After hearing so much about this 3-tier Malayalam anthology celebration women in three different eras, Aanum Pennum turned out to be a bit of a damp squib mainly because these stories want us to put a trio of feisty unstoppably valorous women on a pedestal when in fact they are shown making wrong choices in every story.
In Savithri directed by Jay K, which is set in post-Independence Kerala, Samyuktha Menon plays a Communist on the run who finds a hiding place in a feudal home where the women shout orders to the house help and men gaze lecherously at women who are not their wives. This story originally written by Santhosh is one of those shrill militant works of feminist fiction where the female protagonist stays rigorously rebellious till the end and uses her sexuality to fund her political ideology.
Samyuktha Menon in the title role is a tad too glamorous and a little too aware of the power that she has over the male libido. When she catches the paralyzed male patriarch leering at her chest, she mocks him with a gun in a sequence that’s borderline absurd. In the way, she seduces one man in the household where she works to stave off another’s amorous attention Savithri proves herself more a seductress than a schemer. Besides Joju George who is powerful as the privileged lecher, Savithri is crammed with ideas of female empowerment that remain unresolved, unsupported by the director’s command over his craft.
In the second story Rachiyamma, written and directed by Venu and based on a celebrated short story by Uroob, the title role is played by Parvathy Thiruvothu, known for her strong ideological articulations here she is reduced to a stereotype of a financially independent rural woman who chooses to remain single after the suitor (Asif Ali) suddenly leaves town. The reason for their separation is so flimsy (she warns him to be conscious of the consequences when he is about to kiss her) and their reunion so contrived I felt I was invited for a banquet and served a pizza crisp on top unbaked underneath.
Of course, since it is Parvathy Thiruvothu, she plays Rachiyamma with a feminist swagger. And since she plays a rural woman she laughs loudly and frequently. You see only rural women know how to express emotions without inhibition. In the end, when she declares she will leave all her savings for the daughter of the man who fled at the drop of a kiss, I felt Rachiyamma desperately needed to be told that there is no joy in sacrifice when unsupported by a true motive. But then who will bring up the ground reality with Parvathy Thiruvothu?
The third and silliest story Rani originally written by Unni R and directed by Ashiq Abu, the talented Roshan Mathew (who was unforgettable in the unforgettable Moothon) wants to make out with his girlfriend (Darshana Rajendran) asap. She is game. He is shy. She is amused. He is nervous. She is annoyed. He is apologetic…where is this going? What is it trying to say? Finally, an ageing man with a bedridden wife steals the young couple’s clothes while they are doing it. Mathew is inconsolable in his butt-naked predicament.
So are we, to be honest. I expected so much more from this acclaimed anthology. Lamentably, cinematographer-director Rajeev Ravi who helms the project seems to be in too much awe of the stories and their fables of female empowerment. Yes, the three women are empowered because they are financially or emotionally independent. They call the shots in all three stories. But their rejection of men who truly love them is not a victory for the women. It’s just plain whim. Aanum Pennum gets 2 and a half stars.
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