Starring Biju Menon, Manju Warrier, Saiju Kurup, Deepti Sati and Anu Mohan
Directed by Madhu Warrier
Rating: ** ½
The joints of the joint family may have started to creak. But cinema on the khushi and gham of joint families are certainly not giving up on their exacerbated quotients of optimism.
I am sure Sooraj Barjatya would love Lalitha Sunderam.It is a film which means well,and that genuineness excuses the vast stretches of clunky storytelling that sets in every time the characters run out of reasons to fight. That having being said, Madhu Warrier’s film still has a lot going for itself.
The cast is vast , what with the entire Das family congregating at their father’s ancestral home for Christmas .Each of the siblings gets a hurried backstory to justify his or her disengagement with the joys of a family get-together. The only one who seems perky is Annie Mary Das(Manju Warrier) who is a hotshot executive whose kind understanding husband Sandeep(Saiju Kurup) has taken voluntary retirement years ago so Annie can pursue her career.
Even Annie’s fragile edifice of happiness comes tumbling down when her husband, in one the rare intense outbursts denied to most of the tra-la-la characters, berates her in public for presuming he was happy as a house husband.
Some amusing shock occurs when the youngest sibling Jerry(Anu Mohan) arrives at the family gathering with his live-in girlfriend . The family is divided on his unorthodoxy ,although the screenplay (by Pramod Mohan) doesn’t dive too deep into the family dynamics.The jokes are all about where Jerry will sleep in the night. Giggle.
This family-shocked-by-live-in-girlfriend angle was recently seen in another Malayalam film Salute. Is it meant to be a wakeup call for conservative families or just a humorous shake of the family tree ? Either way, the live-in debate is at least being touched on in regional cinema, unlike Hindi cinema where the heroine is considered a slut if she wants to have sex before marriage(ref: Tadap).
For all its disarming grace and simplicity, Lalitha Sunderam moves with utter caution through the labyrinth of inter-family relationships.I wish it would have dropped its guards once in while. The confrontational moments among the family members are almost apologetic in tone.
In the second-half there is a pointed reference to singing careers being messed up bey egoistic judges in reality shows. Here the narrative dithers between the surface treatment and a deeper thrust and finally settles for the former.As a surface-level sentimental journey into the heart of a dysfunctional family Laliltha Sunderam is an over-sweetened almost lachrymose product with some dreadful acting, especially by the children .
The stand-out performances are by Biju Menon as the troubled eldest sibling who seems to fail at everything he tries , and Sudheesh as the family friend who is there for everyone although the family seems to take him from granted. These are relatable characters with issues that are genuine , though their resolution is hurried and unconvincing.Nonetheless this is a much less shallow and silly film than the family films of Sooraj Barjatya.