Amal Neerad who started off his filmy career as a cinematographer in Hindi Cinema, moved to Malayalam Cinema when he turned filmmaker with Big B. Subsequently he went on to make films like Sagar Alias Jacky Reloaded, Anwar and Bachelor Party. There were certain aspects common to all these films notably- an ensemble cast led by a big actor in the lead, emphasis on style quotient and also vivid inspiration from foreign films (Big B, Sagar Alias Jacky and Bachelor Party). Amal turned producer as well with Bachelor Party last year, a move which worked commercially but also earned him a lot of brickbats as the film was shot down by many for being a copy of Johnnie To’s Hong Kong film, Exiled (2006). Considering all this it was a pleasant surprise to see Amal Neerad change tactics with his next film, Anchu Sundarikal (5 beautiful women) which released recently.
Anthology films suddenly seem to be in vogue and we have already seen Bombay Talkies in Hindi earlier this well. Malayalam Cinema has already seen anthology films earlier like Chitramela (1967) and Kerala Café (2009) and now Anchu Sundarikal is a welcome addition to the list. While anthology films like Vedam (Telugu- 2010) or Yuva (2004) feature the various segments/stories getting connected at some level, we also have films like Dus Kahaniyaan and Bombay Talkies which are nothing but a collection of multiple short films. Anchu Sundarikal is another such film which comprises of 5 short films, each one made by a separate filmmaker, with their own set of cast and crew. What made Anchu Sundarikal special was the fact all 5 segments/short films were a celebration of women in their own way. The filmmakers apart from Amal Neerad himself included Anwar Rasheed, Aashiq Abu, Sameer Thahir and Shyju Khalid. On watching the film it’s a real surprise that Amal Neerad has changed tracks for the better. The film is an excellent example of collaborative filmmaking, but more on that later.
Let’s first take a look at each one of the individual short films.
Sethulakshmi: Cinematographer Shyju Khalid turns filmmaker for the first time with this short film which is an adaptation of M.Mukundan’s short story, Photo. This short film is not just the opening segment of the film, but it also serves as the preamble and sets up the mood for the rest of the film. Written by Shyam Pushkar and Muneer Ali, the film is all about 2 school kids, Sethulakshmi (Baby Anika) and her friend (Master Chethan). Both the kids are hailing from typically lower middle class families in a semi-rural area. Sethulakshmi has a hobby of maintaining an album with photographs of newly married couples, taken from newspapers. One day both the kids decide to go to a studio in the nearby town and get their pictures clicked. Little do they realize that this decision would alter their fate in an unexpected manner. For his maiden attempt at filmmaking Shyju Khalid has chosen a wonderful subject and handled it in a very delicate manner. Child abuse is a tricky area to handle and thankfully the film tackles it with maturity. Both the kids are extremely natural and Guru Somasundaram (of Aaranya Kaandam fame) as the photographer fits in very well too. Sethulakshmi is a great start to the film.
Esha: Written by Siddharth Bharathan, Esha is directed by Sameer Thahir and the film focuses on 2 strangers (Isha Sharvani and Nivin Pauly) who meet under strange circumstances in a house on New Year’s Day with the same objective. After a good start in the form of Sethulakshmi one expects the mood to be maintained but sadly Esha is a let-down of sorts as the film is a little extravagant in nature and there’s hardly anything happening for most part of the short film, save the climax which kind of provides some salvation. Shyju Khalid, the director of Sethulakshmi is the DOP of Esha in true collaborative spirit.
Gowri: While Amal Neerad and the others wanted Rajeev Ravi to direct a segment, he could not do so due to shortage of time. However that did not prevent Rajeev from being the cinematographer on board Gowri, directed by Aashiq Abu and based on a story written by Amal Neerad (screenplay by Abhilash Kumar).Gowri (Kavya Madhavan) and Jonathan Antony (Biju Menon) have had a love marriage by going against their families and settle in a hill station. Jonathan is an avid trekker while Gowri teaches dance to children. On their 3rd wedding anniversary an unexpected turn of events turns things around for them. The only short film out of the 5 which has a supernatural element to it, you keep expecting something drastic to happen, but somehow the proceedings do not hook you the way it ideally should. Kavya and Biju are just about ok and so are Tini Tom and Rimy Tomy as the couple who are friends with Gowri and Jonathan. But it’s good to see Jayasurya in what’s virtually a blink and miss cameo, something that reinforces the camaraderie which went into the making of the film.
