Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Release date:
September 27, 2019
Ramesh Pisharody

Mammootty, Vanditha Manoharan, Athulya Chandra, Manoj K. Jayan, Suresh Krishna, Mukesh, Siddique, Innocent, Dharmajan Bolgatty, Hareesh Kanaran, Sunil Sukhada, Kochu Preman, Salim Kumar, Anoop Menon 

Ganagandharvan is not about a man called Ullaas (played by Mammootty) who is a gaanamela singer. Ullaas’ story is just an excuse in this film to paint men as victims of feminism and the laws designed to protect women from sexual exploitation.

Ramesh Pisharody betrays a disdain for women and condescension towards them even before courtroom battles commence between an evil femme called Sandra and hapless paavam Ullaas. In a scene that casually reveals the writer-director’s patriarchal worldview, a bunch of male friends are gathered at Ullaas’ house to discuss legal options available to him. Ullaas’ bandmate Titto (Manoj K. Jayan) is in the kitchen trying to make tea for the guests. Among them is the father of the budding lawyer Anamika who is herself present. Dad is trying to convince Ullaas to hire her. When Titto emerges to express an inability to find the tea leaves, Daddy turns to Anamika Mol – not to Ullaas who you would think should know where everything is kept in his own house, but to Anamika – and asks her to prepare the beverage for all of them as though it is the most natural thing in the world for her in particular to do so. She obeys wordlessly, magically finds the tea leaves (I suppose because every woman is born with a tea-leaf-spotting chromosome) and emerges with a tray for the men. Having fulfilled what the filmmaker clearly deems her designated feminine duty, she proceeds to wax eloquent about the various sections of the Indian Penal Code that Sandra could deploy to take revenge on Ullaas for perceived wrongs. 

The kitchen saga in this scene is so pointed and so detailed – Titto is actually shown looking for tea leaves, Anamika is actually shown making tea – that Pisharody is clearly making a statement through it: that this woman, who is fully capable of filling what is socially perceived as her pre-ordained womanly role despite having a career outside the house, shares his views on the twisted nature of feminism; that being a woman professional is acceptable just so long as you know your place and stay in touch with your congenital domestic skills; that every woman is biologically tuned to make her way around household jobs in the way the uterus is biologically tuned for pregnancy, noses breathe and hearts beat. 

The patriarchal, anti-feminist, misogynistic messaging of Ganagandharvan is the primary purpose of its existence, and Ullaas is Pisharody’s instrument of choice. 

Ganagandharvan revolves around nice guy Ullaas, a singer whose goal of becoming a film playback singer remains unfulfilled. He now spends his days performing at weddings and other public and social functions. His wife Mini (Vanditha Manoharan) loves him but is frustrated with his lack of progress. His daughter has zero respect for him.

When he is approached with an extraordinary request to help Sandra (Athulya Chandra), he gets sucked into a vortex of circumstances and misunderstandings fuelled by what the film describes as society’s and the legal system’s pro-women bias. Various women from Anamika to a “feminist judge” are used as mouthpieces for Pisharody’s propaganda conveyed through sarcasm and a fake concern for women with genuine issues. And Sandra, a character written with an utter lack of nuance, is used to repeatedly say things like, “Njaan oru pennalle, law endoode nikkyu ollu” (I am a woman so the law will stand with me). To underline her horridness she is shown slapping a man after hitting him with her car and justifying her obnoxious behaviour with the dictum that attack is the best form of defence.

This review does not intend to suggest that laws sensitive to women’s concerns have never been misused. No law or system in this world can escape at least some degree of misuse, but so-called Men’s Rights Activists exaggerate the minuscule percentage of such episodes in the context of women-related laws – ignoring the humongous scale of violence and discrimination against women worldwide – to demonise feminism, feminists and systemic consideration for women.

Mollywood presents Ganagandharvan just a fortnight after the release of the insidious Bollywood film Section 375, which operates on the same premise. Such films are a backlash against the increasingly vocal nature of contemporary feminism, which has the benefit of platforms such as the social media that were not available to earlier generations of rights warriors. 

The screenplay’s low IQ is exemplified by a character who is worried when a new judge takes over Ullaas’ case. “The new woman judge is a feminist,” he says, “till date she has never ruled in favour of a man.” Yawn. Boring. Seriously how little intelligence must you have to parrot this clich├ęd line about feminism? If you believe a movement for gender equality is anti-men, then one has to assume that you believe all men are anti-equality. 

Pisharody’s failure lies not only in his status-quoist, antagonistic ideology, but in his inability to tell a story well. Considerable time is spent on establishing Ullaas’ family, his musical background and lost dreams in the first hour of Ganagandharvan, but all this becomes irrelevant once he is trapped by Sandra. There is no answer to why Pisharody and his co-writer Hari P. Nair did not plunge straight into the Ullaas-Sandra track. 

This is not the only time-wasting writing choice they make. A parade of characters played by well-known character actors appear and disappear in Ganagandharvan without contributing much to the narrative, apart from providing some comic relief. At first they are funny – the sub-plot involving Ashokan, for one, certainly merits a few laughs. Then though, these bit parts become tedious as they needlessly stretch the film’s length, the humour clashes with the grim storyline and it becomes clear that even these comedians are being used to further Pisharody’s cause. 

The character played by Suresh Krishna works as long as the film appears to be a slice-of-life saga set within a musical troupe. When it metamorphoses into a legal drama, he becomes completely superfluous and the supposedly grand revelation involving his all-white attire is downright silly. Salim Kumar turns up for a few seconds simply to insinuate, with a purported wisecrack, that domestic violence laws are routinely misused by women. And the sudden appearance of Anoop Menon in a climactic twist is just plain stupid. Tacky writing all around. 

There is really no point in asking: what were you thinking, Mammootty? Because Mammootty, our beloved Mammukka, screen legend, actor par excellence, he who also chose to star in sensitively handled, quality cinema like Peranbu (Tamil) and Unda (Malayalam) just this year, has done far worse by women in his decades-long career in a slew of films that make Ganagandharvan look humane in comparison. At least here we are spared the posing around, the bizarre trademark focus on his sunglasses, shoes and gait in the midst of grave plot developments, or his own character spewing venom at women. The tragedy of Ganagandharvan is that Mammootty actually acts well in the film, but the empathy he evokes for his character sticks out like an oasis in what Tagore might have described as a “dreary desert sand of” a dead screenplay and flat performances by the female leads Vanditha Manoharan and Athulya Chandra who are dealt badly written roles and are young enough to be his granddaughters anyway.

Perhaps nothing in Ganagandharvan should come as a surprise considering that Pisharody and Nair co-wrote last year’s Panchavarnathatha which was dull and pointless. That film, starring Jayaram and Kunchacko Boban, was not fixated on building animosity towards women in the way this one is, but it did make light of intimate partner violence. Team Ganagandharvan too features a man casually telling a woman that considering the way she behaved with Ullaas, he should at the very least have slapped her once, to which she seems to agree. Apparently the only thing more natural than the female human’s ability to find tea leaves in a kitchen is the right of a male human to hit her if she bugs him.

Rating (out of five stars): 1/4

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
139 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

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