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Anju Sundarikal (Malayalam movie): A Review
A lot of experimentation is going on in Malayalam movies nowadays. It started with the advent of a crop of young filmmakers who are venturing boldly into areas seldom explored before, like female promiscuity, (Trivandrum Lodge), male homosexuality (Mumbai Police), etc.

This is a welcome trend because it brings new talent to the fore as well as new ideas and new perspectives. Anju Sundarikal seems to be a part of this trend. Though it is not as riveting as an earlier effort, Kerala Café, which also featured a mélange of offerings by various filmmakers, it is a good effort with a couple of sparkling gems.

Touted as an ‘anthology movie’ which deals with a common theme—in this case, the mindscape of a woman— Anju Sundarikal features five movies revolving around  eponymous  female characters named Sethulakshmi, Isha, gauri, Kullante Bharya, and Aami. However, in Kullante Bharya, the female heroine does not have a name.

Of the five movies, Sethulakshmi, directed by Shyju Khalid and based on a story by M. Mukundan a well-known Malayali writer, is by far the best. The central character is Sethulakshmi, a school-going girl of 8-10 years. It is a haunting portrayal of childhood innocence and vulnerability which leaves the viewers grieving long after the movie has ended. All over the world there are little girls like Sethulakshmi whose lives are blighted forever by the evil of child abuse. Anikha, the girl who plays the character turns in a spell-binding performance that would put even seasoned performers to shame.

The next is Isha by Sameer Thahir. Elegantly shot, the movie is a stylish rendition of an encounter between a girl and a handsome burglar. Isha  Sherwani excels as the girl who outwits the thief with her grace and chutzpah. The third is Gauri  by Aashiq Abu. Unfortunately, it disappoints, particularly as we have come to expect a certain quality from this particular filmmaker.

It is a bewildering story of a couple who have eloped and married. Gauri, a dancer, is a Hindu, and Jonathan, is a Christian. Like a stone thrown in a pond, a visit by their friends - a married couple - leaves disturbing ripples on the serene surface of their life. But the movie leaves us with a feeling of dissatisfaction and several unanswered questions. Is Jonathan bipolar or a sadist? Ambiguity as a cinematic device is good but only when it makes sense.

The fourth movie by Amal Neerad is a poignant story about a short man and his tall wife. Based on a Chinese story, it exposes the unthinking cruelty of mankind towards people who are different. In an obvious tribute to Hitchcock’s narrative device in his film, Rear Window, the film’s narrator is a young photographer who is confined to a wheelchair due to an accident. He amuses himself by spying on the lives of his neighbours with his high end camera. It is a scathing comment on an insular culture and society where people are judged solely on subjective perceptions of what constitutes normalcy.

The last is Aami by Anwar Rasheed. It is about a young businessman’s realization of what is truly meaningful in life. Fahad Faazil plays with characteristic aplomb the role of the realtor who is forced to engage in ‘raathri kachavadam’ or business at night with all kinds of unsavoury characters in order to land deals for his demanding ‘arbab’ or Arab boss. Day by day, Fahad grows in stature as an actor. Chameleon-like, he slips into roles as different as chalk is from cheese.

One has only to hark back to his performance in another recent movie, Amen, to realize this. But the pace of the film drags and the constant calls from Aami, his wife, pestering him to answer her riddles become annoying, at least to this viewer, after a certain point. It is Fahad’s movie all the way. Altogether, Anju Sundarikal is a commendable effort and whets our appetite for more such experiments in Malayalam movies.

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