Cast: Manju Warrier, Murali Gopy, Tovino Thomas, Anoop Menon
In the mid 20th century, French critic Roland Barthes proposed the ‘Death of the Author’ theory that argued against drawing any relation between an author and the writing, or interpreting a writer’s work based on his/her personal life. Barthes need not be familiar to all and sundry, unless it’s someone who sat for hours and hours listening to western literary criticism. Here is a movie, on an author, Kamala Surayya aka Madhavikutty, who lived and died in controversies, the embers of which are refusing to die down. She lived life on her own terms and maintained the same policy about her writings too, creating an assumption in the readers that her female characters and their thought processes were that of the author’s.
Aami, a fictional (as the director puts it) reel tale about the author hangs precariously on the borderline between the person and her imaginations. The first part has what she herself has introduced to us — the litterateurs’ family of Nalapatt, the unadulterated charm of Punnayurkulam, her childhood, early marriage, husband, kids, her eternal lover Lord Krishna, her emotional conflicts and all. The second half runs into a Kamala Das post widowhood, her finding a new love, assuming a different identity, faith and her life turning topsy-turvy.
The director has been generous in the early part of the writer’s life. And never misses out any opportunity to picture the loveless or emotionally bereft persons who set Kamala (Manju Warrier) on a never-ending quest for what was denied to her. Be it her husband Madhava Das (Murali Gopy) — 20 years older to her, the strict dad, and a mom lost in a world of letters. She craves for a man to fill the void and anchors herself on an imaginary Krishna (Tovino Thomas).
There has been so much of attention to the details of the yore, the Nalappat, Kolkata and Mumbai from the 1930s to 70s, all accentuated by Bijibal’s cleverly crafted background score. So are M. Jayachandran’s soulful music for the songs. The visuals are well-captured to go with the flow. The director’s dramatic license starts growing thinner and thinner as the movie enters its turbulent second half. The still disputed ‘man in her life’ draws too much resemblance to the alleged person discussed and debated post Kamala Surayya’s death.
If the ‘fictional’ take has so many real-life characters bear their actual names and profiles, this man, a scholar and orator well-versed in Urdu, is named Akbar Ali (Anoop Menon). He arrives as an ardent fan of the writer, breaks into her solitude, and finally seduces the woman double his age. By the time he leaves, she has got into the skin of Surayya. The daredevil woman is reduced to a hapless victim of circumstantial pressure, forced to live in fear, which seems half-told and half-untold. The climax looks as if done in a hurry, leaving questions unanswered. Anyone who has read her book ‘My Story’ would find it hard to fathom the layers of fiction she has used and no filmmaker may perhaps be able to do justice to that.
Manju Warrier has done justice to her job despite the heavy makeup and tonal mismatch going awry. Murali Gopy would, forever, be remembered as the face of Madhava Das.