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T.P. Balagopalan M.A. (dir. Sathyan Anthikad, 1986)

Last updated on November 26, 2022

T.P. Balagopalan (Mohanlal) is a low level employee at Falcon Products.  He earns 800 rupees a month, and uses that money to support his eldest sister, Radha (K.P.A.C. Lalitha) and her family – her husband, Chandrankutty (Kuthiravattam Pappu) who is a bus conductor and largely absent, as well as their two daughters.  Also part of Balagopalan’s household is his younger sister, Devi (Uma Bharani) and their grandmother (Adoor Bhavani), a religious woman who believes that prayers and offerings to the gods will help the family prosper, so much so that she is worried that they’ve never had the chance to build a proper temple in their native place.

But Balagopalan has worked hard and saved up enough to buy some land, on which he dreams of building a house.  His salary is barely enough to keep the household running (especially as his brother-in-law makes little, if any, contribution to the finances), so one day he asks permission to switch to his company’s door-to-door sales department, feeling that the commissions he could potentially earn would go far to solve his money woes.  It’s at one of the households he visits that he meets Anitha (Shobana), who tells her parents not to buy the wallpaper he’s selling.

Balagopalan meets Anitha by chance once more, when he goes to the KSEB substation to pay the electricity bill – when he arrives, there’s a long line, and he tries to convince the other people to let him cut in front so he’s not late for work, especially as his office is far away.  Anitha – further back in the line – pipes up that she knows he works for Falcon Products, a few minutes walk away, and Balagopalan is forced to wait his turn in line.

Balagopalan meets Anitha yet again, this time on the bus they both take to go to work, and without her knowing, he buys her ticket as well as his own.  When she objects, he tells the other passengers that she’s his wife and they had an argument that morning.  Anitha, furious, gets off the bus – followed by Balagopalan.  By this time Balagopalan is thoroughly smitten (I mean, who wouldn’t be, because SHOBANA, here only sixteen but convincingly playing older as the teacher) with Anitha – who, it turns out, is a teacher at the English Medium school his nieces attend.  And although Anitha bickers with Balgopalan, it’s clear she’s interested in him, too.  When her father (Balan K. Nair) suffers a heart attack and ends up in hospital, it’s to Balagopalan that Anitha turns to for emotional support, and although she does not want him to help her family financially (Anitha is unhappy that her father has been engaged in a lengthy lawsuit that has taken all the family’s money, leaving them to rely on Anitha’s salary), Balagopalan does whatever he can to help them, seeming to endear himself to her parents, who come to look on him as a son.

Everything seems to be going well for Balagopalan, despite his challenges and responsibilities.  But before he even begins to construct his house, his world starts crumbling around him, brick by brick.  Balagopalan loses his land after mortgaging it to help Anitha’s father pay for another lawyer to argue his fraud case.  Anitha’s father finally wins the case and the settlement he’s earned turns his family’s fortunes.  Now wealthy again, Anitha’s father decides to arrange her marriage to Advocate Ramakrishnan (Sreenivasan, who also wrote the film).  As for Balagopalan, Anitha’s father returns the money he borrowed, and her mother (Sukumari) requests that he not come back to their house, in case neighbours will talk.  Worse still, Balagopalan loses his job, and with no income and no land, his sister and brother-in-law and their children move out.  Devi is married to Balagopalan’s friend, Narayankutty (Maniyanpilla Raju). Balagopalan visits Anitha’s house one last time, gazing at her in the window from outside the gate, and in the end, tired of the constant slogging and worrying about how to make ends meet, he decides to move with his grandmother back to their village. 

Sreenivasan’s writing (based on Sathyan Anthikkad’s story) is charming and witty.  He allows us to learn much about Balagopalan’s life and his character in just a few dialogues in the film’s opening, when Balagopalan wakes up, offers a prayer, and strikes up a conversation with his god about how his life is going.  He has a lot of responsibilities, and he hopes the deity can allow Balagopalan win the lottery on the tickets he’s bought.  And when that doesn’t go as planned, he asks for help so that he will be able to make all the payments he will need to on his meagre salary.  There’s less of the sharp political or sociological commentary that dots other Anthikkad/Sreenivasan collaborations, and yet, it’s still there at times.  Balagopalan has a degree (hence the “M.A.” in the film’s title), but it doesn’t help him getting a good, well-paying job. He resists joining the union being formed at the company, but loses his job because the union prevails.  When Balagopalan tries to get a building loan for his property, he’s refused, and is told it might work better if he knew a famous minister or politician to help him, or if he could come up with a bribe.  If he were a member of a backward caste, there would be some kind of loan available to him, causing Balagopalan to retort, in a rare flash of annoyance, “I can’t change my caste now.”

But it’s Mohanlal who sets the tone right from the moment we meet his character:  Balagopalan is upbeat and hopeful, doing his best to manage all his responsibilities, and spending his time looking after his piece of land and dreaming of the house he’ll one day build on it.  Mohanlal infuses him with charm and sincerity – it’s no surprise he won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Actor for this role, and it’s the kind of effortless portrayal of a common man that Mohanlal is just so good at.  He’s rarely discouraged, and even when his life hits rock bottom he makes a decision to just move on.  He’s not prepared, however, for the twist Anitha brings in the film’s final moments.  And yet, perhaps we were not actually surprised to see her descend from the bus after Balagopalan and his grandmother do.  After all, Balagopalan commented earlier that he and Anitha are both members of the same club:  working hard to support their families.  Anitha is the “understanding partner” Balagopalan speaks about earlier in the film, the one who will, in the end, learn to adjust with him.

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