Watching the trailer of Diamond Necklace, I was worried that this would be Lal Jose’s Dubai Masala, embellished with crowning diamonds from Joy Alukkas. As the credits begun rolling and actor Fahad Fazil and friends break into a fast paced number with a sizzling Dubai and babes around him, this impression was further strengthened. A few minutes into the movie as Dr Arun and Nurse Lakshmi indulge in cute-talk, I decided maybe it was a rom-com. Finally, two and half hours later, I think it is an illuminating treatise on love and relationships.
Dr Arun (Fahad Fazil) is a young oncologist in Dubai who is out to enjoy life to the fullest, even if it means emptying his pockets to pay over-eager banks in order to finance a lavish trendy lifestyle. He shares an apartment with his friend in Burj Khalifa, regularly changes his cars and lives on the numerous credit cards that adorn his wallet. But he is a positive infectious personality who has a way with women and three different women tag along with him in different stages of his life as they explore the meaning of love. While all three women fall in love with him, they represent the lover, the friend and wife relationships at close range.
The lover Lakshmi (Gautami Nair seen earlier in Second Show) is a charming coquettish personality who gets the best lines in the movie that make you laugh, whether it is her Tamil puzzles (Urumbu Vaayuvida sinnatha athu yennathu? Athu Thinnathu!) or her proclamation of love as she says discerningly in her Tamil accent Dubai is just a desert without you, my playboy. Their screen time together is relatively brief but they make for a lovely couple as they joke and prance about with gay abandon. When she finally leaves, there is a sense of loss but no spite in her mind, instead a quiet acceptance of the situation – she’s a small town girl who’s seen disappointments (Lakshmikum Saraswatikum tally aavathu) and takes it in her stride.
The friend Maya (Samvrutha Sunil) is the mature woman who gets to speak the more philosophic lines about loneliness and isolation. Just as her name suggests, her life is an illusion – beneath the smile is the grief of a loner. Maya and Arun share a camaraderie that does not qualify as love but is a warm bonding that gives her-a cancer survivor – the courage to overcome her misery. She’s always shown decked in designer wear and fine jewellery and lives in a large spacious apartment that accentuates her sense of solitude. She has all the money in the world that her parents have bestowed her with but lacks a companion with whom she can share her life. She finally embraces Arun’s philosophy – I do not regret my past, I have no anxieties about my future and I live only in the present.
The wife ‘Kalamandalam’ Rajashree (debutante Anusree who was the winner of a reality show on Surya TV called Vivel Active Fair Big Break) is the antham kuntham illatha paavam penkutti. Born in a traditional tharavadu in Palakkad, her life does not exist beyond her multitude of Ammais and Ammavans who are all well-off in life but want to get her married-off so that they can sell off the tharavadu. She tries to make a place for herself in their Dubai house but is a misfit as she struggles to match his personality (Is it any surprise that his Amma thinks that she is the perfect daughter-in-law to get?). They share very few tender moments but at the end, in a single (rather dramatic) gesture, she wins him over. No prizes for guessing what Arun might have chosen in such a situation!
While we cheer and laugh with Lakshmi, empathize and admire Maya, Rajashree is given a bit of a raw deal by Lal Jose. All three ladies go through suffering but it’s hard to feel for the wife whose every action or word is subject to ridicule. Is it a man’s perspective of how he sees his wife? There are a few genuine moments like when he apologies for screaming at her or is sorry for disappearing for a day without telling her, but these are insufficient for us to be touched by the helplessness of her character, who has been married off by her family to a stranger who has no interest in her.
Diamond Necklace is about love but also about loss of trust and betrayal by a man, driven by helplessness. He is a pawn to his past indiscretions and slides into a quagmire that he cannot extricate himself in. He cannot justify his actions but is unwilling to accept the fact that his life is built on a false sense of security, constructed on a mounting pile of debts that need to be paid. His carelessness towards wealth is akin to the way he handles his emotions in life – when he spends the night with Maya or gets married to Rajashree, he plays to his emotions which he has no control on. When Dr Savitri finds him in Maya’s house and asks why he’s not told Maya that he’s married, he says that she never asked him!
Fahad Fazil is an intelligent actor who has associated himself with central grey roles in all his recent movies. Even though he is a man who self-destructs, he is imminently likeable in the movie (watch his chammal as he realizes what his stree dhanam is worth or his instant yes to live in Maya’s house or his interaction with Lakshmi) and it helps that his character is written as a man who is basically good-natured but whose indiscretions cost him a great deal. It’s not that we suddenly discover shades of grey in Arun or he turns over a new leaf in a instant; there is an ambivalence in his character as his mind oscillates between his temptations and the fear of the consequence of his actions.
There are times when you think Lal Jose may sound pedantic in his approach especially when focusing on the patient George who’s a cancer patient or showcasing the lives of people like Venu Ettan (Sreenivasan) who have been suffering for years in labour camps to take care of their families back home but he does not push the sympathy button hard enough for us to complain. The contrast between the house at Burj Khalifa and the labour camp, his rich friends vis-à-vis that of the poor workers are deliberate but these are minor issues. There was a temptation to inject a twist in the tail (like a sudden cancer when Arun vomits after drinking or getting Maya killed in the hospital) or come up with simple solutions to problems the way Lal did in Arabikatha but there are no shortcuts here. Life needs to be lived as and how it happens to us and the director pushes us forward to accept the reality of the situation.
You must thank writer Iqbal Kuttipuram for keeping a sense of humour throughout the movie as Arun juggles his misfortunes with his actions that compound his problems. There is an almost VKN sense of humour as he makes fun of the Palakkad household with its plethora of uncles, Mutashi’s idle talk and the stree dhanam scene which takes the cake. His acute embarrassment at being sold a turkey is evident but he cannot but hide his disappointment. Even when he is sarcastic (stree dhanam kondu kappalandi kazhikkan or Dubaiyil car padikkan cycle balance mathi), Rajashree is unable to comprehend it. The friendly Tamil banter with Lakshmi is refreshingly funny and sets up the initial tempo of a gentle rom-com (though her mother’s scenes can be done away with).
There is a lot of scope for melodrama but the direct eschews loud moments in favour of more sober moments of reflection. Recollect the scene when Arun realises that Maya was sporting a wig; she laughs it off while he remarks that philosophy is only between a doctor a patient. Or when Lakshmi comes to know that her lover is married – there is a silence as the camera takes a long distressed shot of the two facing each other only to be suddenly disturbed by the call for an emergency in the hospital.
Structurally, the movie starts off on a simple note but as it progresses, multiple threads intertwine and the final product is a satisfying experience. While many may baulk towards the end when the director tries to clearly spell out the directions that each of his characters takes, I think the director conceptualized the final three scenes in a beautiful way bringing together the various elements in the universe – air, earth and water – to close the final shot. One of them bids goodbye and leaves the land of illusion by air, another finds redemption in a holy place where she stands amidst mountains while the third woman’s story culminates in a gesture of love with the sea as the backdrop.
What is most satisfying is that after a few duds, Lal Jose is back with what he does best – tell us a story first. Diamond Necklace is a compelling human drama that brings a smile to your face as you go through Arun’s roller-coaster of emotion and financial troubles. As the closing credits rolled in PVR Goregaon, there was a spontaneous applause from the audience – what more can a director ask from his audience?
The movie gives credit to Bengali Director Indranil Roychowdhury’s short film Tapan Babu (a story in the 2005 movie Ek Mutho Chobi) as one of the inspirations of the film – story-wise, it is a small portion that has been inspired but it is good to see this acknowledgement.