Director: Prince Joy
Writer: Naveen T. Manilal
Cast: Sunny Wayne, Gouri G. Kishan, Siddique, Indrans, Suraj Venjaramoodu
Anugraheethan Antony works because of how it depicts father-son conflict and death — two serious situations — in unusually comic ways. Antony, played by a hilarious Sunny Wayne, can’t get along with his widower father, Varghese (Siddique). But they’re also people who care about each other. When Antony drops out of engineering to get into art, Varghese supports him; and though Antony disobeys Varghese he doesn’t directly cross him. Their conflict is treated with lightness and specificity in their characterization makes them feel real. A film which is about what it means to be a soul after one’s death, drives home its points through characters (and ghosts) that feel very human.
For example, Varghese has a beautiful relationship with his dogs that keep him company after his wife’s passing away. And Antony, too, has dreams of his own as the owner of a now-defunct photo studio. But what makes the father-son relationship interesting is that we see bittersweet episodes from their life after we witness — right at the beginning of the film — Antony’s funeral. Just like how the father-son conflict is turned comic (and often, poignant) by writer Naveen T. Manilal, death in Anugraheethan Antony is not a cause for sorrow but an opportunity to reflect on life and to complete unfinished business.
The conceit that drives the film is that when a person dies he gets seven days on earth as a soul (or a ghost) before turning into another creature. And in these seven days, they get a chance to reassess their life, though they cannot modify events: they’re souls who can observe but not interact with the physical world. This abstract premise is made intuitive and immediately relatable through a superb cameo by Suraj Venjaramoodu as Antappan who introduces Antony (and the audience) to the afterlife. In a way, what Antappan goes through in his brief episode is also what Antony goes through in the film: a search for closure.
Antony is just coming to terms with being a soul when he meets Antappan, a fellow soul, senior to him in being dead by a few days. He introduces him to the idea of a seven day purgatory when it’s time for Antony to recollect his sins and try and make up for them. The way the two men discuss afterlife feels very similar to the way the living discuss life. In Suraj Venjaramoodu’s performance you can see the mixture of a newly-dead man’s hope for the well-being of his family and a dead man’s fatalism.
In a way, the film superbly ‘humanizes’ the ghost, especially in the scene when Antappan finds out whether his family finds a treasure he had hidden for them. The writing of Anugraheethan Antony shines in how it resurrects a dead man, Antony, with a lot of humour — and little pathos — and gives him a purpose he didn’t have while he lived. It’s a film that hopes to get you to reflect on your life through a thought experiment about the afterlife. And because we intuitively identify with Antony, the dead soul, heavy sentimentality and a generic romantic track that sometimes weigh down the second half don’t feel misplaced, even though they often feel extended or forced.
Director Prince Joy makes a point about how we could take a more constructive view of death, not as an end in itself, but by looking at it as a tool to assess life backwards from the end. Which is why the film begins with the death and funeral of Antony: the rest of it presented as nonlinear vignettes that gradually piece Antony together in our minds. Though the film becomes a generic feel-good drama near the end, it engages thanks to the characters in Antony’s world. And the film also gives one the curious experience of reviewing life from a dead man’s point of view.