In the last shot of the brilliant short film Rani from the anthology Aanum Pennum, directed by Aashiq Abu and written by Unni R, we see an aanu (man) and a pennu (woman) in the folds of nature, confronting the nakedness forced on them, in polar-opposite ways. This mirrors the first-ever couple of aanu and pennu, Adam and Eve, who, after consuming the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, realise that they are stark naked. Nakedness, in both these stories, force the couples to be vulnerable, to ask questions, to test the strength of their love, to bring out the worst in each other and finally to see their partner and themselves with a new sense of clarity. Probably it is the vestigial wisdom from Adam that makes our present day aanu, played by a brilliant Roshan Mathew, ask his "thug" friend about possible serpents lurking in the forest that could play spoilsport to his personal Eden Garden.
What does it mean to love? Did Adam eat the forbidden apple, even though he knew very well it was trouble, out of love for Eve? Is that what made our present-day pennu, played by Darshana Rajendran with utmost finesse and ease, say yes to going on the trip, to bring the shawl that he so insisted upon, to go into the shrub and to ultimately make love even though she saw through his duplicity at each of these instances? Is that what love does to you? Is that why again and again smart, strong people stay in toxic and manipulative relationships, not because they don't see the toxicity but because they choose to love in spite of it? Or was she just playing her part, of the hard-to-get woman?
Rani asks all these questions through dialogues that inadvertently remind us of the exchanges we have had with our partners. "Do you love me or my body more?" she asks earnestly. This is probably the final test every man has to pass before having pre-marital sex in a conservative society. He does it tactfully, with the perfect dose of puppy eyes, guilt-tripping and poetic lines. And we smile, knowing that he is going to get laid. It makes use of succinct, cheeky conversations that tell us about the religious differences of the duo, their homes, her innocent plans for marriage, his constant worry about being caught, all while moving the story forward.
Rani has powerful shots by Shyju Khalid. The overhead shot through a canopy of leaves of them after sex, him looking away, distracted and worried about getting caught, and she looking at just him with adoration and the simple bliss of a person just enjoying the moment. The shot speaks oodles about them. The last shot of her walking away from a crying helpless him makes us think of what would happen to them after this. Was she walking away from the relationship for good? Or will she accept him again, when he fakes another genuine apology peppered with cute, poetic lines like we have seen him do a gazillion times? I want her do the former but I am pretty sure she'll do the latter. No, not because she doesn't know better, but because she is in love. Because she is like us. And even though we all speak and write about cutting away toxic relationships, when it comes to our loved ones we do ignore red flags, we do justify their toxicity as silly one-time mistakes. Maybe that's what love always has been. Maybe we are all doomed to feed each other forbidden apples, knowing fully well they are bad for us.