Let me count the ways...
The Internet is a messiah of sorts these days. When it isn't busy playing Cupid and delivering mail, it brings strangers together.
Based in the Silicon Valley, Mitr - My Friend explores the problems of an NRI couple --- Lakshmi (Shobhana) and Prithvi (Nasser Abdullah) --- and their 17-year-old daughter, Divya (Preeti Vissa).
The first few reels establish Lakshmi as a typical South Indian wife and mother, giving her all to Prithvi, a software professional, and Divya. Divya rebels against what she sees as her mother's archaic and foolish Indian traditions. She decides to drop out of college and live on her own. And Lakshmi finds her husband indifferent to her needs and seemingly content to lead his life.
The first half ambles along as it highlights the crisis the couple faces because of their daughter and the problems dogging most American-born desi kids. What with the frustration and angst of the possessive mother who eavesdrops on her daughter's conversations, you sympathise more with Divya than Lakshmi (as the director would like us to). The widening rift between husband and wife is only explored through inconsequential arguments, silences and telephone conversations.
The tempo of the film picks up when Lakshmi finds an anonymous friend named Mitr in a chat room. A man who speaks her language and who advises her on how to deal with her problems. He also turns to her for advice when he runs into trouble with his girlfriend.
Director Revathy here sidesteps the potential dangers of chatting with strangers on the Internet and its negative effect on existing relationships. And I thought she revealed the identity of the stranger a bit too soon.
It seems Prithvi and Lakshmi who barely speak to each other in person, become close confidants, sharing their innermost thoughts electronically. Revathy finds plenty of ways to make their chats and e-mails visually interesting via laptops and cute Yahoo! icons.
In a charming segment, after Lakshmi and Prithvi log off their computers, they are shown like most other chatters --- ruminating about their conversation, even talking to themselves.
The racy second half shows the transformation of Lakshmi into her own person as she develops her own interests, be it carpentry, driving on highways or even giving advise to her chat friend. And, thanks to director Revathy's penchant for happy endings, this film has one too as Divya returns to her house, accepts her mother, even enjoys some of her Indianness. So does her husband.
What kills the viewing pleasure of the film is the terrible dubbing. The dialogues sound clichéd, emotions forced and the characters, especially Lakshmi, sound caricaturish and cardboard-like.
Revathy's portrayal of the father-daughter relationship seems a little too perfect for comfort, making Lakshmi sound a shrew and the father walking out smelling of roses.
The redeeming factor is the interesting premise of the film. Revathy's sensitivity as a woman director comes across in her treatment of the mother-daughter scenes. Unfortunately, by the time Revathy seems to get comfortable with her subject in the second half, it is time to wrap up.
She leaves a lot of questions unanswered, too. Prithvi is so sensitive toward his child, but fails to extend the same courtesy towards his wife. Also the scenes depicting how easily he suspects his wife of having an affair and the way Lakshmi forgives him and accepts him in the end are not very well explained.
Malayalam actress Shobhana delivers a competent performance. She has screen appeal. While tearful most of the time, her eyes seem to convey her dilemmas and conflicts well. Nasser Abdullah as Prithvi is very likeable. Especially noteworthy are his scenes with his daughter and the banter with his secretary.
Preeti Vissa plays the spoilt brat with aplomb. Looks like she has had these arguments before :-)
The film incorporates American figures into its social milieu well, like the neighbours Stevie and Paul, Prithvi's secretary Pam and best friend Bryan. Revathy also entrusts them with the humour. For instance, Prithvi's American friend Bryan takes a dig at Indian culture when he says, "My girlfriend would kill me if I didn't help her in the kitchen. Prithvi, you are a spoilt brat!"
Mitr - My Friend is worth a watch. Only, be prepared for a snooze in the first half.
My confidante, my guide, my soul