Annapoorani Movie Review: This palatable Nayanthara star vehicle needs more seasoning
Fathers. Filmmakers love to explore the father-child dynamic, and it is the golden goose that keeps on giving. While father-son films are dime-a-dozen, there aren't many films that delve into the father-daughter dynamic. Even if this is explored, it is mostly relegated to an emotional tug-of-war between them about love. In debutant director Nilesh Krishnaa’s Annapoorani, the filmmaker doesn’t care much about the romance. He is more inclined to talk about the aspirations of the daughter, which is pitted against the conservatism of the father. Right from the time we see a doe-eyed Annapoorani as a child, there is a wonderful connect she has with her father Rangarajan (Achyuth Kumar). She looks at him with a mixture of love and reverence. She sees him as the man who let go of a lucrative job to remain in Srirangam as the chief cook in the iconic Ranganathan temple. Here is a man who can cook like a dream, and it is this dream that Annapoorani grows up festering in her mind. She wants to be the best chef in the country. But, one fine day, her father’s orthodox conservatism goes against her liberal pragmatism. What starts as an earnest journey of a strict vegetarian’s sojourn into the world of meat and her survival in the cutthroat world of culinary arts, ends up as a hot mess with unfortunately scalding spillovers.
Director: Nilesh Krishnaa
Cast: Nayanthara, Jai, Sathyaraj, Achyuth Kumar, Karthik Kumar
Annapoorani begins with a kitchen accident, and as she recuperates, she has flashes that give us a detailed look at how she came to this point in her life. She is blessed with “enhanced taste buds that even want better flavour in breast milk” and wants to join culinary school right after her undergrad. Rangarajan vehemently denies her aspirations because he doesn’t want the temple chef’s daughter to be anywhere near meat products, which is a prerequisite when it comes to being in culinary school. From this point, the film goes on a downward spiral with random, and rushed plots being layered one on top of the other till we finally reach the interval block where the film picks up some serious pace. However, soon enough, the randomness and rushedness get transposed into the second half too where the avalanche of plots only gets the narrative in a twist.
While there aren’t many surprises in Annapoorani, the film falters in delivering the goods even when it sticks to the template. Of course, the father is going to be miffed with the daughter when he finds out she is lying to him. But should that big reveal come so ordinarily? Of course, her warcry of sorts that “the next time I meet you, it will be only after I make you proud” makes a lot of sense. But since he is, in a way, spending a lot of time with her after that big moment, why would the audience empathise when there is a callback to this warcry in the climax? Of course, Annapoorani, who is unceremoniously sent away from her dream job, will get a chance to prove herself. But should the chance come in the very next scene without any breathing space or understanding of Annapoorani’s psyche? Of course, Annapoorani will find a powerful adversary in the pursuit of her dreams. But should that person be borderline caricaturish? Of course, it is the women around Annapoorani who are understanding and supportive of her endeavours. But why are the men heralded on her big moments? In fact, in many such scenes, Nilesh flatters to deceive because in the pursuit of the bigger picture, he misses out on connecting the smaller dots.
The premise of Annapoorani is filled with a lot of promise. The film doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to the meat eaters vs vegetarian debate. It simply calls it as is through the character of Annapoorani’s friend Farhan (Jai). However, the writing allows us to empathise with Rangarajan’s point of view more than Annapoorani’s plight because we never really understand why she chooses to renounce her vegetarian ways. Of course, her choice of food is her prerogative, and it is built up to be such a watershed moment in her life, but it just fizzles away on screen. Annapoorani is also bogged down by its overwhelming conveniences. Come on, Annapoorani can’t have it THAT easy when she comes to the city from Srirangam. It is almost like everything is handed to her on a platter. This only takes away the sheen from her journey, and makes it seem like a walk in the park when it is anything but.
With a wonderful Nayanthara at the centre of things, Nilesh also brings in an almost effective empowerment angle. While it works in the overall scheme of things, it is crammed into the last act and is not allowed to organically develop. The underrepresentation of women in the chef industry is an important argument, but should it come so late in the film? Honestly, I would have loved that to be the core of the film instead of what we end up being served. On the other hand, full points to Nilesh and Jai for cooking up the Farhan character, who is like the male representation of the millions of heroines we have seen in our male-driven star vehicles. He comes in to say an encouraging word or two. He appears in a song or two. He has a couple of friends who are more inconsequential than him despite lurking around the film for almost its entire runtime. Despite being a culinary student himself, we never see him do anything apart from being around Annapoorani. He disappears for most of the runtime and appears conveniently as and when needed. All of this felt like so meta a commentary that I’d be surprised if it wasn’t intended to be one. The ever-reliable Sathyaraj plays a mentor of sorts and gets a terrific callback to one of his all-time classics. Karthik Kumar, in his comeback role, plays his son, and Annapoorani’s primary adversary. He sinks his teeth into what little he is given, and tries his best, but is underserved by the increasing one-noteness of these portions, which has a surprisingly violent streak that isn’t explored enough.
For a film based on food, it is disappointing that Annapoorani doesn’t have those mouthwatering frames that make us hungry. The background score and songs by Thaman are too coercive and scream ‘empowerment’ a bit too vehemently. While I get what the makers were going for with the animated portions in the film, it didn’t come across, and it was as distracting as the increased use of the green screen in many scenes. The biggest problem with Annapoorani is the good ideas not getting past the finish line. Should a chef have to eat meat to be a good chef? Should age-old traditions come in the way of one’s dreams? Is it okay to be selfish about one’s aspirations? Does passion have just one path to fulfillment? Annapoorani cooks up answers for all this and much more, but to use a line from the film itself, it ends up making us say… “Nalla irukku… but semmaya illa.”