FILM REVIEW by Hilath Rasheed
MALE, Sept 14 (EW) -- It is noteworthy that many Maldivian filmmakers are now becoming more bold and daring to go where earlier directors did not.
In "Kalaayaa Nulaa" (Without You) director Fathimath Nahula opened up sexual impotency for public debate -- a taboo subject earlier -- and explored the implications it has for marriage.
Now in "Edhi Edhi Hoadheemey" (Desperately Seeking), directors Kopee Hussain Rasheed and Ahmed Shafeeu tackle a subject which has and is still a pressing social problem but hardly discussed, at least not in typical Dhivehi films which is happy to package "love" as a "Mills & Boon" type of superficial feeling.
In "Edhi Edhi," the character Meera (another splendid performance by Mariyam Nisha here) frankly talks about what marriage has come to mean for a lot of women: security. She is candid enough to admit that "when a person wants to marry, there is also a self-interest." Obviously.
We filmgoers are so used to the myth of love as created by Shakespeare, other poets, and of course Bollywood and Hollywood films as a feeling devoid of any practicality and divorced from the realities of life -- and marriage.
In a surprising twist, the film also brings in the subject of some women -- and men -- rashly deciding to go into marriage, for their own reasons: revenge, loneliness, insecurity.
What follows is a web of conflicting emotions. Thoyyib (a funny yet heartfelt performance from Kopee Ismail Rasheed) marries Meera because he is infatuated by her. And he is willing to give marriage a chance, to see whether it will work. But will the myth of love solve all life's -- and a marriage's -- complications?
Meera does not love him, and her decision to marry him was an on-the-spot decision to exact a revenge of sorts when her childhood love, Rushwan (Yusuf Shafeeu in a welcome, subdued, but critical role), refuses to marry her before he completes his university studies.
Perhaps, Meera’s rash decision to marry Thoyyib, who is willing to give all his love, was in the hope that she will be able to love him after marriage. After all, don't we always hear comments like, "After marriage, things will work out," "Even if you marry someone you don't love, after marriage, you will begin to love him/her after seeing his/her caring towards you"?
Maybe, for different couples, things work out in different ways, depending on personality, level of communication and contact -- and chemistry. In the film, when Rushwan turns up in Male after completing his university studies, Meera’s old feelings for him are rekindled. Obviously, Meera did not outgrow Rushwan, even if he was her childhood love. Does this mean that Bollywood director Karan Johar had a valid argument when Shahrukh Khan did not outgrow childhood chum Kajol in "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" and pursues her years after, to finally marry her? I may be wrong but personally I am inclined to believe that over time people outgrow people.
Meera begins to see the insincerity of the marriage she has with Thoyyib, and Thoyyib comes to know of Meera’s old flame Rushwan. And quite painfully, Thoyyib comes to know that Meera obviously does not love him back, though he has sacrificed everything to get Meera’s affection.
In the end, he decides to give her away, to Rushwan, so that she could be happy. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to emphasise on this selfless act by Thoyyib, hardly a thing a Maldivian man would do in these cynical, materialistic (and capitalist?) times.
But this is also where the film falters: while Bollywood director Sanjay Leela Bansali skilfully handled similar circumstances in "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam," the latter half of "Edhi Edhi" is oversimplified -- after we are led to believe that the survival of marriage depends on cultivating love and going through phases together, in the end in "Edhi Edhi", the emotions and feelings Meera feels for Thoyyib overwhelms everything else.
But it is noteworthy that despite the commercial pressures, the directors decided to give an unexpected ending. In “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam,” it was quite obvious that Aishwarya Rai will opt to stay with Ajay Devgan in the end since she was already married to him and by convention is bound to him “till death do us part.” But perhaps, in Maldivian cinema, we have already become far more advanced; we have broken conventions, and decided to live the life we want, rather than bowing to social and peer pressure. And that is what makes Meera representative of any Maldivian woman’s longing: the will to be free to pursue what she really wants; not bow to the will of the patriarchal man.
There were also moments of pure artistry and sheer film-making brilliance in the film.
When Meera’s silhouette appears in an atmosphere of total red light, in a fantasy of Thoyyib, one is reminded of the way color is used to great effect by renown directors such as China's Zhang Yi Mou, whose artistic, poetic film "Hero" remains my all-time favorite.
The opening scene itself, when Rushwan is talking on the phone after midnight to Meera, is exquisite. And in a later scene, when Thoyyib, wearing a plain white shirt, in the midst of a darkened street with blue sheen outlining the street's physical features, where Meera secretly watches him from her window in the wee hours of morning, evokes the kind of raw atmospheric feel that only an acclaimed director such as Iran's Majid Majidi could evoke in a film like "Baran" or the Oscar-nominated "Children of Heaven."
And Thoyyib’s natural comedic movements and gestures, coupled with a script full of humour, makes the lengthy scenes more tolerable.
But ultimately, at three and a half hours, "Edhi Edhi" is too long and wears you out while watching at the cinema. Such a lengthy movie may be more appropriate for home viewing, when you can watch it more comfortably lying on your sofa (not in a hot and sweaty atmosphere like Olympus theatre), with time on your hands.
Perhaps, what the filmmakers at K.M.R Productions now need to do is release a "reverse Director's Cut" of the movie by shortening it to one and a half hours, or may be two hours. By filtering out the unwanted and lengthy scenes, the filmmakers could bring out the essence and artistry of this film, just exactly as Club Hulhevi did with their feature film "Thirees Dhuvas" (30 Days) which was two hours when it was released last year at Star Cinema, but since has been re-edited to shorten it to one-hour and 40-minutes (for film festival viewing), making the film stand out in its artistry and film-making brilliance. A shorter version of "Edhi Edhi", likewise, will no doubt prove to be a film that will be desperately sought after by filmgoers who want to see a film with an edge. And "Edhi Edhi" is a film with an edge. There can be no doubt about it.