Cast: Akshara Haasan, Usha Uthup, Anjana Jayaprakash
Director: Raja Ramamurthy
Call it Achcham Madam Naanum Payirppu’s inherent quirk or a critic’s obsession to find meanings, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in studying the way this film uses its colours (Shreya Dev Dube has shot it). Set in one of the many residential streets that mark conservative Chennai, we first meet Pavithra (a goofy and very likeable Akshara Haasan) when she’s waking up under her green blanket in what’s predominantly a red-coloured bedroom. Green generally seems to be her favourite colour for her clothes too and there’s always a contrast between her and the moodier reds and maroons of her house. In a film that’s about a young woman deciding whether she should go ahead with a major life event that’s also a rite of passage, it gives her conflict a visual form, as though she’s stuck in a traffic signal, not sure to go forward or just stay where she is.
It’s not just the visuals that are marking this phase of her life. When she’s up, the background score that represents her mood is a mix of jazz and the blues, but when she steps into her reality we notice how the jazz stops abruptly, only to be replaced by the Carnatic music that’s a constant in her house. She is the third in line in what appears to be a family of celebrated Carnatic singers—the sort that takes singing lessons on Zoom to train NRI teenagers with an accent problem. But even here, we see the silent struggles of an introvert who cannot (or does not want to) sing like her grandmother.
This gives her love for fried fish the spirit of a secret rebellion, with each bite giving her a sense of empowerment. But the major life event that’s deciding Pavithra’s immediate future is another kind of “non-veg”. Her cricketer boyfriend may have a groin issue but they’re at the stage of their relationship where they want to take things to the next stage. But is Pavithra ready for her first time?
The rest of the film’s a non-judgemental take on how a woman from the upper-middle-class navigate the many questions that pop up during this formative period, but the tone is always gentle and light. There’s a lot of merit in this because it’s hardly the same tone one gets to see when the film’s from a male’s point of view of the same event. So when Pavithra goes to her local grocery shop to buy her first condom (her best friend and adviser is named ‘Rathi’), the shopkeeper calls her ‘paapa’ and reminds us of how she’s grown up eating the lollipops he’s given her. It’s a hilarious scene that becomes even funnier because everyone has a shopkeeper like him in their life. It’s the same irreverence that lifts a later scene that’s essentially a gender-reversed version of the iconic waxing scene from the 40-Year-Old Virgin. But this reversal works so well in Pavithra’s context that the jokes just write themselves.
It’s scenes like these that lift an otherwise basic screenplay. Structured in the form of her routine set across three days, we see each micro event repeat three times before a resolution is arrived at. But when the film’s filled with pregnant pauses and empty silences, you feel its editing philosophy was best suited for the more dramatic moments rather than in the light comedic bits. Which means that even though it is just 80-minutes, we feel the long single takes lasting longer than it should. And because the film covers an event through a short timeline, one feels a lot more could have been done to lodge us even deeper into Pavithra’s crisis and the punishment we put ourselves through during such a period.
And when the film merges its sex positive philosophy with Pavithra’s arc towards finding her own voice (both metaphorical and otherwise), Achcham Madam Naanum Payirppu evolves into a mini rebellion that’s a lot like sneaking out of a vegetarian household to devour a piece of fish fry.