accident, he even wishes her ‘Happy Rest in Peace’!
It is courageous of Ranjith to cast a young Prithviraj with a much-older Revathy as the central protagonists of this drama. Yes, it is evident that the plot demands such a casting but how many directors would be willing to take such a (perceived) risk? Also, kudos to Prithviraj for taking up this role which sees him play second fiddle to the central woman character. Mammukkoya excels in an unexpected cameo as Salim Mechery, Molly’s lawyer, who also dabbles in cartoons and plays (suspect that had Jagathy been around, he would have been a natural choice to play the character). It is Revathy’s movie throughout and I don’t think that for a minute that you’d think that she could be any different from the character that she plays – we need such strong female protagonists…
Prithvi as Pranav Roy is the haughty Assistant Tax Commissioner who goes strictly by the rule book and cares two hoots for the discomfort faced by the tax payer. He is honest and not driven by personal interests but knows that he has the power to make people bend and is willing to use his powers even if the situation does not demand it. It is a commentary of the sad state of affairs that bright officers are competent and intelligent but totally devoid of any sense of customer service. In a conversation with Salim Mechery, Pranav remarks that the money that should reach the poor is being siphoned away by NRIs like Molly only to be brought down to earth by Salim who reminds him that this money does not reach the poor but only the coffers of politicians.
But with all due regards to the director, I have misgivings over the way the movie peters out in a direction of morality that I find it difficult to digest. Call me a cynic but I have a problem with a moral angle being thrust in suddenly for no better reason than giving a sermon to us poor plebeians – something similar that I felt in the Ustad Hotel ending too. Yes, we know that Molly cannot be dishonest and to expect a twist in the plot may go against her character and even Ranjith’s convictions as a director. But I’m sure there are better ways of taking an honourable exit, without cleaving in the morality clause.
Adv Salim finds glaring gaps in Pranav’s father’s tax returns and this could in itself have been used as a bargaining tool simply to drive home the point that even the best of men can be taken to task if somebody tries to really screw their lives (somebody like Subramanian Swamy!). Molly’s defence of the expenses hidden from the Govt also do not cut any ice – when Pranav asks ludicrously as to why this could not have been shown in her tax statement, my mind was simply echoing his sentiments. What one presents in one’s tax returns is not in the public domain so her talk about shying away from publicity seemed far-fetched. And while she means well when she says that the taxes paid by her do not reflect into action by the Govt, it still does not explain her actions.
If you keep aside the contrived morality that seeps in during the end and a couple of scenes that appear out of place (like Salim’s entry into Molly’s house and the cringe-worthy spectacle of a tennis match), it is a warm movie that definitely gladdens your heart and reiterates Ranjith Sankar’s role as a director who thinks as the common man. His template of film making draws on the ability of ordinary citizens who rise to the situation when confounded with larger problems in life- what they do is not heroic but simple things that matter..
Note- Also check out this review of Molly Aunty Rocks.