In our country, when a man named Rasool falls in love with a woman named Anna, you know that you are in for a tragedy. Religion is an insurmountable wall. Like Romeo and Juliet, Anna and Rasool are star-crossed lovers, doomed from the day they meet.
Actually, it’s not so much a meeting as a seeing. It’s a night of festivities. Rasool’s friends have gotten into a fight. He doesn’t know exactly what is going down but he hides near a statue of Mother Mary. Anna approaches to light a candle Her face is bathed in the warm glow. Crouched on the floor, Rasool watches her hidden, unblinking, almost as though he can’t believe what he is seeing. He then gets up slowly, takes a step back and rests against the wall behind him. It is as if love has landed a physical blow.
Rasool is a taxi driver. Anna is a salesgirl in a sari showroom. The story is set against the backdrop of Fort Kochi and Vypin in Kerala and it takes place as much on land as in water. Rasool starts to follow Anna, taking the ferry she does to work. He doesn’t attempt to talk to her. He just basks in her presence. He even shows up at her workplace – she is modeling a wedding gown for her customer and he sees her as a bride. These passages have minimal dialogue. Anna and Rasool barely talk to each other. It’s stolen glances and silent acknowledgement of each other’s physical proximity.
This wooing is poetic and problematic. Rasool is a stalker. In one scene, he rummages through Anna’s handbag when she isn’t around and gets her phone number. He follows her all the way home, walking a few steps behind her in narrow, deserted lanes. In real life, Rasool would be frightening. Anna would have called the cops. But this is a stalker played by Fahadh Faasil so there is an inherent decency in his demeanour. His eyes betray his longing. His passion brims with sincerity. Anna, played by a nicely understated Andrea Jeremiah, is shy and hesitant. The first time they speak, she tells him that it won’t work. He says, ‘Is it my fault I am born a Muslim?’ Eventually, Anna allows herself to hope that there might be a happily ever after.
Annayum Rasoolum is the directorial debut of celebrated cinematographer Rajeev Ravi. Working from a screenplay by Santhosh Echikkanam, Ravi creates a story that throbs with romance but which also stays rooted in the hardship of working-class lives. Rasool’s brother Hyder, played by director Aashiq Abu, is desperate to go to the Middle East but he can’t find a way out of his daily grind. Andrea’s brother, Kunjumon played by Shane Nigam whom you will remember from Kumbalangi Nights, is a lout filled with rage. Andrea tells Rasool that she considered suicide before she met him. These characters are teetering at the edge of despair. There is frustration and violence simmering underneath. Which is what eventually derails the tenuous connection that Anna and Rasool make with each other.
In these hardscrabble circumstances, Ravi and his DOP Madhu Neelakandan create passages of overwhelming beauty. Water is a recurring motif through the film, which is narrated by Anna’s neighbor Ashley who works on a ship. Water provides escape and enchantment. It is as if the divisions, resentments and compromises get washed away. Also notice the use of curtains in the film – in several scenes, they add a touch of poetry. The soundtrack by K, which is peppered judiciously through the film, does the same.
Annayum Rasoolum is a slow burn. It plays out with a grim inevitability. We know this cannot end well. And yet those fleeting moments in which Anna and Rasool find happiness are enough to provide hope. Love loses but Ravi allows us to believe that it also uplifts and overcomes. Briefly, it makes ordinary lives sparkle. And that itself is a benediction.