Love Today

Love Today

I have a feeling that I need to be a tad more explicit with my honesty than usual, for this film. Hence, the following piece might read like a rant more than a review – a coping mechanism for all my frustrations with the film. I felt a strong dissonance with it, quite early on. The primary reasons being my strong worldviews about its subject, and the inability to enjoy anything as much as the crowd was. I might have witnessed the highest cheers-per-minute rate for any film of the past few years. I do get the rapturous nature of crowd reactions, very usual for our big-hero “mass” films that engineer emotionally rousing or smart moments. But the reactions to Love Today, are about something more archaic. Pradeep has delivered surface-level relatable content for men, with a meme-like quality, in a medium designed for community consumption. Unfortunately, I couldn’t relate. Imagine a toxic meme going viral at the rate of 10 shares per second – Here’s the celluloid version of the same.

Firstly, this is a bonafide upgrade to Pradeep Ranganathan’s aesthetic from Comali (2019). This is a very well mounted production, the direction is more pronounced, with good efforts gone into the shot division. There’s also good visual packaging work, with bespoke graphic design coming in right from the Disclaimer and Thanks slates. The memorable title sequence captures the manufacturing/assembly process of a mobile phone, an entity that’s at the fulcrum of the story.

I’ll give it to the team for coming up with a product with great finishing. None of the sequences seem like chunks, for how they flow seamlessly into the next (one wouldn’t find this commonly in Tamil cinema). The team has a solid sensibility of using sounds to add to the comic timing of a scene. They come from many corners – props, pronunciations, and even the background score. There are other small, humbling ideas sprinkled throughout the film. The smallest of spaces in a scene are used to elicit a chuckle, notably the usage of a pen to plug in the charger, a pencil holding a bathroom door, a passerby’s non-contextual comment, etc. The craft on display is absolutely tasteful.

Pradeep’s efforts in propping up the presentation is the clincher here, while his writing cheats its way through most of the film. The mother (a likeable Radhika) is a meme more than a character. She has one schtick – literally blame the phone on everything wrong with him, and she goes through the whole course of the film doing this. She becomes a human just on time at the climax to deliver a cathartic exercise to clear the emotional muddle her son is in. Uthaman and Nikitha too, are just a placard – they are a couple. That’s their personality. Who are they as individuals? How did they fall in love? Okay, that may not really be necessary, but at least, give us a sense of why they are together? Since we don’t get anything of that sort, and even if they are young enough to be able to fall in love with each other for shallow sweet-nothings, I felt zilch for the conflict between them. This is a problem with most romance “tracks” in Tamil films, but for a self-proclaimed “love of today” story to do the same is…

Uthaman is given a childhood flashback to lend some depth to his character, but Nikitha is rendered as an average meme’s idea of a woman. She is gullible. She has no taste, she’s a bad judge of character. She isn’t smart, and everyone around her knows better. She has one platonic male friend, who obviously has to have ulterior motives. She can stoop low enough to frighten a dog when angry. She almost plays out like the painful beauty-without-brains trope. The film does have an endearing and oddly mature track featuring Yogi Babu, about beauty and those that become relegated punching bags for not meeting society’s standards of the same. But even here, there’s an irony – all the talk about “inner beauty” is reserved only for the men. The actresses have to be influencer-pretty and also be dubbed with a palatable/ “prettier” voice. This again, is only just another example of a typical trait of Tamil cinema.

In retrospect, my reaction might not have been as negative if the film had been named Uthaman Kaadhal, or anything that addresses the one-sidedness of most of the film’s views. But no, it’s a gigantic, sweeping title that claims to be a take on the love of today. The mere score for revelations pertaining to both the characters is very telling of the maker’s biases. When we find out that Nikitha has been talking to her ex and hiding this fact, Uthaman goes on a rant about how this is making him feel insecure and inadequate. The score swings between serious or a sad rendition of their love song. But when we are shown that Uthaman has been trying to extract photos from various women under the guise of a casting call­ for a short film, the whole thing plays out over a comic track. Same when we find out that he’s been telling other women that he’s single while committed to Nikitha. She doesn’t even get to register the fact that the exact same thing could make her feel inadequate? Basically, this film is a crude feature-length entry for the “Men will be Men” campaign. Ah yes, maybe that should have been the title of the film.

Even the whole fake account sub-plot does not absolve the film off its one-sided nature. The portion where Uthaman and his gang are shown to have played with their friends’ feelings by impersonating a girl through a fake account, is played for laughs, and not as a reminder of an embarrassing past. Okay, incidents like these might be common among adolescents, but where’s the condemnation/repentance or at least acknowledgement that the whole thing is not a nice thing to do to anyone? But the incident gets buried, and the main men are pardoned because, voila, there’s another man who’s used the account in worse ways. Hero and friends are bad, but not the worst, right? Because of course, Men will be Men!

The sort of pop-cultural event that this film has become, I’m not second-guessing the nitpicking anymore, not one bit. Uthaman will call himself the “nice guy”, any male friend of the girl’s will be seen with an eye of suspicion, questions her about her “virginity”, and he’ll even have elaborate visual metaphors to magnify the fact that he’s being lied to (pattaiya poduradhu, etc). Internet Today, would term this “incel” behaviour. In the one scene where he receives saner perspective – his mother’s wisdom – that all those men drooling after her is something not under her control, the director ends up indulging in another bias. Watch how his slip ups are laughed off as mere straying, while her potential mistakes are probed by the mother with an undertone of seriousness. A father even ferociously slaps his daughter, repeatedly, for a mistake she did not commit. We do see him get apologetic later on, but what punctures the moment is the fact that she has an expression that’s almost saying that he doesn’t even have to apologise. I couldn’t help but notice these micro-interactions in a film that by then is claiming to have a wiser-than-thou understanding of relationships.

The primary thread of emotion that the film builds towards – trust – is effective, at least in terms of the screenplay. The beats and sentimentality are withheld and dropped at the right moments. There is emotional logic to most of it. The melodrama in the end can seem disproportionately larger compared to the light-weighted nature of the film, but Yuvan Shankar Raja’s score comes in with good measure to sell the conceit. Pradeep has managed to tap into the typical yesteryear sound of the music director, and that does make for a delightful treat.

While the finishing stretch might make it look like Uthaman’s a changed man, and that all the irony about his name has vanished, I am not quite convinced of that narrative. Sure, he’s learned a valuable lesson on unconditional, and selfless trust. But is he even close to admitting his screwups in other contexts? For all the modern shine and sheen in the way the film is packaged, it still wears its “boomer” ideals on its sleeves.

So that’s that. I clearly am not the target audience for this film. I grew up outside Tamil Nadu, and my experiences with friendship, love and relationships in my formative years have surely been nowhere near Pradeep’s. I also don’t see myself belonging to the 90s/2K kids binary or anywhere near such limiting spectrums. But this self-awareness did not stop me from being negatively affected by the film. This experience also made me realise how much of our pop-culture is of, by and for men. It’s a disturbing thought, one that’s bound to get uglier the more I think about it. Letting it rest for now.


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1 year ago

Wow.. I was having similar thoughts about the movie and was surprised even few of my female freinds said the movie was good.

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