From films to literature, we have often romanticised heartbreaks. However poignant and beautiful that might be, the slow decay of a once vibrant love, is not a pretty sight. With his directorial debut, Lover, Prabhu Ram Vyas tries to give us a visceral look at the death throes of a relationship, and throughout the film, we are kept wondering if this once intense and happy relationship has any life left in it.
Director: Prabhu Ram Vyas,
Cast: Manikandan, Sri Gouri Priya, Kanna Ravi
Contemporary relationship dramas try to capture the mood and outlook of a relationship at the time they are made. However, most often fail on account of being generously lathered with cinematic exaggerations; this is not the case with Lover. The first thing that strikes you about the film is how real the characters are. Arun (Manikandan) and Divya (Sri Gouri Priya) feel like real people, not just on account of how un-cinematic their expressions and dialogues are, but there is an unapologetic viscerality with which their flaws are portrayed. Arun starts off as a perpetually irate, possessive boyfriend but as the story unravels, these traits are not romanticised but deconstructed in a way that makes us even pity him at some point but not empathise with his flaws. Through multiple episodes of humiliation, the story drags Arun’s character to an extent where we see how the other side of his toxic behaviour is buttressed by low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, and an insatiable need to hold on to what he perceives as the one stability in his life: his relationship. On the other hand, Divya is immensely agitated as she feels trapped in the relationship and is wrestling with doubts. The film tries to show us her flaws as well but it is also registered how these flaws in no way warrant the sheer magnitude of toxicity meted out by Arun. However, Divya’s moments of weakness, like when she invites her ex to a trip with her friends, baffle us. This is not because it is uncharacteristic or is an objectionable thing to do but since we don’t peer into Divya’s psyche, environment, or upbringing—the way we do with Arun— it is hard to understand her decisions, simply because we don’t know her well enough.
Arun is not your conventional hero going through a breakup, Manikandan does not shy away from portraying Arun’s deplorable lows, with a performance that stays loyal to the story and not to the character. The actor leaves no room to misinterpret the character as a poster boy for ‘cool angry boyfriend’. However, Sean Rolden’s background score seems to contradict this in places. Any dissonance we might feel with Divya crumbles towards the end with Sri Gouri Priya’s evocative performance. While most of the supporting cast members are effective, Kanna Ravi’s Madan leaves much to be desired. Lover is refreshing with how it is in no hurry to shoehorn a message or take morality lessons but Madan—Divya’s male friend/co-worker who inflames Arun’s jealousy through no fault of his own—seems like a physical manifestation of Prabhu Ram’s meta-commentary on Tamil cinema’s ‘bestie’ trope, which needlessly vilifies friendship between a man and a woman. While Madan’s characterisation seems to have its heart in the right place, it is heavily unseasoned, undercooked, and as a result, is bland and uninteresting. Lover also relies heavily on multiple montages to move the plot forward which becomes tedious after a point. The filmmaker is largely successful in making us feel what he wants us to feel, and there are no moments in the film that take us out of a scene with its artificiality. However, the tonal grip that Prabhu Ram has for most of the film, is let go towards the very end and we are left with a muddled feeling. While we don’t have an issue with the decisions being made, the way it all ends seems predictable and uninspired. Throughout the film we are thankful for not having the point of the film or its supposed ‘message’ thrown at our faces, which sadly happens towards the end. At places, like the very end when a quote about love is thrown on the screen, the filmmaker could have exercised subtlety. However, by then, it is too late for any of the climax fumbles to tarnish the impression left by the characters, their emotions, and what they went through.
Lover is a straightforward film about love, decay, attachment, and letting go but the straightforwardness is handled with a refreshing dose of conviction. The characters do not go through grand arcs, we are not sure if Arun—even as he evolves—learns the right lessons out of the pain but that only makes the film more real. Lover fumbles in places where it tries to wring the ‘point’ out of a scene but excels in places where a lot is unsaid or unfinished and yet a lot more shines through the subtext.