Aanum Pennum Movie Review: A delectable anthology with fine performances
Each story in Aanum Pennum, a three-story anthology work well with each other
Like short story collections, I've always approached film anthologies with a bit of trepidation. There is always the worry of one or more stories turning out uninteresting. Thankfully, Malayalam's latest anthology offering, Aanum Pennum, is not one of them. The idea came from Rajeev Ravi, and the man had planned a fourth film with himself at the helm. However, things didn't work out as planned. The current form was shaped by directors Jay K, Venu, and Aashiq Abu, with their respective films Savithri, Rachiyamma and Rani.
Like 5 Sundarikal before it, Aanum Pennum revolves around women. Each film belongs to its respective female protagonist, who is stronger than the men in these stories. Aanum Pennum goes through a gamut of emotions and themes — love, lust, revenge, revolution, sacrifice, and a bit of perversion. All three have their female protagonists expressing their sexuality in three different ways.
Directors: Venu, Aashiq Abu, Jay K
Cast: Roshan Mathew, Darshana Rajendran, Parvathy Thiruvoth, Asif Ali, Samyuktha Menon, Joju George
The first film, Savithri, takes place in post-independence Kerala, at a time when communists were subjected to persecution. It opens with Savithri (Samyuktha Menon) fleeing from a burning house. A haunting backstory is revealed later. After finding work as domestic help in an upper-class residence, she has to endure the lecherous advances of a medical practitioner (an appropriately menacing Joju George). Though the latter's performance is not too far up in the creep-o-meter as his shudder-inducing role in Sanal Kumar Sasidharan's Chola, it is discomforting nonetheless.
Savithri plays out like one of Adoor's early films. In one scene, Joju brandishes a shotgun, unleashing his inner Bhaskara Pattelar on a vulnerable male character. It also has the vibe of a 'muthassi kadha', with mythological parallels. In Savithri, we get another strong performance from Samyuktha after Vellam. Mysterious, driven, and delightfully rebellious, Savithri gradually reveals herself to be someone who may be much more than what she led us to believe earlier. Suresh Rajan's painterly frames infused with impressionistic lighting and an intercutting Kathakali performance in the climax enhance the film's overall atmosphere.
The next one, Rachiyamma, directed by Venu and based on Uroob's short story, is also a period film. There was a grin on my face the moment Parvathy appeared as Rachiyamma because it's perfect casting. The dialogues, the demeanour, the character transformation... everything is spot on. But at the same time, I wondered whether sync sound could have improved the performance further. Parvathy plays Rachiyamma exactly as how the character is in the book. Save for minor modifications to the screenplay, Rachiyamma is a faithful adaptation of Uroob's story.
Venu's screenplay clears up some of the ambiguities with regard to the timeline and gives more life to a story that seemed slightly vague when I had first read it. Rachiyamma is a complex character who, like Savithri, goes through an interesting transformation later. Intimidating and unapproachable at first, Rachiyamma slowly turns into a delightful picture of grace, compassion and mischief as the film progresses. Asif Ali plays an officer who returns to the place responsible for creating a history between him and Rachiyamma.
It is a tender love story that carries as much pain as one of Wong Kar-Wai's love stories. The first film that came to my mind was In the Mood for Love. A lot is conveyed through silences and glances. It's a relationship marked by intense longing, sacrifice and regrets. Though what we get on the screen is a more poignant and more cinematic version of Uroob's text, Venu is careful not to infuse it with melodrama. Rachiyamma's story makes sense when seen from her point-of-view, but I wouldn't be surprised if the film kickstarts debates about the character's relevance in this day and age.
Aashiq Abu's Rani, penned by Unni R, is the third film in Aanum Pennum. The less I say about it, the better. It's a wicked little film with a wicked sense of humour. A depiction of a flawed relationship, Rani can be seen as the third part of a trilogy that includes Aashiq Abu's other flawed relationship dramas, namely, 22FK and Mayanadhi. Aashiq excels at this sort of thing. I found it to be the most refreshing of all three films. It is the only film out of the three with a contemporary setting. We get to see Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran in a way we never saw before.
Though Savithri and Rachiyamma don't break new grounds in storytelling, they are solid as standalone stories. They work well with each other. But if I have to pick the standout story, it's undoubtedly Rani. I wouldn't mind seeing another anthology like this one again.