By: By Moviebuzz
Critic's Rating: 3/5
Thursday 06 March 2008
Padmapriya, Nandita Das, Kavya Madhavan, Geetu Mohandas, Manju Pillai
The master story teller Adoor Gopalakrishnan is back with Naalu Pennungal, a brilliant piece of art. The film appeals as much to the mind, as to the heart. Adoor has based his film on four short stories by the noted writer Thakazhy Sivashankara Pillai.
It is centered on four different women from Kuttanad area , who comes from different walks of life, each have a story of their own. Adoor has blended it well as each story is an episode; a common thread binds them together. The four women are trapped in difficult situations, which are not their making. Each belongs to different strata of society where economic and social boundaries exist, as Adoor develops a thematic conflict that finds a resolution in all the stories.
In a way, Naalu Pennungal is a journey through the lives and minds of four women each an archetype, through Kuttanad between 1940 and 1960. It is a very strong pro- women movie, like all Adoor movies with powerful well defined women characters. The director himself grew up in a matriarchal Nair household, where women had a major role in running the family. So the influence can be seen in all Adoor movies where women make crucial decision and call the shots.
Adoor tells the stories with a thematic and chronological order as you can make out from the dress worn by women in Kuttanad in the 40's and 50's, Mundu or Kaili( by lower caste) with Roukka (a kind of loose blouse) in the first three episodes to Sari and modern blouse in the fourth story set in 60's. Adoor has a tremendous script sense and has paid minute attention to detail and the settings- costumes, houses, customs and the feel of that decade, which makes it authentic.
The first story he narrates is Oru Niyamalankanathinte Katha, how a commercial sex worker Kunjipennu (Padmapriya) decides to turn a new leaf by marrying Appukutty ( Sreejith Ravi), a headload worker. But society and one of her former client Ouseappachan (Manoj.K Jayan) still craves for her and falsely implicates the newly married couple who is imprisoned. The judge finds them legally not married and she is not able to stand up to legal scrutiny, as she is uneducated. Justice is denied to Kunjipennu, more due to her social standing and lack of basic knowledge. Padmapriya as the frank talking hooker is fantastic, stealing the show with her amazing candour.
The second short story is Kanyaka (The Virgin), about a paddy field labourer Kumari (Geetu Mohandas), who gets into an arranged marriage with Narayanan (Nandu), a shop- keeper and mama's boy who is interested in only watching films at the thatched theatre and a glutton! Kumari finds that he is not interested in consummating the marriage, and soon leaves her with her parents. And in a bid to hide his failures, he and his mother spreads canards about Kumari, still a virgin after her marriage. Geetu Mohandas as Kumari is excellent, so completely immersed in her character. The scene where as a young bride she gets passionate is so sensitively shot by Adoor. He shows her touching her husband's body with her hand, but the impotent guy (?) turns his back and says that he is tired and wants to sleep!
The third short film is Chinnu Amma (The Housewife). It is the story of a rich housewife Chinnu Amma (Manju Pillai), who after years of married life with her loving and caring husband,(Murali) still does not have any children. One day, a former classmate (Mukesh) for whom she had a crush turns up and enlightens her dull and drab life with his stories of sexual conquests. He tries to influence her by blaming her husband for all her woes and suggests that he can be the surrogate stud for her to have a child! But the strong womanly streak of being loyal to her husband and question of fidelity triumphs in the end. Manju Pillai is adequate for the role.
The final story is about the Nithyakanyaka (The Spinster), about an unmarried elder sister Kamakshi (Nandita Das).The guy(Ravi Vallathol) who comes to see her first sees her beautiful younger sister (Kavya Madhavan) and marries her, as her helpless mother K.P.A.C Lalitha requests her to make way. Finally her brother (Asokan) and the youngest (Remya Nambisan) in the family too get married and she ends up as unwanted and lonely after her mother's death. She finally decides to go back to her family house and live a solitary life. Nandita Das as Kamakshi is outstanding as she is able to bring out the intensity and emotional fragility of a helpless woman.
It is a casting coup that Adoor has been able to get the perfect actors for all the four stories. Hats off to M.J Radhakrishnan's camera which gives the film it's realistic look. He has matched the mood swings of the characters with the correct lighting and what lingers in your memory is the green moss of the backwaters and the paddy fields. It is very difficult to shoot a film based on a by-gone era and period feel of the 50's in today's "God's own country" Kuttanad clogged with plastic waste, houseboats, mobile towers and electricity posts as it is turning from being the once famed rice bowl to picture post card upmarket tourist destination! The crisp editing of Harikumar is another plus point in the 105 minutes film which moves at a rapid pace. Issac Thomas Kottukapally's soft background score is soothing.
For Adoor, Nallu Pennungal is a major triumph, and it is a film that connects with the audiences. There are subtle sentiments, humour, well etched characters with all human frailties and above all a well knit script. For connoisseurs of quality cinema, it's a must-see, must cherish experience.
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