In Normal. a young professional married couple, Aniket (Aseem Tiwari) and Leah (Suzanna Akins), struggle to settle into the new rhythm of life after the birth of their first child. Pivotal career and personal goals are challenged, and they must reconsider their expectations and routines. Traditional ways they both learned from their cultures bang up against an assumption that life would continue as before and they could have it all effortlessly. Disappointed and angry, they are finding this situation much harder than they were prepared for.
Director Mragendra Singh’s debut feature film delves into a question faced by a burgeoning generation of new parents: how to pursue personal goals and satisfaction while meeting the obligations of a traditional nuclear family.
The problem surfaces initially as “bed death.” During a candid conversation with his friend, Prad, Aniket admits that after watching his wife give birth, he is simply no longer attracted to her, and uninterested in sex with her. Prad gives him centuries-old advice from the anachronistic patriarchy: in order to be the strong provider and keep the family happy, one must ensure one’s own happiness first, which is to say, go out and find a side piece. It’s practical advice, but also sleazy, since the marriage in question is a traditional compact of monogamy. Prad and his wife are in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mode, he says. Whether this is bi-lateral or not is a question. Given Prad’s old-school attitudes, Aniket seems dubious about this approach and repulsed by Prad’s suggestion. It does, however, open a door for Aniket he had never considered before.
“…disappointed and angry, they are finding this situation much harder than they were prepared for…“
A growing inability to communicate creates a widening gap between the couple. Against Aniket’s passive-aggressive wishes, Leah returns to work and activities outside the house. In the time that follows they are each tempted by other people showing interest. They are both attractive and personable, both hungry for new relationship energy, unwittingly broadcasting that need to the world. Someone will always respond. The game is always afoot, and everyone is in, whether they think so or no.
In the midst of the couple’s drama, Aniket’s lesbian friend Tabby finds herself in the middle of a nasty, unexpected breakup with her girlfriend. Aniket is forced to face some harsh realities of relationships while comforting and advising her. He is emotionally intelligent and compassionate, far more in tune emotionally giving advice than dealing with his own relationship with Leah.
The cognitive dissonance of these characters, and all new parents in traditional arrangements may be the unquestioned commitment to monogamy. Married people are still sexual beings, and as such just as responsive to the draw and fascinations of their sexuality, be they heterosexual, homosexual, bi, or any other variant of the spectrum. To expect one person to fulfill all those interests is a tall order. It often becomes an unrealistic expectation when children and careers are added in. Marriage rates are at an all-time low, and strict monogamy is less the hard-line status quo it once was. Perhaps the answer lies in a more open ideal of the ebb and flow of a relationship. Ethical non-monogamy is less stigmatized now and might be an option for some people.
Normal. is the perfect title for this film, as every single event depicted is, indeed, perfectly normal and predictable. A naturalistic tone and pace deviates from typical stylized film dialog and time compression, the interactions are ordinary, quiet, and not overly emotional, despite the critical nature of the issues. You may, uncomfortably, see something of yourself in the characters. You may wonder if you really sound like that (you do).
In this exploration of the emotional tapestry of a brave new world, Singh thoughtfully asks more questions than he answers, starting the conversation that so many couples are loathe to have.
Normal. (2019) Written and directed by Mragendra Singh. Starring Aseem Tiwari, Suzanna Akins, Mav Viola, Cynthia Strahan.
7 out of 10