‘Wonder Women’ movie review: Anjali Menon charts a heartwarming story of sisterhood – The Hindu

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November 18, 2022 12:26 pm | Updated 06:20 pm IST
A still from ‘Wonder Women’ | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT
Anjali Menon’s Wonder Women, the story of a group of women at a prenatal class, will leave you feeling warm. It is an honest, refreshing and ‘unfilmy’ take on a woman’s pregnancy whether planned, unplanned, unwanted, or assisted. Each woman has her backstory, and their feelings about pregnancy range from joy and hope, to anxiety and ambivalence even — all those feelings that many new and expecting mothers/parents feel. Menon effortlessly normalises that mixed bag of complicated emotions and we don’t need to take sides.  
It is as much a story of sisterhood as the journey to motherhood, the kind that extends beyond the biological definition of a mother; after all, not all mothers give birth. So there is Nandita (Nadiya Moidu) who runs Sumana, the prenatal centre, who, for the duration of the classes is a kind of ‘mother’ to the six pregnant women attending the classes. The ‘classmates’ are Krishnaveni, Nora, Jaya, Saya, and Mini, essayed by Padmapriya Janakiraman, Nithya Menen, Amruta Subhash, Sayanora Philip and Parvathy Thiruvothu respectively. The sixth woman is Gracy, Nandita’s help, portrayed by Archana Padmini.    
They bond over yoga sessions, a WhatsApp group [called, no surprises… Wonder Women], gossip, and photographs of ideal positions to give birth in and make their way to friendship despite their varied backgrounds. Menon conveys things only a woman would know; the conversations, the conspiratorial giggling, and the exchanged looks between women friends. 
Menon has picked a powerhouse of talent to people her story. Padmapriya and Nithya Menen as Veni and Nora, two effervescent women looking forward to their first babies; Marathi/Hindi actor Amruta as Jaya who has conceived after three miscarriages and is terrified of yet another loss; Archana Padmini as the shy but ambitious-for-her-kids Gracy who is expecting her second child; Sayanora as the free-spirited Saya who demands space from her ‘over-supportive’ boyfriend; and Parvathy, as Mini a single mother with no support, angry and lonely — the casting is apt and the women relatable. Nadiya Moidu as the prenatal coach is restrained — be it playing peacemaker when disagreements rise or when there is a personal crisis.  
Parvathy’s understated performance as Mini brings a lump to the throat, especially the scene where she buys food she craves and eats alone in a cafe. In the context of Indian families, food cravings and pregnancy are a big deal, and this scene reinforces the character’s loneliness ever so subtly.      
Menon’s stories have always been layered, making you laugh while tugging at the heartstrings be it Ustad Hotel, Bangalore Days, Manjadikkuru or Koode. It would have been tempting — given the subject — to get carried away, but she reins herself in and keeps the narrative taut at an hour-and-a-half.
Motherhood is a recurring motif. Some characters introspect on their relationship with their mothers, Veni talks of arguing with her mother, while Nora says she would have to make an appointment to speak to her busy mother. For Mini, seeing her grandmother thaws her coldness and exposes her vulnerability, and Veni’s critical mother-in-law eventually becomes her ally and thereby a mother of sorts. 
It is the kind of story that is universal because of the experience and can be located anywhere in the world. Since a Malayali director has helmed it, there have been questions about if it is a Malayalam film — it is not. The lingua franca is English and, occasionally, some Hindi. There is a smattering of Malayalam, as there is Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Marathi. It is an Indian film.  
Menon also uses Wonder Women — perhaps because a pan-Indian audience is a viewer — to do something south Indians, whose mother tongue has been generically referred to as that homogeneous entity  ‘Madrasi,’ would want to do. An exchange between the characters about speaking in Hindi arises when Jaya, a Maharashtrian, says she can neither understand English nor Malayalam; the scene aptly underlines south India’s cultural and linguistic diversity. It might strike some as a jarring note, but somebody had to say it!  
One would presume that since it is a movie about women, the male characters would get the short end of the stick representation-wise. In a word, NO. They are not caricatures, but real people with shades of grey and sometimes vulnerable. For instance, Veni’s husband is the way he is due to his upbringing and conditioning. We see his mother, so we know why he is the way he is. Jaya’s husband confesses that after years of trying to have a baby, he was more concerned about his wife’s well-being than a child…these are not huge or flamboyant gestures, just people being vulnerable and authentic. Even the relationships between the partners is shown with nuance.   
Of course, there are certain things amiss; one is curious about like Saya’s story, Nora’s complicated equation with her mother, Nandita’s motherhood journey… but then it is the director’s prerogative. 
If this film were to have a tagline, it would be ‘by a woman, about women, for everybody!’  
Wonder Women is currently streaming on SonyLIV
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