“Trust me, Teenage girls are sneaky”, seethes Mare Sheehan of Mare Of East Town. She is not wrong. Adolescence is a foreign country where emotions are acutely fluid and ambivalent. Love intertwined with bitterness. A hunger for life overlapped with crushing despair. The time when the little people start to crawl out of adult supervision to become rebelling strangers.
Our cinema has rarely spoken to teenagers, a minority section in the audience. The teen romantic-comedies in pre-2010 Malayalam cinema imagined the young people as cartoonish creatures who performed coordinated happy dances on college corridors and centred their life around finding a life partner. Teachers and parents were irrefutable paragons of affection. Love lasted forever.
This pop-coloured utopia of Malayalam campus movies was shaken by Girish AD’s powerful debut directorial, Thanneer Mathan Dinangal (2019), a teen-comedy that looked at a 17-year-old boy clumsily navigating the final years of school. Teachers didn’t wear a halo and the teenage girls in the film didn’t bear the burden of having to look photogenic and graceful. The film’s thoroughly non-judgemental gaze held the adults culpable and pardoned the teens for their impulsive acts.
Girish’s sophomore film Super Sharanya unfolds in a similar milieu, an engineering college in Thrissur where the eponymous protagonist (Anaswara Rajan), is a naive fresher student. Young men, one after another, fall for her homespun charm. Her loyal friends hand-hold her through the first year in the college campus and hostel. Finally, when she starts asserting herself, albeit mildly, she is labelled as a “minda poocha”﹣quiet and sneaky (to borrow Mare’s usage) like a cat.
Unfortunately, the fierce sincerity that Girish displayed in his debut work to portraying the tribulations of adolescence, which made Thanneer Mathan Dinangal a lasting work, is absent here. Instead, the viewers witness a disappointing adherence to mainstream clichés that betrays the film’s young women.
Super Sharanya has a terrific former half, edited to a delicious rhythm, splashed with a great sense of humour. The characters are vividly drawn. The scenes set in Sharanya’s hostel look into the secret inner lives of the inmates, expanding the girls’ identities and their world to include the details mainstream cinema has traditionally omitted for the male gaze. Girish treats the girls on the same lines as the boys in Thanneer Mathan Dinangal.
The hostel rooms are unkempt, with plenty of signs of life. The young women are funny and awkward, unbothered about being watched by the camera and a male crowd. When the angry seniors ask them to do a catwalk, the girls do a hilarious literal impression. Their conversations don’t stray into the philosophical, but stay rightly prosaic, about coping with the tasteless food served at the canteen or dealing with the romantic advances of an “Arjun Reddy-like” college hero (Vineeth Vasudevan) whose popularity stems from his behavioural issues.
Girish’s greatest strength must be his respect for the mundane. The girls fight a lot, but the film does not picturise it like a sexist catfight but with dignity. There is a moment in the film that parodies a scene from Mayanadhi (2017). The candour of the former makes the latter look utterly pretentious.
Despite this solid former half, the film ends as a thoroughly underwhelming work, thanks to the screenplay’s shortsightedness. Super Sharanya’s Achilles Heel is a poorly-written romantic track on which Girish pins the future of his heroine. Sharanya breaks many hearts when she falls in love with Deepu (Arjun Ashokan). He is undereducated, unemployable and most importantly, unfunny, although he shows great talent in tracking down the marriable young woman he spotted on the road. For no real reason, the film pats him on the shoulder for transforming the underconfident Sharanya into a bold young woman.
After investing itself in portraying heartwarming female friendships in the former half, Super Sharanya reduces its protagonist into a meek lover who looks away when her boyfriend, semi-sarcastically, warns her feisty best friend to stay away from their life. We have seen this a thousand times before, on big and small screens.
The protagonist’s ill-fate aside, the film goofs up in the second half by looking away from the women to focus on half-baked male characters who do the stuff of YouTube short films. They get into scuffles for reasons no one can remember, drink and cry over stubborn girlfriends, and eventually drag the viewers into their empty existence.
Anaswara Rajan and Mamita Baiju as her best friend and roommate play their roles with dauntless perfection, displaying great vulnerability, strength and humour at once. Anaswara’s portrayal of exasperation in the early scenes is magnificent. There is a moment where she trips and falls in the middle of a catcalling male crowd. The film treats the moment lightly, shooting her from a distance, with a playful background score, but the actor makes the viewer feel the horror. The supporting actors, including Vineeth Viswam as a vicious professor, are impressive.
Lyricist Suhai Koya’s work in the film is one of the best Malayalam cinema has seen in recent times. In the song Ashubha Mangalakari, he elaborates Sharanya’s mishaps in hilarious simplicity: “You are a bottle of expired painkiller” and “You are a song-less FM station”. Sharanya’s bland romantic affair gets a facelift in the song Pacha Payal where Suhail turns love visceral, calling it a patch of wet moss on the wall and a handkerchief clutched in the palm.
Super Sharanya is not a patch on Girish’s stellar debut work, but it gives a great view of the young filmmaker’s talents. He continues to stage scenes seamlessly, finding humour in the ordinary without making it look like a set-up. He finds beauty in the imperfect. And he treats the adolescent with a lot of kindness, an ability one tends to lose in adulthood.
This Super Sharanya review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.