From the tantalising emotional thriller that was Kaanekkaane (2021) to the laugh riot Thinkalazhcha Nischayam (2021), the mindbending Churuli (2021), the heartwarming Madhuram (2021) and finally the spine-tingling Bhoothakaalam (2022), SonyLiv has maintained a stunning 100% hit rate with Malayalam so far and continues on the same vein with the incredible anthology Freedom Fight.
A project spearheaded by visionary director Jeo Baby, who gave us the Best Malayalam Film of 2021 in The Great Indian Kitchen, Freedom Fight encapsulates five hard-hitting stories of people fighting for their own personal freedoms in an apathetic world. While Malayalam anthologies in the past have offered up some stunning cinematic moments, other than the maestro Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Naalu Pennungal (2007), none of them have managed to impress with every single one of their distinct segments. It is here that Freedom Fight breaks the norm, delivering five stellar shorts that resonate with you, each in their own different way.
Akhil Anilkumar's Geetha Unchained features a terrific Rajisha Vijayan as a quintessential young IT employee, struggling with relationships and troubled men who she can't seem to quite figure out. Often denied the freedom of choosing whom to love and weighed down by the weight of society's expectations, it is an oft-repeated story of a young girl breaking free, that is, however, told in a very different, quirky and wacky manner. Using rich montages and meta-references, we get more insight into the protagonist's trials and tribulations and almost get to feel her pain and suffering up close. A terrific short, accentuated by splendid supporting performances from Renjit Shekar and Sminu Sijo.
Kunjila Mascillamani's Asankhadithar is perhaps the closest short in the anthology to The Great Indian Kitchen, covering the sensitive issue of the lack of women's bathrooms in the unorganised retail sector. Not only does the young director cover the social issue with grace and nuance but she combines experienced performers like Srindaa with a bunch of salt-of-the-earth amateurs and actual social workers to lend the story more credibility and realism. The narrative never shies away from showing us the harsh reality of what these women go through on a daily basis and the sheer misogyny that stands in the way of finding a permanent solution to this issue.
Fracies Louis' Ration delivers its social message in the most realistic and authentic of ways, by showing the disparity between a rich and a poor household, much like Bong Joon-Ho's Oscar-winning Parasite (2019). To add insult to injury, the poor in this instance is plagued by a false sense of pride which gets them into trouble after they are asked to hold onto a piece of frozen fish that the rich family want to use for an upcoming feast. Kabani shines as the misguided yet prideful homemaker out to defend her family's 'honour', while Jeo Baby provides able support as the quarrelsome husband.
The fourth segment Old Age Home, directed by Jeo Baby is purely performance-driven and hits home thanks to incredible displays by National-Award winner Joju George and veteran actress Rohini. Depicting an elderly gentleman's slow descent into dementia, Joju portrays the character with immaculate ease and perfection, making us feel every dilemma and stress point, often with just his eyes. Rohini makes a splendid foil, playing the role of his home nurse, who takes to him after the rest of the family starts to pretend like he doesn't exist. An understated yet powerful take on the vagaries of old age and how even family cant be taken for granted to care for you in times of distress.
The anthology saves its best segment for last with the resounding Pra Thoo Mu by Jithin Issac Thomas which soars, thanks to powerful performances from Unni Lalu and Sidharth Siva. A telling tale of class struggle and the ruling elite bullying their blue-collar workers, the director packs so much punch into the short 20-minute narrative that you are left disturbed and reeling from the tumultuous ways the events of the story unfold before you. Watch out for the sensational adrenaline-pumping song 'Lakshmana' with incredibly meaningful lyrics penned by the director himself, elevated by the tunes provided by Arun Vijay.
Freedom Fight is the best anthology Malayalam has made since "Naalu Pennungal" (2007) and "Kerala Café" (2009), and perhaps even stands a peg above these classics, getting every one of the five shorts spot on in terms of lingering impact, providing thought-provoking commentary and satire on some problematic social evils that deserve to get more attention. Ultimately, what use is cinema if it can't get us thinking and talking about what ails the society we all live in?