Manju Warrier’s ‘How Old are You?’ hits theaters on May 17, 2014

It was nothing short of a historic moment for Malayalam cinema when ‘How old are you?’ directed by Rosshan Andrrews hit theatres on 17 May 2014 Friday across Kerala. All Keralites celebrated this event with great enthusiasm as it marked celebrated comeback of the iconic actress Manju Warrier after 15 long years! The movie is a simple story with some excellent performances and a powerful script. The movie is running in fully packed houses, making it one of the biggest hits in the recent times. Why audience loved her comeback so much? Those three magical years – 1996 to 1999, its answer lies in those 19 movies!

A small journey to late 1990’s

Manju Warrier debuted silver screen in 1996 at the age of 16 and in 1999 she surprised everyone when she got married to co-actor the then struggling Dileep and decided to say good bye to silver screen forever. She was only 19 then! They together have paired in lead roles in a few movies like Sallam and Ee puzhayum kadannu and when the news came in the newspaper first page with caption, “It’s not a film shooting, it’s reality”, I too was one among those surprised viewers who had never read about the rumours of Manju-Dileep affair. The decision of their sudden marriage at Aluva temple shocked the whole film world as not many people knew about the matter earlier.

She acted only 19 movies in 4 years with one state award and one National award (Special Jury mention). A couple of movies got released in 2000. She was at her career peaks with a promising and surprising career ahead. Many film critics had predicted her bright future and many National awards, as she was easy in handling a college girl or a matured wife onscreen, at a younger age. Sallapam, Kanmatham, Pranayavarnangal, Summer in Bethlehem, Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu, Ee Puzhayum kadannu, Kaliveedu, Pathram, Krishnagudiyil oru pranayakaalathu; her movies can be counted in finger tips. But in most of these movies, she overshadowed the lead male actor! Most surprisingly, in those four years (from 1996 to 1999), all the 4 Filmfare awards for best Malayalam film actress were won by Manju, showing that she completely dominated Malayalam silver screen in those 4 years. In the past 15 years, no other actress has been able to replicate the same roles with such a powerful performance onscreen. After her, many actresses have come and gone in the past 15 years. But none of them have been able to give the same screen presence as Manju has done one and a half decade back.

Yes I have to admit the fact, though Malayalam screen has given so many wonderful actors to Indian Cinema, it has failed to give wonderful ladies to Indian screen. Sharda, Shobana, Urvasi and Manju are the only exceptions. Apart from the three superstars of Malayalam, and a few veteran actors, two well-established comedians have also won National award for best actor – Salim Kumar and the latest Suraj Venjaramoodu known for mocking ‘Thiruvananthapuram accent’ is his own, ‘Thirvanthoram’ style. Really a unique credit to Malayalam cinema!

I watched the movie on its third day of release

I too was among those who waited for the much anticipated movie, to get released on theatres. We were already prepared to watch the movie on Sunday Night show and reached the theatre before one hour. But seeing the huge crowd camped there, I was so surprised. Mohanlal’s Mr. Fraud also got released on Friday. Yet audience preferred to watch the old Manju once again back onscreen. Balcony was fully reserved and we had to satisfy sitting in the first row of the theater. Yet I should say I enjoyed the movie every bit.

The movie gives a clear message that age is just a number and anyone can pursue his/her dreams even if he/she has passed her half-life journey. Truly the movie inspires middle-aged people a lot, particularly if they want to cherish their hidden dreams. I liked the movie very much and the brilliant performance given by Manju. The lead actor Kunchakko had only little roles to play, as Manju is the real player of the show. But the fact that surprised me most is my husband too was very much impressed by the movie and performance of Manju and the supporting character of her colleague played by Vinay Forrt. He praised the movie’s script despite being a female-oriented story.

The movie in a snapshot and the message it gives

Manju plays the role of a 36 year old LD clerk Nirupama Rajeev and her husband Rajiv, played by Kunchako Boban is a newscaster of a radio station. Though she was very smart and extra talented during her college days in the late 1990’s, her responsibilities as a wife and mother kept her away from her pursuing dreams. As time passed by, she looked aged similar to other government employees, yet so busy with her daily activities. She is a true representation of a middle-aged Indian government servant. For one reason or other, she is being ridiculed by her husband, daughter, officials and even the society, following her meeting with President of India and the funny incidents took place after that. The incident that she falls unconscious before Indian president goes viral over net and cameo appearance of Quiz Wizard Siddhartha Basu as Indian president are also the highlights of the movie. The question, “What is that question asked by her 13-year old daughter to President of India”, which remains a suspense till movie’s climax is really one of the highlights of the family entertainer. This single question keeps our brain engaged always too.

She couldn’t clear an interview to get settled with her family in Ireland. Her husband takes their 13-year old daughter along with him when he leaves India, the incident which breaks her heart. The way she behaves to the incident – we can relate it to any Indian lady who is so much dedicated to her family. In fact, many scenes of the movie looked to be taken from our own real lives or persons around. At this point she meets her old friend who inspires Nirupama to fight back and pursue her dreams. After the interval it is how Nirupama brings back her lost smartness and her dreams alive and makes her family feel proud of her. She becomes popular across the state and the favourite icon through social network sites. Though her family invites her to Ireland, she decides to stay back in Kerala with her new responsibilities and visits her family in Ireland once in a while.