Kullante Bharya: Just as you wonder during the interval as to whether the 2nd half of the film would pick up tempo, things start looking better with Amal Neerad’s Kullante Bharya. Based on on a Chinese story, The Tall Woman and Her Short Husband by Feng Jica suitably adapted by Unni.R, the film is completely set in a residential complex where there are various characters with their own idiosyncrasies. A newly-wed couple move into the complex and the husband (Jinu Ben) is shorter than the wife (Reenu Mathews). The neighbours get a chance to gossip about them but the couple live along merrily in their own world. Just when things look to be going their way with them expecting a child, fate appears to go against them. The entire tale unfolds from the view-point of a person (Dulquer Salman) who is confined to a wheel chair as he’s recuperating after an accident. Dulquer also serves as the narrator for the story and does a neat job of the same. While none of the actors per se stand out, collectively this is a short film which connects in a big way. Kullante Bharya is nothing like what Amal Neerad has done in the past. This is not something which rides on style quotient; instead it’s the human element which lends the film the triumph.
Aami: Anwar Rasheed is a contemporary of Amal Neerad and both are fellow alumnus of SRFTII. Anwar Rasheed made his mark early on with larger than life films like Rajamanikyam, Chotta Mumbai and Annan Thambi before changing tracks with the segment Bridge in Kerala Café and Ustad Hotel, one of last year’s best Malayalam films. Aami is another reminder of the fact that Anwar Rasheed has indeed changed tracks for the better. Written by Hashir Muhammed, the short film is all about a businessman Ajmal (Fahadh Faasil)’s journey from Malappuram to Kochi one late evening/night, to close a business deal. In the process he meets the middle man who tries to help with the deal, the actual ‘party’, his ex-girlfriend and during all this he keeps getting calls from his angry ‘money bag’, an Arab in the Gulf. What keeps the journey interesting and enables Fahadh to remain on his toes is the constant banter over the phone with his wife Aami (Asmita Sood) who keeps asking him riddles to solve. A very cute little tale, Aami is an excellent complement to Kullante Bharya and is a worthy end to the film. Fahadh Faasil is at ease as the harried Ajmal out to close to the deal and Asmita Sood is more heard than seen. Honey Rose (as Ajmal’s ex-girlfriend) and Vinayakan as the party who refuses the deal are competent too. Amal Neerad incidentally is the DOP of this short film.
The film overall sees a lot of positives. Shyju Khalid in his very first attempt at filmmaking chooses a good story and delivers it well. Amal Neerad completely changes tracks with his segment Kullante Bharya, and stays clear of the elements he is usually associated with. Anwar Rasheed continues to impress with his renewed passion for leaving his comfort zone and making films of substance. There is a lot of bonhomie that has gone into the making of this movie and that’s the only reason how a film like this could get made on a near start to finish mode in rapid time. The production values of the film are uniformly good and in line with the demands and nature of each of the short films. And the film has worked by & large thanks to Amal Neerad rallying his way around people and also thanks to everyone who has seen the importance of being associated with a film like this in every sense.
Anchu Sundarikal is no outstanding film and may not even end up as the best Malayalam film of the year. But 3 of the 5 short films under it score in a big way and help you overcome the disappointment of the other 2. It’s also a good way to look at how to make collaborative cinema work. All in all this is an anthology film which has its heart at the right place.
Note- This review was originally meant to be written during the week of release but got delayed due to unfortunate reasons. The film incidentally is still running in theatres in Kerala. Do try to give the film a shot, depending on the opportunity available to you.