Directors: Jay K (Savithri), Venu (Rachiyamma), Aashiq Abu (Rani)
Writers: Santhosh Echikkanam (Savithri), Venu (Rachiyamma), Unni R (Rani)
Cast: Parvathy Thiruvothu, Asif Ali, Joju George, Samyuktha Menon, Roshan Mathew, Darshana Rajendran, Indrajith Sukumaran
The theme of Aanum Pennum is that women are stronger than men. At least, she is more decisive, less hesitant, and loyal in love. It’s set in three different time periods: the first one just after independence, the second one is somewhere between the 50’s and the 60’s, and the third one is set in the modern day.
The first chapter is Savithri, directed by Jay K (all three films are titled with a female name, incidentally). The key layer of this subject is the reference to Mahabharata in a Kathakali performance: Bheema killed Keechaka who coveted his maid, Draupadi, while they were living incognito. Savithri (Samyuktha Menon) also faces a similar plight in a dominant caste household where she’s disguised as a maid. The burning house that she runs away from also draws a parallel to the wax house the Pandavas escape from. The dance teacher is a reflection of Arjuna and coincidentally, in the third story Rani, there’s a hilarious joke about Gandhari. There’s also the Satyavan-Savithri angle because the woman here is married to a cause (and not a man) and fights against death for it. While the narrative, taken as a whole, is fascinating, there’s no surprise in the way incidents unfold.
In Rachiyamma, there’s an elderly woman with a recently deceased husband who tells Kuttikrishnan (Asif Ali) that she wants to take control of the property. Asif Ali plays the Asif Ali we have seen many times. It was interesting to see Parvathy play Rachiyamma, a feisty, theatrical character speaking a mix of languages (with aTamilian dad and Kannadiga mother). Rachiyamma is loyal in love and the sentimentality in the end gives a bad taste in the mouth.
Rani, the third film is the real standout. If you take just the form, ignoring the content for a moment, the way the scenes are written with the dialogue and silence, the way the music kicks in on time and goes out, the unexpected twist with an elderly couple and a Biblical confusion that comes to haunt a man. Talking about the content of the anthology itself, it talks about women’s empowerment and finds a way to gently fold it into the narrative without holding out a placard. But still, it doesn’t feel like a film about something specific. It feels like snapshots pulled out of people’s lives, which is the toughest thing for a filmmaker to do. Rani, with a breathtaking ending, is the only film that worked in this anthology.