Food. An integral component contributing to life. A necessary substance to sustain the body, nourish the organs, and satisfy the tongue. We eat, so we live. But we also live so that we can eat. All this and much more in Prakash Raj’s latest film, Un Samayal Arayil.
Although the entire film does not revolve around food and cooking, the main love story certainly begins with it. Mistaking Kalidasan (Prakash Raj), a food-rasika and archaeologist, for her favorite restaurant, frustrated dubbing artist Gowri (Sneha) accidentally calls Kalidasan’s number and orders “kutti dosas.” What starts off as an argument over dialed wrong numbers eventually becomes a meaningful relationship that Gowri and Kalidasan build exclusively through phone communication (i.e. without meeting one another). One fine day, they both decide to meet and further misunderstandings and mixups result throughout the rest of the film as Kalidasan’s nephew, Naveen (Tej), and Gowri’s sister, Meghana (Sangeetha Hornad), also join the confusion.
One of the main themes in this film, because of its focus on the brewing romance between two older individuals, is the Indian societal expectation for women and men to get married and “settle down” at an early age. Gowri and Kalidasan really struggle with this expectation throughout the film because they are older than the “marriageable age” and are being forced to find someone to spend the rest of their lives with, by and in an environment where there are no eligible bachelors or bachelorettes that appeal to them. In many scenes, people trouble Gowri and pry into her personal life, asking why she still has not settled down with a significant other. Interestingly, in the beginning of the film, she laughs at and makes fun of love, its stupidity, and its nonsensical nature. At this point, she is clearly content with the way her life is going. After her phone encounter and rendezvous with Kalidasan, however, her vision of what makes her happy completely changes as a result of her enjoyable experiences interacting with him, sharing recipes and cooking as a form of historic storytelling. In essence, by understanding that what makes her happy is spending time talking to Kalidasan, Gowri realizes that she eventually ended up wanting exactly what society expected of her (i.e. wanting to settle down), except at a later stage in her life.
As much as I would like to say this is the case for Kalidasan, it is not entirely the same situation on his side of the love story. Even though Kalidasan’s caretaker and friends encourage him to go for ponnu-paakal or pursue a love interest, it is not the main focus of his life story. In other words, much emphasis of the film is placed on his career and work as an archaeologist instead of his personal life. Even though there is quite a bit of film reel dedicated to Gowri’s career as a dubbing artist, there is certainly more focus on society’s expectation of her to get married. Not only does this reveal the double standard for women in managing this expectation and their careers (compared to men, for whom the marital pressure exists but is much less prominent), it also contributes to the inferiority complex potentially experienced by many older single women in their mid to late 30s who may feel depressed or frustrated about not finding a husband on account of this societal pressure.
In this film, both Kalidasan and Gowri experience an inferiority complex as well as self-esteem and self-worth issues related to this marital expectation. The low self-esteem manifests itself in certain scenes where Kalidasan examines his hair for gray strands and his face for wrinkles before going out to meet Gowri in-person. For Gowri, the inferiority complex is portrayed in many different ways. Firstly, she begins to pay more attention to her physical beauty after engaging in a meaningful relationship with Kalidasan, which in and of itself is not bad but she becomes bound by it, questioning whether or not Kalidasan will accept her for who she is. Secondly, she also has to face the taunts of those around her who constantly compliment her younger sister for her youthful face and pity Gowri for the fact that her beauty is fading with age. As the film progresses, both Gowri and Kalidasan begin to derive their sense of self from others (including each other), instead of feeling independently beautiful and content as they were in the beginning of the film. Over the course of the misunderstandings, they transform from the peaceful, detached souls they really are to attached, insecure adults who don’t know how to remove themselves from the constraints of societal expectations revolving around marriage and physical appearance. The two protagonists have also never fallen in love with anyone before. Thus, along with the standards of physical beauty and marriage, they are also dealing with the emotional roller coaster of romantic relationships.
The juxtaposition between the older, more mature love story between Kalidasan and Gowri contrasts well with the youthful romance between Meghana and Naveen. Music maestro Ilaiyaraja does a fine job conveying this generational difference in plot and storytelling through the music, which has a mix of his signature melodies and modern-day tunes. It is also clear that Prakash Raj, as the director of this film, has some favorite actors, such as Aishwarya Bhaskaran and Elango Kumaravel, who also starred in his previous film, “Abhiyum Naanum”. The touch of intellectualism and classiness in this rom-com-drama certainly makes it easy to watch as it is also a rather clean movie.
Final Verdict: Overall, Un Samayal Arayil is a cute Tamil chick flick, with some unnecessary tangents but laughable and relatable moments too. Albeit slightly disappointing after Prakash Raj’s “Abhiyum Naanum”, this film is worth a watch at least for the interesting recipes and food tidbits here and there.