B 32 Muthal 44 Vare Movie Review: A poignant, deeply thoughtful tale of liberation that's didactic sans preachiness

Shruthi Sharanyam
In the assured hands of writer-director Shruti Sharanyam, we get a film that addresses some pertinent topics through a hyperlink narrative
B 32 Muthal 44 Vare Movie Review

B 32 Muthal 44 Vare Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Kerala State Film Development Corporation
Director : Shruthi Sharanyam
Music Director : Sudeep Palanad

Who would've thought that breasts and bra sizes could be effective storytelling devices to address topics and situations usually considered awkward and uncomfortable (but shouldn't be)? Perhaps in the hands of a lesser or a male filmmaker, these would've remained awkward and uncomfortable; however, in the assured hands of a woman, writer-director Shruthi Sharanyam, we get a film that invites you to summon as much courage as its characters do, so that you, like them, can finally feel liberated, regardless of your gender.

For those wondering about the title, B 32 Muthal 44 Vare, it makes complete sense when you get closer to its final moments. This is, after all, a film about characters that don't belong to, or are yearning to break out of, a pre-set "metric". How do you tackle a subject that involves a specific body part when placed in different contexts? Through her film, Shruthi covers a wide spectrum of topics that run the gamut from gender dysphoria to mastectomy to MeToo to beauty standards, among others.

One of the film's most impressive qualities is its decision not to spell out everything for its audiences through labels or expositions. No labels are necessary for something that's supposed to be normalised. In a film where its central characters feel increasingly oppressed by society-devised constructs, the aim is to be didactic without resorting to preachiness.

Through a hyperlink narrative similar to that of Hollywood films like Traffic, Contagion, Syriana or Malayalam cinema's own examples such as Traffic, Ee Adutha Kaalathu, or the recent 2018, it introduces us to six characters, beginning with the most liberated of them all, Ziya (played by Anarkali Marikar), a trans man experiencing the early stages of transition. Then there's Imaan (Zarin Shihab), Ziya's roommate employed in the hospitality industry. Her story is told with a minimalistic touch, with a quick flashback adding meaning to her current struggle with an arena that demands unfairly harsh beauty standards. Then there's Malini (Remya Nambessan), whose relationship with her husband takes a turn for the worse after her mastectomy. Then there's Jaya (Ashwathy B), a domestic worker pondering a job offer that might seem inappropriate to her relatives to deal with severe financial difficulty. Parallely, there's a MeToo situation involving an aspiring actress, Rachel (Krisha Kurup) and a male filmmaker known for his "feminist" films. We also meet a high school student, Nidhi (Raina Radhakrishnan), whose story is told with little explanation, too.

Not all of these characters meet, but some of them do, in the most beautiful ways. When they do, it's at a point where they have taken some of their life's most drastic choices. When they have finally extricated themselves from the increasingly suffocating circumstances created by those around them, be it people they thought were their allies or otherwise. This is a film where women, too, are enablers of patriarchy as much as men.

Take Imaan's boss, a woman who disapproves of her decision to help out a molested woman. Cut to the police station, a woman constable exhibits the same attitude. On the flip side, we see that rare example of a man, in the form of the molested woman's father, who stands by her when her male friend allies with the perpetrator.

While on flipsides, the film delves into the need for fostering safe spaces through a couple of strikingly contrasting images, like an audition where men revolve around an aspiring female actor. Much later, we see a photo shoot where the subject is a woman, and all the crew members are women.

Shruthi also peppers the film with other delightfully implicit, minute blink-or-you'll-miss-it details to convey the intrusion of men into spaces occupied by women, like a women-friendly bus shelter or a toilet. We also get some sly humour in certain situations, like when a schoolboy asks a trans man if he can touch his breasts minutes after telling him that he missed his Biology exam. It's as though the film is telling you, "No wonder this boy is ignorant." We get a variation of this scene later when another boy, when asked about the definition of gender, replies, "With boobs and without boobs."

While the actors most succeed at giving convincing performances, there are exceptions where the dialogue deliveries seemed forced and awkward, particularly the segment with Remya Nambeesan and Harish Uthaman. It lacks a flow and rhythm. Plus, the whole time, I was nagged by the thought that it was not Harish Uthaman's voice.

A recent Kerala State Film Award winner, B 32 Muthal 44 Vare, which just premiered on the new OTT platform CSpace, belongs to that list of films that attend festivals and win awards but shouldn't be labelled an "arthouse" film. Yes, it's an independent film backed by the Kerala State Film Development Corporation, but it's not one of those "watching paint dry" experiences.

There is a competent, highly skilled technical crew behind this film. Cinematographer Sudeep Elamon (who has worked on films like Jana Gana Mana and Driving Licence) and editor Rahul Radhakrishnan (known for his work with director Mahesh Narayanan on such films as Ariyippu, Malik and CU Soon) ensure that the energy of the images become aligned with the emotional state of the characters.

I like how the film makes the city an active participant. It got me thinking of how Japanese cinema often does this -- making us pay attention to the city's mood when placing the characters against its backdrops. I also liked how the film places its characters next to water bodies when they are finally experiencing freedom and are going through a transitional phase.

Composer Sudeep Palanad's work, too, effectively conveys the various situational changes, ranging from helplessness to tenderness and, eventually, freedom. Credit also goes to production designer Dundhu Ranjeev Radha, who, along with the rest of the crew, delivers an experience that doesn't tread a tried-and-tested path.

Verdict: Good

Galatta Rating: ( 3.5 /5.0 )

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