Review: ‘Lover’ (2024), starring K. Manikandan, Sri Gouri Priya, Kanna Ravi, Harish Kumar, Nikhila Shankar and Harini Sundararajan

February 24, 2024

by Carla Hay

K. Manikandan and Sri Gouri Priya in “Lover” (Photo courtesy of Million Dollar Studios and MRP Entertainment)

“Lover” (2024)

Directed by Prabhuram Vyas

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chennai, India, the dramatic film “Lover” features an all-Indian cast characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man and a woman, who are both in their 20s and have been dating each for six years, come to a crossroads in their dysfunctional relationship that has been troubled because he is controlling and abusive. 

Culture Audience: “Lover” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching uncomfortably realistic dramas about toxic relationships.

Nikhila Shankar, K. Manikandan, Harish Kumar, Sri Gouri Priya, Harini Sundararajan and Kanna Ravi in “Lover” (Photo courtesy of Million Dollar Studios and MRP Entertainment)

“Lover” is an emotional drama that can get repetitive, and this 145-minute movie is too long, but it’s a realistic portrayal of how difficult it can be to end a toxic and abusive relationship. This well-acted movie also explores generational trauma. “Lover” not only takes a candid look at the two people in the relationship but also how people who are close to the couple react to this relationship.

Written and directed by Prabhuram Vyas, “Lover” is Vyas’ impressive feature-film directorial debut. Most of the movie takes place in Chennai, India. “Lover” begins with an upbeat scene of a small group of people in their 20s who are having a going-away luncheon for their co-worker Vignesh, who is nicknamed Vicky. The movie doesn’t say what type of business employs them, but Vicky is a project manager who is leaving the company on good terms.

Two of the co-workers at this luncheon are roommates Divya (played by Sri Gouri Priya) and Ramya (played by Nikhila Sankar), who are also best friends and confidantes. The mood at this get-together is light-hearted until Divya gets a phone call from her boyfriend Arun (played by K. Manikandan), who has been dating Divya for the past six years. Arun immediately interrogates Divya on who she is with and what she is doing.

Divya tries to pretend that this call isn’t bothering her, but the expression on Ramya’s face indicates that Ramya knows exactly what’s going on. Divya tells Arun that she is with co-worker friends to celebrate Vicky’s last day on the job. Divya won’t say exactly where they are, so Arun gets angry.

Arun hangs up the phone and gets a ride from an unnamed friend (played by Arunachaleswaran.Pa) with a scooter, because Arun says he wants to find out where Divya is. This friend can see that Arun is very agitated, so the friend suggests they go to a bar for some drinks first, with the intention of getting Arun to calm down. Arun then gets drunk and complains to his friend that Divya is being influenced too much by people at Divya’s job.

By the time Arun and his friend leave the bar, Arun is very drunk. Arun knows that Divya will be home by now, so he shows up unannounced at her apartment and yells at her in the parking garage for being disrespectful to him. He then smashes a car window with a bare fist before he leaves. This sequence of events sets the tone for the rest of the movie that leaves no doubt that Arun is controlling, abusive and violent.

Meanwhile, Divya does what many abused people do when they are experiencing this trauma: deny or cover up that that there’s a problem. At her job and in many other situations, she pretends that her life is going very well. However, Ramya and another female co-worker named Aishu (played by Harini Sundararajan) know the truth. Ramya tells Divya that Divya deserves a better love partner than Arun, but Divya has convinced herself that she and Arun have a love that’s worth saving. Divya believes that if she ends the relationship with Arun, the six years she has already invested in this relationship would be a waste.

Like many abusers, Arun has two sides to his personality. He can be cruel and oppressive, but he can also be charming and generous. Arun is shown frequently using a typical abuser “love bomb” technique of making profuse apologies to Divya and promising that he won’t hurt her again. He also showers her with affection or gifts to try to make up for his horrendous actions. It’s also shown that Arun gets drunk a lot and frequently smokes marijuana. He sometimes blames his outbursts on being drunk.