The movie is nothing short of an inspiration book and it inspires both men and women to pursue their dreams, though they have passed their young ages. The movie also gives a clean message that women are no way inferior to men and that any person can bounce back from bottom if he truly believes in himself.

A short note on Manju’s performance

No doubt, Manju has surprised everyone with her acting skills and no other movie can celebrate her comeback a better way than ‘How old are you?’. In some scenes, I could see those old shades of Manju in her 18, her naughty mannerisms and witty dialogues with her unique dialogue delivery skill. She has not have faced the camera in the past 15 years. Yet it never appears onscreen that she is doing a movie after a long time.

It’s for the first time in the history of Malayalam cinema a heroine given more importance than the movie and her comeback celebrated in such a grand way. It usually happens only in the case of superheroes of all Indian languages, Manju being the only exception. Yes, it’s an excellent comeback of Manju on a brilliant script and supported artists. All the characters of the movie have done their better part.

But the movie has a striking similarity with her real life

  • No doubt, the movie has a powerful script lovely crafted. But I felt that the movie is strongly inspired from her real life too, for many reasons.
  • In this movie, it’s shown that she was a student leader in the late 1990’s, an extraordinary smart student and an excellent orator. It’s her real life too! She was the top heroine of Malayalam, after Shobana took a break with mid-1990’s. When she got married in 1999, she was rated as the top heroine, both critically and commercially.
  • She ruined her career and dreams for the sake of her family. It’s true in her real life too!
  • Nirupama is always demotivated by her husband throughout the movie. In real case too, Manju has never been promoted by her husband in any event and she was not allowed to act in movies, though Dileep faced severe criticisms from media persons, film celebrities as well as common people. 
  • She plans a comeback to movies in her mid-30’s. It’s same in the case of movie too, where she pursues her dreams at the age of 36. In the movie Nirapama Rajiv’s age is wrongly shown as 36, and for the same reason she couldn’t pass an interview. In real life too, she is only 33 or 34. 
  • She is being repeatedly mocked by her husband and teenage daughter who couldn’t identify her real potential or establish her identity. In real life too, Dileep-Manju Warrier couple has only one daughter. Surprisingly both the teenagers have same age – 13!
  • In the movie, Kunchakko Boban leaves to Ireland with teenager daughter, though Nirupama requests him not to take away the teenage daughter from her. It was Lekshmi’s insistence that her father takes her away. In the real life too, when Dileep - Manju Warrier couple filed for a mutual divorce, their daughter decided to be with her father. At present Manju is alone and Meenakshi stays with her father Dileep. The incident of Kunchakko and daughter leaving to Ireland has a striking similarity of their divorce in real life.
  • In the movie, she succeeds to show the society that she has enough calibers to take a responsibility and give it a good finish. With the release of ‘How old are you?’ and a series of television ads, Manju has showed that she has enough potential to turn everything upside down. Now her brand value has reached crores and many film projects, including one Bollywood movies give us a lot of new promises. She is not less than the megastars of Malayalam right now, who rule the box office for more than 2 decades. 

She faced camera after years with Big B

Manju regards it to be the happiest moment of her life, when she faced camera after 15 years aside legendary actor, Amitabh Bachchan. It was for a television ad of Kalyan Jewellers, a popular brand she endorses right now. She also appeared in television ads aside Aishwarya Rai, who too is the brand ambassador of the same brand and together they have inaugurated many showrooms.

Is it the beginning of a star war between the spouses?

Dileep’s latest release is ‘Ring Master’, released on Vishu celebrations in April, in which he plays the role of a dog trainer in a circus company. In this movie, it’s shown that his love interest leaves him and that she is a ‘Kalathilakam’ title holder. In real life too, Manju is a Kalathilakam title holder (Title given to a single artist for excellence in state wise/university wise arts competition conducted by schools/colleges), the title which gave her direct entry to movies at a younger age. So, did Dileep pick the theme from his real life? He gives his lover’s name to his pet dog? Is it purposefully to insult his ex-wife? I have not seen the movie yet. Otherwise I would have given a few more instances.

Manju too, through her comeback movie ‘How old are you?’ showed that age can never conquer her talents and in all terms, she is far better than her husband. She has celebrated her comeback with a grand opening at box office. Now let us wait for some interesting and spicy news that may fill gossip columns in the distant future!

Now let me conclude with the question which impressed President of India

“Among Indian Presidents only one woman; among Lok Sabha speakers there is only one woman; why is it so? What’s the hindrance to Indian women that they are not able to pursue their dreams?” That’s the question asked by Nirupama’s daughter to Indian President which prompted him to ask her who has tagged the question for her. He plans a breakfast with Nirupama and to his big surprise she faints before the Indian President as soon as she meets him, the news which becomes viral over net.

True or not, I personally believe that, though the movie will be widely promoted by feminists, it gives a strong message to all people, regardless of gender we can start a new beginning at any stage of our life, if we truly believe so and believe in ourselves. Age is just a number. It’s our mind which makes us believe if we are young or old. And through this article, let me wish Manju Warrier to conquer all peaks of her acting skills and bring a much awaited National award for Malayalis. All the very best Manju. 

Image source: Wikimedia commons - Page Manju warrier

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