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Ennalum Ente Aliya (dir. Bash Mohammed, 2023)

Balu (Suraj Venjaramoodu) and Lakshmi (Gayatri Arun) are a couple who have been married eight years, who long to have children.  Balu works as an insurance salesman and motivational speaker on the subject of marriage.  He and Lakshmi live in an apartment complex in Dubai, where, during the three day period in which their doctor has said would be a good moment to try to conceive, Lakshmi’s brother Vivek turns up to stay with them.  Vivek is on a visa about to expire, and he’s trying to get a job.  Balu is perpetually stressed, alternating between meditation and alcohol to try to relax.  Lakshmi is in the middle, trying to get her husband to destress and coddling her brother by looking after his needs, like making chai for him.

Into their lives pop another couple, living in the same apartment complex.  Karim (Siddique) and Sulfi (Lena) are parents to Ismi.  Like Balu, Karim has his own stressful life, with a job as a building contractor perpetually putting out fires via his telephone.  Sulfi is an orthodox Muslim, and constantly frets about her daughter, who is much more modern and outgoing than her mother.  Sulfi worries that Ismi will get involved with a young man and get into trouble, fears that we learn have a source, but which Sulfi allows to run wild, imagining the worst possible outcome, and she begs her daughter that when she gets married, it should be to someone from within their community.  Sulfi’s fears are increased after she and Karim attend the festivities for the wedding of the daughter of a friend (who is also a friend of Ismi), only to find that the bride has eloped with someone else before the ceremony.  A terrified Sulfi rushes home to see if her daughter is there, and in looking through her daughter’s phone, she finds what she feels is evidence of her daughter being involved with someone.  Sulfi believes this person is Vivek, and she and Karim go to talk to Balu and Lakshmi about this situation.  Misunderstandings lead eventually to the couple finding they have some common ground.

Bash Mohammed previously directed the 2015 film Lukka Chuppi, in which a group of college friends reunite to have a party at the home of one of them.  The film explores the shared nostalgia of the group, but also reveals the flaws and cracks in them and their relationships, and much of the pleasure in watching it is for the interactions between the friends.  Like that film, Ennalum Ente Aliya shines in those moments where the two couples are talking, trying to resolve their misunderstandings, and coming to new understandings.  The relationship between them starts out a bit fraught, but we can see there is actually space for these very different couples to become friends.  But Ennalum Ente Aliya struggles at times when it slips into melodrama, especially when it allows Sulfi to become completely overwrought with worry.  And I have mixed feelings about the film’s ending, in which the revelation of Ismi’s boyfriend is used, on the one hand, as a comedic punchline with overtones of racism, and yet is also a reminder that Islam is more diverse than we often assume.

There are, however, moments in the film that work quite well.  Balu has a speaker gig in which the topic is “Tips for a Successful Married Life”, and his wife wonders why that doesn’t work in their own home.  But Balu tells the group he’s speaking to a moving story about a man whose wife has Alzheimer’s disease, and how he needs to make sure he is home to eat with her – because even if his wife has forgotten who he is, he has not forgotten who his wife is.  A successful marriage comes out of the respect each person has for the other, especially in the small moments, like making sure you give your wife or husband a hug just to let them know they are important.  And when Sulfi sits alone at her daughters wedding, worried what others will think, Balu wonders why she’s so concerned, because there’s more to life than the opinion of others.

It’s too bad those small moments of complicity, especially the ones  between Suraj Venjaramoodu and Siddique, were overpowered by Sulfi’s completely overwrought nature.   The writing gave Lena no space for subtlety, and that’s a shame.  For me, Ennalum Ente Alia ended up a very stressful watch. 

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