And who is Arun? For most of the movie, he is unemployed and living with his mother Kala (played by Geetha Kailasam), who loves him unconditionally and often turns a blind eye to Arun’s obvious problems. As far as Kala knows or cares to know, Arun and Divya have a wonderful relationship that could possibly lead to marriage. Kala approves of Divya, who is kind and sensitive. Kala tells Arun that she would love for Divya to be her daughter-in-law.

Arun’s family is also very dysfunctional. His father Raja (played by Saravanan) is an alcoholic who is physically and emotionally abusive to Arun and Kala. Arun has vague plans to open a cafe near the Anna Nagra neighborhood, but he has squandered the investment money, and he is nowhere close to opening a cafe. Raja physically assaults and yells at Arun because he thinks Arun is a loser. Kala defends Arun during these nasty arguments, but Raja often attacks her too. Raja eventually moves out of the household.

Almost nothing is shown or told about Divya’s family, but it can be assumed that she has been hiding Arun’s abuse from whatever family she has. It’s also very obvious that Arun hates that Divya has a stable career, is financially independent, and makes more money than he does. Arun believes that as the man in the relationship, he should be the one to be more of a financial provider. Arun also gets very jealous and acts threatened when he thinks that Divya could be getting attention from men who have a higher income than Arun.

At her job, Divya soon meets the young man who has replaced Vicky as project manager. His name is Madan Wanders (played by Kanna Ravi), who first meets Divya when she helps him use a coffee machine that he’s unfamiliar with in an office break room. Madan (who is a semi-successful travel vlogger in his free time) is immediately attracted to Divya, but he soon finds out that she has an obsessively jealous boyfriend. However, Madan and Divya become friends on the job, where he is welcomed into the co-worker social circle that includes Divya, Ramya and Aishu.

“Lover” shows a lot of repetition of Arun getting drunk or stoned with friends; having angry temper tantrums at Divya because he thinks Divya is being tempted to cheat on him; and then pathetically begging for Divya’s forgiveness and promising that he will never act that way again. Arun is extremely manipulative and tells Divya that he will kill himself or hurt himself if she breaks up with him. It’s a common way that abusers control the people they abuse.

The movie doesn’t have flashbacks to show any previous years of the relationship between Arun and Divya. However, there are snippets of information that are divulged in conversations to give some idea of what their courtship was like. Apparently, Arun pursued Divya vigorously when they were both students at the same university. It should come as no surprise that Arun has low self-esteem, because he mentions that he was shocked that Divya agreed to date him because he thinks she’s out of his league.

Another glimpse into Arun’s past happens when a former university classmate named Pravin throws a party to celebrate that Pravin’s fledging technology business has received an investment of ₹5 million, which is a little more than $60,000 in U.S. dollars in the early 2020s. Divya is invited to the party. She doesn’t really want Arun to go with her, but he does. Arun knows that Pravin used to have a crush on Divya. You can easily predict what happens at this party with “loose cannon” Arun.

Divya tries to break up with Arun many times, but he won’t accept it. Arun just keeps showing up where she is and acting like they are still in a relationship. A turning point comes when Arun invites himself to go with Divya and her friends to a getaway vacation at a beach resort to celebrate Divya’s birthday. In addition to Arun and Divya, the other people on this trip are Madan, Madan’s easygoing friend Suhail (played by Harish Kumar), Ramya and Aishu. Not surprisingly, Arun’s presence is awkward, and he hates feeling like he’s the outsider in this tight-knit group.

If “Lover” gets a bit tedious or exhausting in repeatedly showing the back-and-forth volatility in the relationship of Arun and Divya, it’s to make the point that this is the type of vicious cycle that happens in abusive relationships. There are lots of crying tears and shouting that might look melodramatic, but many people in real life are this way when they are in miserable relationships. Manikandan and Priya give very good (but not great) performances as this very troubled couple. The movie’s biggest strength is how it doesn’t sugarcoat the damage caused by this type of abuse, and it doesn’t present a fairy tale that people will always get the help that they need.

Million Dollar Studios and MRP Entertainment released “Lover” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on February 2, 2024.

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