Single mother tales have come a long way. Raghunath Paleri’s directorial debut Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare is a story from the 1980s – when it was perhaps a wee bit tougher for a single mother to bring up a child. At least, the film successfully convinces us to believe so.

An independent yet disturbed widow, her three-year old child and an anonymous man on the telephone – Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare is about the bond they share. What the initial reels establishes is Aleena’s (Asha Jayaram) constant denial to consider another relationship. She vehemently refuses all well-wishers while she deeply misses someone who could fill the void left by her musician husband Josutty (an energetic Prathap Pothen). The milieu in itself is a setting to portray Aleena’s loneliness. The spacious house with an empty lawn located besides a large water body adds to the air of emptiness she goes through. The production design (R. Shekhar) is such that the interiors of the house is full of objects – you see books, décor pieces, an ornate bed, a piano among other things. But the pavement that leads to the main door is spacious enough for Aleena to run. This could be symbolic of her turmoil and a possible outlet to happiness – The Telephone Uncle (Mohanlal) that is.

Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare revolves around phone conversations. Yet the film lets silences convey its messages. Aleena is happy for her best friend finding her suitor but she misses one for herself. The emotion bordering on jealousy and vacuum is heart-wrenchingly reflected though Aleena’s eyes. Though there are tiny, deliberate moments to sort of emotionally manipulate us (the song – Ponnum Thingal Pottum Maane), they are far and few between. Having said that, they don’t really affect the overall impact of the film.

As viewers, we do not wonder as Aleena precisely paints Telephone Uncle’s portrait. Right from the beginning of their connection, we are told how her fondness grows. Curious, she always was. After a point, the curiosity transforms to conviction. Notice the moments where she rubbishes her best friend when she goes, “Your telephone uncle could be one of those eve teasers…” We completely buy it when we see her deck up to welcome him home. We understand her pining as she runs down the hospital stairs to catch a glimpse of him. But, what we aren’t told is Telephone Uncle’s side of the love story. Yes, his equation with Deepamol has been seamlessly conveyed. What did he feel for Aleena? Was it sympathy? Was it a domino effect of his affection to the child? We are not told.

Notably, the film gifted Malayalam film industry with a handful of splendid artists. Asha Jayaram marks a fantastic debut with a nuanced, studied performance as Aleena. Due to Raghunath Paleri who flawlessly structured the character that it is impossible to question her actions or motives. Geethu Mohandas as the spirited, and occasionally lost, Deepamol is natural to the core. Always addressing herself in first person, Deepamol is far cry from the archetypal toddler you would see in Indian films. Celebrated musician Mohan Sitara made a sparkling first impression. Chitra’s “Ponnum Thingal” is one song that is still heard and cherished. G. Venugopal’s first turn at the mic with the male version of the song is equally evocative.

The silver lining comes in form of Mohanlal whose mysterious telephone uncle is the one everyone longs for – Aleena, Deepamol and the audience. There is some sort of an enigma in his voice. He is compassionate but stern, sardonic yet caring. A victim of circumstances, he brings in pathos and layers to his edgy character.

Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare turns all conversational and semi-melodramatic in the last 15 minutes. No, it isn’t much of a diversion but, we keep wondering if there was a better way to express those emotions than just talk. Nevertheless, Raghunath Paleri, who makes a debut himself, delivers a cracker of a film that remains viewable post three decades. The plot, the characters and their emotions remain dew fresh. The film subconsciously emphasizes that a woman’s life is incomplete minus a man but, let’s just give it to the era it was set in. If it is sensitivity and mellow subtexts that you are looking for in a film, Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare is a must-watch.

Rating: ★★★★

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