What became of the girl who was a fan of Miyazaki movies?
Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy’s newest feature spins an ubiquitous story on family, love and healing. Inspired by the warmth you get from watching Studio Ghibli and playing with cats, “Max, Min and Meowzaki” presents a lighthearted but timely survey of social issues in India.
At the start, the group known as “Max, Min and Meowzaki” is no longer together. Max (played by Siddharth Menon), a voice actor and musician, has ended his relationship with his girlfriend Min (Medha Shankar), a filmmaker who has left him for an older man. While they used to bond over their shared love for the films of Hayao Miyazaki, they must now figure out who will take care of their kitten, Meowzaki. Despite Max’s allergy to fur, Min leaves the kitten with him temporarily. As Max grieves over his breakup, we also learn about his recent loss of his mother, Vasudha (played by Gitanjali Rao), to cancer. The story explores the theme of intergenerational trauma as it follows a diverse cast of characters, including Max’s traditional father, Ramesh (Adil Hussain) and a cat-sitter named Carol (Vidhatri Bandi). Each character goes on their own journey of transformation and healing.
Ensemble productions often tread difficult ground, sometimes carrying too much, sometimes expounding too little. “Max, Min and Meowzaki” struggles to hold with a staggering runtime of 140 minutes, but one retracts blame when thinking on the script’s thematic ambitions.
“This is the first time that all of us are single – you, your father, and I. Let’s celebrate!” With a wholesome approach, Narasimhamurthy tackles difficult topics of childhood and domestic trauma, which are not typically seen in the comedy-drama genre. The characters’ backstories are thoughtfully crafted, leading to some of the movie’s most impactful moments that allow the audience to empathize while also holding the characters accountable for their mistakes. Narasimhamurthy writes with genuine sincerity, leaving no stone unturned and presenting natural and authentic confrontations. Ramesh’s disapproval of Max dating Min highlights the issue of Islamophobia, and his personal therapy sessions reveal the struggles of conforming to society’s moral standards, such as gender norms and filial piety. While the dialogue and delivery may be overly melodramatic at times, the true heart of the story still shines through.
Unfortunately, the performance of “Max, Min and Meowzaki” falls short of the director’s intention. While there are occasional moments that are executed well, such as the heartfelt conversation between Max and his father where they ask each other for the first time since Vasudha’s death, “Are you okay?”, the portrayal of Ramesh by Adil Hussain stands out as one of the more complex and compelling characters. Vidhatri Bandi’s portrayal of Carol, a bright but worldly-wise character, is also endearing. The film aims for a naturalistic approach, incorporating familiar slang and vulgar language, but the mix of this with more formal dramatic dialogue disrupts the flow and lessens the impact of both.
The technical aspects of the film are not the main focus, with camera work, lighting, and music following standard practices. Most scenes demonstrate cause and effect, with actions between actors or between actors and objects. However, the production design stands out with its attention to detail and character. In a lengthy piece with multiple settings, Vijay Dulguch and Vinay Vishwakarma’s meticulous approach creates an authentically diverse world. Max’s modern apartment, adorned with vibrant tasselled curtains and framed Studio Ghibli posters, tells its own story. Similarly, Carol’s more bohemian apartment with its mismatched vintage furniture also adds to her character. The use of feline motifs in Max’s costume design by Roshni Bose may seem obvious, but it adds a touch of whimsy to the film. It could also symbolize Max’s enduring love for Meowzaki, despite his allergy, or his desire to move on.
Although not flawless, it is undeniable that “Max, Min and Meowzaki” is genuine. Ultimately, find comfort in the knowledge that, no matter what, there will always be two constants: Hayao Miyazaki’s movies and feline companions.