Archana 31 Not Out Movie Review: Aishwarya Lekshmi shines in an uneventful film
The film manages to hold our attention as long as it stays with Archana. When it gets distracted by the antics of some of the supporting characters, we are distracted too
There is only one conflict in Archana 31 Not Out. Will Archana, the schoolteacher, played by Aishwarya Lekshmi, get married or not? The film takes 110 minutes to answer that question. But what it's more interested in doing is giving a message while doing so. Nothing wrong with that. As an independent-minded individual, I loved the speech of Archana at the end. But, the problem is it's not exactly what we haven't heard before. And although the intention is laudable, it lacks the necessary punch.
Director: Akhil Anilkumar
Cast: Aishwarya Lekshmi, Rajesh Madhavan, Lukman, Ramesh Pisharody
It's a relief to see a film that doesn't have Aishwarya saying a single line of dialogue that begins with, "Ente ponnu..." What I mean is we get to see her in a performance that we haven't seen her in before. Archana is a driven, responsible woman; she is a great manager; she juggles multiple tasks efficiently. She also represents a lot of young women leading uneventful lives in Kerala. If asked what she does for fun, she might say she loves playing cricket or sitting by the lake. She doesn't frequent cafes or cinema halls. Archana doesn't have lofty aspirations with her choice of a future partner when her broker (the ever-reliable Rajesh Madhavan) brings up names. She doesn't yearn for someone who looks like a matinee idol. She is okay with anyone as long as she can make decent conversation with him. When one name comes up, she expects things to go smoothly, but there exists something called the pre-interval twist.
The film then spends a better part of the remaining hour with Archana, showing a vulnerable side of hers that she didn't show us before. And the film manages to hold our attention as long as it stays with Archana. When it gets distracted by the antics of some of the supporting characters, we are distracted too. In multiple instances, the film seems to take delight in observing the oddballs in the crowd, but their shenanigans are entertaining only up to a certain point. I loved these things when director Akhil Anilkumar did them in his short films. I also enjoyed the segment ('Geethu Unchained') he did for Freedom Fight, the anthology currently streaming on SonyLIV. But what worked in the short films doesn't fully work in a full-length feature.
But there are places in this film where Akhil adds a few neat flourishes, like showing how the environment interacts with Archana when negative news hits her. You see how every sound affects her. You see her imagining alternate scenarios -- another trademark of Akhil -- that effectively diffuses the overwhelming anxiety caused by that last phone call. One recurring visual trick involves the electricity going off during crucial moments. She also perceives some 'signs' from her neighbourhood to be good or bad when she is preparing for one of the most important events of her life. But these 'extraordinary' influences look awkward in other places. It seems as though the film is in two minds about what it wants to be, or it's probably trying to be two things simultaneously. The overall energy left me feeling confused.