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Starring Nithya Menen, Parvathy Thiruvothu, and Amruta Subhash in key roles, Wonder Women is the story of six expectant mothers as they spend time together at a pre-natal class. It is available to stream on SonyLIV.
In a group interview ahead of Wonder Women’s release, Anjali Menon, who has written and directed the film, said, “I have always preferred to imply rather than show it all.” Though she said this in response to a question on montages, I think Menon’s statement aptly describes her latest film.
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Wonder Women is the story of six expectant mothers as they spend time together at a pre-natal class to better equip themselves at navigating this life-changing experience. It’s warm in the way most Menon movies are. It’s also ably-shouldered with stalwarts such as Nithya Menen, Parvathy Thiruvothu, and Amruta Subhash making one-half of the motley group, and Nadiya Moidu— who is more of a friend than a facilitator to these women — at the helm.
Within its 80-minute run time, the film addresses quite a few thorny subjects such as how comfortably ignorant north Indians are about the people and the customs prevalent in south Maharashtra and how, in a rapidly urbanising India, there is little room left for those who do not know English. It also finds space to dispense little-known useful information like how there are more than one positions in which a woman can give birth and how every pregnant woman has a legal right to bring a companion into the labor room if she feels like it.
The film also wonderfully brings to the fore the disconnect and reluctance that most men feel with their wives/partners during this crucial journey. In a poignant scene, a father-to-be who had been uninterested in his wife’s pregnancy reveals that the last time he played with a doll was when he was a child and he was scolded for it. Now, suddenly he’s expected to embrace fatherhood but has no clue how to do it.
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Although the film has no big cathartic scene like Kareena Kapoor Khan did in Good Newwz (2019) in which her character gives an earful to her husband (Akshay Kumar), explaining to him all the inconveniences and massive changes that a woman goes through in the nine months before she delivers, but Wonder Women does have a few quiet moments in which it lets its actors shine.
One particular scene with Subhash stands out. In it, her husband finally admits that she is more important to him than the child after obsessively trying to conceive one for years. Subhash has no dialogue in this scene and very few in the one that comes early in the film in which her backstory is first revealed. She says little and yet her silence screams so loud, it is deafening, heartbreaking.
However, despite the winning performances and the buoyant spirit of sisterhood that permeates through the film, you do not feel much for anyone because Wonder Women tries to say too much in too little time. It would have been a much more rewarding watch had Menon given it the time it deserves. All we get are rushed glimpses into these women’s stories, never the kind of immersive experience that makes you root for a character. All these women deserve their own spin-offs, there’s so much material susurrating at the seams here. Why steal glances from a corner window when you can walk in from the door and stay?
In the interview, Menon also said, “For me, this is just an opening where I am showing it in a very light way. Because if I really go into showing how it is, everybody is going to tune out. So I would rather start in a light way and then get the confidence to be able to explore it with more depth.”
Sure, it’s a tightrope to make a film about pregnancy that doesn’t feel like a documentary, something that people can watch on a Sunday afternoon, preferably while munching popcorn. But such a film can be layered, even funny, and its women fleshed out without it having to be too serious, graphic, or uncomfortable. Tamara Jenkins’ 2018 comedy-drama Private Life is a fantastic case in point.
I’m curious to know about Mini’s (Thiruvothu) life before we meet her and how it unfolds after we leave her outside the operating room in the last scene. Or what happens with Veni (Padmapriya Janakiraman) and Nora (Menen)? I hope Menon decides to develop Wonder Women into a web series instead.