The pre-interval stretch of Rekha gives no idea about what lies later. What we get at first is a beautiful depiction of a family and the small, sleepy community that surrounds them. If a vessel for filling up water falls accidentally into a well, the splash sound is enough to arouse everyone to action. Even earlier, we have had some amusement about a mother who's upset that her hen is not laying eggs. She vents her anger on her daughter, who's still asleep. The father is kinder. Even without overt gestures of affection, we feel his closeness with the daughter, who's the Rekha of the title. The director, Jithin Issac Thomas, seems to be in a much calmer mood than he was in Attention Please, which was an angry film about art being the ultimate weapon. Rekha is more about the heart. Again, I'm only talking about the pre-interval stretch.
Vincy Aloshious plays Rekha, and Unni Lalu is her boyfriend, Arjun. The film spends a lot of time showing them being in love. Arjun sneaks into her house on his birthday and demands a kiss, and we feel Rekha's apprehension about expressing her love in this community. Is there a caste angle, too? There was a prominent Dalit angle in Attention Please, and in Rekha, there's an anganwadi teacher who's slut-shamed after having an affair. I couldn’t say if this was because this teacher belonged to a particular community, or because she was just a woman in a patriarchal society. Either way, the Rekha-Arjun portions are brilliantly timed and shot – a mixture of chats and calls and, later, a mixture of hand-holding and pleading from both sides. Through the agonising length of this stretch (and it's a good kind of agony, almost like severely extended foreplay), the director makes us feel – almost at a molecular level – both Arjun's desire and Rekha's desire mixed with fear.
There are some wonderful bits of social observation here. A girl need not feel love in order to be in love. The fact that her friends are in love – that is, peer pressure – may be enough to make her crave these feelings. Another thing that makes Rekha different is her talent for sports and her muscular strength – she studied in a sports school. And of course, the men are appalled. One of them comments about the dishonour a girl can bring to her family if she is into such "unfeminine" activities. But Rekha’s father supports her when she says she doesn't want to get married at this moment. It's another reminder that Rekha is close with her father, as is her request that he stop sleeping outside the house just because it is too hot inside. She cares, she really cares about this man. And then something happens: to Rekha, and to her father.
And something happens to the movie, too. The gentle strings in the songs and the background score change into loud electric-guitar rock riffs. The naturalistic lighting turns into blocks of neon colours. A dog that dies in the first half returns as a barking banshee in the soundtrack, and there’s another off-screen incident of animal killing. And Rekha who used her muscular strength playfully in the first half now uses it in a different way. And we finally return to the anger of Attention Please. There, the anger belonged to a screenwriter sick of being suppressed in the hierarchy of cinema talent. Here, the anger belongs to a woman who needs closure. And also revenge. And also resolution of her own guilt in precipitating the big interval moment. Vincy Aloshious is amazing. She does not emote much but we feel everything she's feeling – on behalf of Rekha, and on behalf of other women. In a way, she becomes "the man of the house".
But midway through the second half, the film starts losing its grip. The writing follows the same feel as we got earlier. There, it was an agonising wait for the couple to come together. Now, it is an agonising wait for Rekha's to succeed in her mission. But this time, the agonising wait is really… agonising. For one, the events are predictable. And two, the change in genre, so to speak, isn't handled with much inventiveness. I liked small touches like a woman becoming a stalker – whatever the situation is – and a love story turning into something of a detective story. I liked how Rekha's fear in the first half now becomes the fear of another character. But I wish Jithin had been a little subtler. We get the instance of a man who turned into a womaniser almost genetically, because his father was one, too. But this is too simplistic for a film that wants to make big points about gender and guilt and patriarchy. There's no doubt that Rekha is a well-made movie. I just wished the writing had matched the filmmaking.