(Review of a Malayalam movie Kunj Eldho, directed by Mathukkutty, lead actors: Asif Ali and Gopika Udayan.)
Kunjeldho is the story of a teenage boy whose only ambition in life is (was) to meet girls and spend time flirting. He is a typical naïve and spoiled child of rich parents and his only responsibility seems to take over the family fortune later when his time comes. The opening shots of the movie are on the school farewell day of the hero and he is happy to be leaving the campus. There is no sign that he learned anything there, his parting shot being igniting some crackers in the school toilet and telling a teacher that he is no more answerable to her as he was already an ex-student! It was hilarious to see how the audience (mostly of school students) lapping up his childish toilet bravado.
It is difficult to find anything specifically good in the hero. In accordance with his life’s mission, he is infatuated with the heroine and it does not take much time before she becomes pregnant. The movie is about how the leading couple handles the pregnancy. The families of the couple come together to get the heroine to abort the child and get over the matter in a hush. To add spice to the situation, the heroine has no mother and for the hero, no father alive. There is also a class difference between them: the heroine is beautiful but from a poor family while the hero is the claimant to a large fortune and has a powerful political family.
The couple is barely adults and the pregnancy was not the result of any conscious decision. They have a fling at an opportunity provided by the college fest, the result being an unintended pregnancy. Both are immature students with no means of independent financial sources other than their parents. A well-meaning counselor tells the couple to decide the matter of abortion between them and not follow what the family relations are telling them to do. We have a punch dialogue when the hero asks the doctor if the fetus would feel any pain when it would be aborted – so much for the college-going hero’s knowledge of life or high school level biology.
The couple wants to keep the child, the movie does not tell us the reason for the decision. The relatives of lovebirds walk out on them, leaving them to their fate, at the hospital veranda. I give marks to the hero for taking his own stand, against the family’s well-meaning advice. I expected Kunjeldo to abandon his girlfriend and run for his life when faced with a tough decision in life.
The kids go around looking for a place to live, and sure no one is willing to have them. In their search for a shelter, they walk into the college library (of all places) where their savior appears in the form of a professor. The couple is taken to the professor’s house and given shelter. This professor has his own story: a love marriage, a miscarriage, no more pregnancies possible, no one to care for and look after, and has money that is not needed by any couple are given shelter there. The role assigned to the Professor is to give comic relief when the situation gets any grim.
Kunjeldho gets two extra sets of medical reports of his girlfriends’ pregnancy developments and posts them to their respective parents. He would have seen enough pulp movies to know that the arrival of a child brings warring families of the couple together. He would not let that trick go to waste. Later we are shown how hordes of family members reach the hospital where the heroine is due for delivery.
If the movie intended to treat teenage or un-wed pregnancy as the topic for consideration, Kunjeldo has nothing to contribute. Sexual reproduction has been going on from the beginning of time. Societies invented families to ensure the care and upbringing of the young. Religious morality has organized marriage as a sure-fire way to channelize human sexual needs with reproduction. Members who do not acknowledge the regulations are penalized, frowned upon, or tolerated depending upon the society one lives in. Unwed pregnancies are still a no-no for most societies, not much different from the days of stoning the woman to death. The revulsion felt for the violators of the social norms is harsh and for the middle class, it is a death sentence. The choicest abuses in every language across the world are reserved for the insinuation of being born out of wedlock.
What did the producers of Kunjeldo want the audience to take home from the movie? That college romances pose a risk of inconvenient pregnancies so the families of the parties should not mind the same and should just get on with their lives? Or is it telling the barely adult youngsters that “things do happen” in the sex department and their families (society) are bound to put up with the mess they get them into? Or that un-wed pregnancy is no more a taboo and marriage as a license is unnecessary? (The couple does get married all the same at the end of the movie, with their child and the warring families on both sides present!) Or is it to educate the audience about the service of “abortion” that is available if one faces an un-wed, un-wanted pregnancy? In any case, lessons from Kunjeldo are too immature for the leading couple.
Pregnancy is a serious affair and sex cannot be treated as casual fun. It has very serious psychological and biological as well as societal and financial implications. Unwanted pregnancy is one of them. The mental and economic maturity of the couple to be parents is another one. Presenting abortion as an easy answer to irresponsible or reckless sexual behavior is definitely not cool. This would be trivializing abortion. Abortion should be treated as a life-saving option available to the woman or couple faced with an unintended pregnancy and such difficult situations.
Kunjelho has unacceptable or very futuristic approaches to casual sex, unwed pregnancy, immature parents, familial and or social obligations regarding the birth of a child and proceeds to celebrate two foolish youngsters. If the movie had any educational pretentions, one fails to see them. If risky behavior is marketed then protective gears also should be advocated. Kunjeldho does not grow up in the movie, he remains naïve and irresponsible and this is unfair to the hero. And the heroine, the one who is pregnant and should decide on the termination of the pregnancy is just a supporting actress in the movie while Kunjeldho gets the marks for not running away! A feel-good movie and a quickie!
Mr. George K Jose is currently a lecturer at Law College in Kerala. He has 10 years of teaching experience in law colleges. He has practiced in the Supreme Court of India and is a fervent advocate for improving the lives of women in India.