To begin with, the Malayalam language film Uyare is not a film, it’s an experience. Director Manu Ashokan, writers Bobby-Sanjay and lead actors Parvathy, Tovino Thomas and Asif Ali weave together and breathe life into this magical story about breaking all limits and shooting for the skies. Uyare is the story of Pallavi (played by Parvathy), who aspires to be a pilot, gets involved in a toxic relationship, survives an acid attack and fights with everything she has to attain justice and get back the life that had been snatched away from her.

Besides a couple of scenes where too many narratives are abruptly compiled and thus disrupt the pacing of the film, Uyare is a perfect film. It’s an inspirational watch for persons of all ages. Personally, I’m going to make sure every girl and woman in my family watches this film. Given popular culture’s reputation for its mistreatment of women, Uyare strays away from every sexist form of representation there is. Instead, it portrays complex and real people, complete with flaws, toxicities, healing abilities and strength.

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Pallavi and Govind’s (played by Asif Ali) relationship represents the red flag of relationships – the toxic possessiveness, its symptoms of escalation laid out in a jarring manner. Govind’s male chauvinist character capitalises on a sense of emotional debt that Pallavi feels she owes him and attributes his horrifying behaviour to ‘love’. Initially, he does not physically abuse her, but reprimands her for the way she dresses, when she dances on stage, is jealous of her career potential as a pilot, resentful that she’s moving away, slut-shames her and emotionally blackmails her by slitting his wrist when she does not pick up his calls during class. This is a reminder that abuse is not just physical, it can be mental and emotional as well, and wreak havoc on one’s life.

Pallavi is the girl who loves unconditionally, grieves, rages, never backs down from her pursuit of justice and touching the skies, and calls out mansplaining and hypocritical male entitlement where its due.

Govind has a penchant for shedding crocodile tears and has internalised the fact that Pallavi chasing her dreams to be a pilot makes HIM a victim. His patriarchal sense of entitlement leads him to believe that he owns Pallavi and any exercise of agency on her part is a declaration of defiance against their relationship. With time, Pallavi grows more and more wary of him. When Govind thoroughly abuses and slut-shames her for celebrating her completion of pilot training with her friends, she ends their relationship.

The next day, when Pallavi finds him waiting outside her apartment, she returns the ring he gave her, and he throws acid in her face.

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Consequently, Pallavi’s life goes to hell – the damage to one eye results in her pilot’s license being revoked. Due to the burns on her face, her employability and ability to navigate public places have been drastically impacted. A brief scene in the courtroom shows how unfair the legal process is to survivors of gender-based violence. Govind shamelessly denies attacking her and offers to marry her, revelling in his performance of the allegedly innocent angel of mercy. While Pallavi is cast in the role of a shrew out to get revenge for a ‘bad’ relationship.

But Pallavi is not one to fold over and give up. With the aid of her supportive and loving father and best friend, as well as sheer willpower, she fights back with everything she has. She pursues the case, gradually conditions herself to step out of the house and befriends women who are also survivors of acid attacks. With the aid of the bumbling but well-meaning Vishal (Tovino Thomas), she gets a job as an air hostess. Simultaneously challenging the superficial beauty standards that are exacted from air hostesses and public perceptions of physical and emotional labour.

There is this powerful moment where Govind’s equally toxic father comes to Pallavi’s house trying to persuade her and her father from dropping the case against Govind. When he’s about to launch into a tirade about how his son’s life and job prospects are being ruined by the case, Pallavi removes the scarf from her face, revealing the extent of the damage Govind inflicted on her and stares him down. Finally silenced, the hypocritical father is compelled to leave.  

The performances by the actors have the ability to absorb the viewer into this world of torment, resistance and hope. Parvathy captivates audiences with her performance as the phenomenal Pallavi – the girl who loves unconditionally, grieves, rages, never backs down from her pursuit of justice and touching the skies, and calls out mansplaining and hypocritical male entitlement where its due. Asif Ali induces chills as the poisonous and one-tear shedding Govind. Tovino Thomas’ character Vishal has some abrupt jumps in the narrative where his resolve to bring about positive change comes about a little too suddenly, with epiphanies thrust into one random scene. Besides that one glitch, he brilliantly maintains his role of the well-meaning, supportive and comic friend to Pallavi.

Parvathy has consistently broken barriers in her career as an actress in an industry that is brutally unforgiving to women with opinions.

The soundtrack is breathtaking. All the scenes had their audio aptly tailored to the situation, especially in the adrenaline-packed, nailbiting worthy ending. Most of the narrative is Pallavi’s trainer telling her story and is woven in smoothly between Pallavi’s life trajectory and the narration. Even the introductory credits, its runway imagery and its music have the effect of keeping audience members glued to their seats.

The actress Parvathy portraying the symbol of resistance and hope that is Pallavi, reinforces more strength in the experience that is Uyare. Parvathy has consistently broken barriers in her career as an actress in an industry that is brutally unforgiving to women with opinions. She questions and criticises. She calls out sexism where she sees it. She is unapologetic about asking to see scripts and calls out the sexism she is subject to for the latter. She has routinely addressed the gender dynamics in cinematic representation. Many of the characters she has portrayed are drivers of their own agency.

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She openly supported her colleague who had been abducted and assaulted (actor Dileep being one of the accused in this case). She is one of the founding members of the Women in Cinema Collective. When addressing misogyny in cinema and referencing a horrifying scene in the film Kasaba, she stood her ground while Mammootty’s fans trolled and abused her and sent her rape and death threats. Today she stands tall as a gamechanger and a feminist powerhouse in Malayalam cinema. Not saying that to play a character like Pallavi, one has to have the exact same politics as Parvathy. But watching Parvathy bring life to Pallavi was a reminder of the power of resistance when all seems hopeless and futile – the affirmation and resolve we need in the current political scenario and to keep alive for the future.

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