Kerala: February 15, 2019
Delhi: March 8, 2019
Rajisha Vijayan, Aswathi Menon, Joju George, Sarjano Khalid, Arjun Ashokan
There is no genre better suited to the widely celebrated New Age slice-of-life Malayalam cinema than the coming-of-age film. Writer-director Ahammed Khabeer facilitates a well-suited match between the two in June, the story of a young woman from Kottayam called June Sara Joy.
Khabeer’s film, which he has co-written with Libin Varghese and Jeevan Baby Mathew, travels with the girl from her teens to her 20s, from her first day in Class 11 to approximately a decade later, accompanying her through adolescent crushes and adult romance, her relationships with parents and friends, encounters with misogyny and patriarchy, and her pursuit of her dreams.
June makes for an interesting choice of heroine, because there is absolutely nothing remarkable about her or uncommon about her experiences. In fact, this is how she introduces herself to her class on Day 1, as someone with no special talents unlike the rest of them.
In the time we spend with her as viewers, nothing happens that would seem dramatic to the average observer, no tragedy, no great achievement. Yet in her own eyes, of course, her life is packed with drama as we see her shed buckets of tears through a major confrontation with her normal-as-hell parents and other situations.
This perhaps is the point being made by the writers: that what seems routine to the outside world can be trying, stressful, joyful, exhilarating and/or depressing by turns to the person going through what we are just watching. That “normal” and “ordinary” are often a matter of interpretation.
Khabeer’s storytelling style is easygoing, naturalistic and a good fit here. While June could have done with a paring down of the number of songs fitted into the narrative, Lijo Paul’s editing works well for it. We are occasionally taken back and forth in time through the many passages in the protagonist’s life, with Paul making smooth jumps that usually illustrate how she got to a particular point or how she has changed.
Rajisha Vijayan, who debuted to critical acclaim in 2016 with Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, has the task of portraying this blossoming youth. She is most convincing in June’s teenage years when she captures the child-woman’s sprightly demeanour, affectionate nature, immaturity and innate decency in equal measure without over-cutesifying her, and again in the transitional phase during which she confronts gender prejudice with undiluted spirit. Not so convincing is the writing and acting of the oldest June we get to see in the film when she is well into her 20s. This is a young woman who was shown to have matured in preceding scenes, yet her body language remains unchanged and her artificially energetic, child-like behaviour comes across as contrived during her first meeting with a new beau, when she seems like a bit of a regurgitation of the old Manic Pixie Dream Girl cliché.
Her physique and styling too seem unaltered. I have read that Vijayan lost considerable weight to play the teenaged June. The problem is that she looks exactly like the teenaged June right up to the last scene. I do not understand why anyone thought this actor needs help to look younger. The fact is her appearance is so youthful, that she could have done with better makeup and an intelligent stylist to look older for the 20-something June.
This is also a concern with at least two of the actors playing her classmates who look too baby-faced to be women well on their way to 30 in the end. The boys are much more believable as men and, in truth, some of them are less believable as schoolkids.
By this point in the film though, much water has passed under the bridge, and Ms Vijayan under Mr Khabeer’s guidance has drawn us so inexorably into June’s existence, that I, for one, as a viewer, found myself in an indulgent mood.
The Dad quietly pouring her her first drink while the mother is not watching, her first kiss, her first open battle with patriarchy are all handled perfectly naturally without creating a big shindig around them as other contemporary commercial filmmakers do. However, the one folly – and a big folly it is – is the inconsistency in the definition of June’s dream. (Some readers may consider the rest of this paragraph a spoiler) In one crucial, well-executed portion, she is shown avidly fighting for a woman’s right to be more than just a stay-at-home mother whose decisions are made by a dictatorial husband. Not long after, an important character asks her what precisely her own dreams are for herself. She has no answer then, and by the finale, both she and the writers seem to have either lost interest in finding one or have completely forgotten about it. (Spoiler alert ends)
This forgetfulness implies a lack of commitment. Along with the schmaltzy, over-stretched climax that extends way beyond the nostalgia it intends to convey, it subtracts from the overall impact of June.
Still, there is plenty to like in this teens-to-20s saga, not the least reasons being its gentle tone, Rajisha Vijayan’s likeable screen presence, and her comfortable chemistry with her co-stars, especially the lovely Joju George playing her liberal-yet-conservative Dad and Sarjano Khalid who is cast as her first boyfriend.
I would gladly re-watch June just for the joy of revisiting the warmth in the leading lady’s scenes with her indulgent father.
Rating (out of five stars): **1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
This review has also been published on Firstpost: