The eyes have it in the video of Manikya Malaraya Poovi from Omar Lulu’s Malayalam movie Oru Adaar Love. This is the one in which a school student responds to a raised eyebrow from a male admirer by raising both her brows and then winking at him. The entire song is an ode to the cheekiness of young love. Manikya Malaraya Poovi has promoted a flurry of interest in the eyebrow-raising and headline-generating young actress, Priya Prakash Varrier, and is the Jimikki Kammal of the moment.
Manikya Malaraya Poovi is not the first of its kind, though. Numerous film tunes across languages are dedicated to ocular romance, of which the silent eye contact courtship song is an important subset. Words are deemed so unnecessary that the song plays out in the background without being lip-synced by the besotted lovers.
The situation is typical, give or take a few variations: man/boy or woman/girl spot each other in a public place and cannot look away any more. They keep staring at each other unmindful of the world around them, communicating their mutual ardour in visual code. The tune plays out in the background. Time freezes and the people and objects around the lovers disappear – the ultimate state of being in love.
In Aankhon Ki Gustakhiyaan from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), Sameer (Salman Khan) and Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) flirt with each other at a family function. He pulls her hair, mimics her actions, and follows her around. She too responds to his overtures. The rest of the family is clueless to the side show. When they find out, hell freezes over.
Balaji Shaktivel’s breakout film Kaadhal (2004) is about the dangers of the love-filled look. Aishwarya (Sandhya) develops an infatuation for scooter mechanic Murali (Bharath), one that eventually leads to insanity. Murali falls for Sandhya even though she is from a wealthy family, and they elope, leading to a tragic turn of events.
The gaze can sometimes be one-sided. In Farah Khan’s rebirth-revenge drama Om Shanti Om (2007), small-time actor Om (Shah Rukh Khan) is besotted with movie star Shanti (Deepika Padukone). He gawps at her at a movie premiere as she enters in all her radiance. Om manages to catch Shanti’s eye, but reciprocity will have to wait till the next birth.
One of the best ocular romance entries is Kangal Irandal from M Sasikumar’s remarkable debut film Subramaniapuram (2008). The daring passion between Azhagar (Jai) and Thulasi (Swati) is forbidden by differences in social status, but it blossoms nevertheless on the streets of Madurai. Jai is so smitten by Thulasi that he follows her around and clowns about on his bicycle hoping to impress her. His friends disapprove, and her family most certainly will when they find out. And yet, the eyes cannot stop meeting. Sasikumar uses slow motion beautifully to suggest a love with the power to stop the passage of time.
The theme of eye contact leading to lasting love is brilliantly explored in Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan (2010). Rizwan (Shah Rukh Khan) has Apserger’s syndrome, and has difficulty maintaining visual or physical contact with people. Yet, he loses his heart to Mandira (Kajol), and slowly begins to loosen up by letting his gaze meet hers. Mandira can’t resist Rizwan either. Tucked somewhere into the Shankar-Ehsan-Loy tune is the sound of wedding bells.
In A Sarkunam’s period movie Vaagai Sooda Vaa (2010), it’s the woman who is throwing looks at her man. Madhi (Iniya) is in love with school teacher Veluthambi (Vimal), but his attention is focused on educating the village children. In the beautifully filmed Sara Sara Saara Kathu, Madhi tries to catch Veluthambi’s eye, but he is oblivious to her charms. The weather, insects and trees, and all of nature itself, resonate with Madhi’s love. Only Veluthambi remains blind.
Also one-sided, and this time because of caste, is Jabya’s love for Shaalu in Nagraj Manjule’s powerful debut Fandry (2013). Jabya (Somnath Awghade) is from a pig-herding Dalit family that lives on the edge of the village. Shalu (Rajeshwari Kharat) is from an upper-caste family. In Jabya’s dream world, Shalu walks beside him in the forest, while in reality, he remains as invisible to her as his caste is to society itself.
If you didn’t know the plot of Rajeev Ravi’s interfaith love story Annayum Rasoolum (2013), you might assume that Rasool (Fahadh Faasil) is stalking Anna (Andrea Jeremiah). Rasool, who ferries around tourists in his taxi in Kochi, has fallen hard for saleswoman Anna. He starts following her around wherever she goes, and comes dangerously close on many occasions. Anna is initially wary, as any sensible woman would be, but since the eyes that are plastered on her belong to Fahadh Faasil, it can be assumed that she will relent. She does.
Also from Malayalam cinema is Alphonse Puthren’s Premam (2015). The coming-of-age movie explores the three loves of George (Nivin Pauly): the first one unrequited, the second ruined by an accident resulting in memory loss, and the third redeemed by George’s heroism.
The song Chinna Chinna unfolds during the second chapter. College pupil George is exchanging bashful looks with lecturer Malar (Sai Pallavi). The normal restrictions that govern teacher-student interactions do not apply here. Both are single and ready to mingle, and by the end of the song, phone numbers have been exchanged.
Fandry director Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi blockbuster Sairat (2016) returns to the theme of love separated by caste. Prashant (Akash Thosar) has been eyeing Archana (Rinku Rajguru) for weeks. She is the daughter of the local Maratha politician, and is not expected to return the low-caste Prashant’s feelings. When he learns that Archana has come with her friends to bathe in the community well, Prashant decides to take a leap of faith. He plunges into the well with the single aim of getting Archana’s attention. Their eyes finally lock, she is intrigued, and, eventually, interested.
Anurag Kashyap’s boxing drama Mukkabaaz (2018) is set in Uttar Pradesh, but it accommodates a song whose sensibility is distinctly southern. Boxer Shravan (Vineet Kumar Singh) is in love with Sunaina (Zoya Hussain), the niece of the upper-caste coach who has vowed to destroy his career. All the elements of the silent eye contact song are present in Mushkil Hai Apna Meil Priye – the use of slow motion, the cheeky glances between the lovers, the ensuing bashfulness and the sheer thrill of getting away with it all.