A subtle gender role reversal has been effected in the films of this anthology, by three brilliant directors – Jay K, Aashiq Abu and Venu.

Collage of three pics left and right ones showing a man and woman close to each other middle one showing one woman looking sideways
Flix Review Saturday, March 27, 2021 - 18:28
Worth a watch

Although the movie is titled Aanum Pennum – Male and Female – you tend to remember more of the Pennu in it. All three films of this anthology have equal participation of man and woman in its neatly woven tales. If you look carefully, it is not that there is more of the woman than the man. It is that a subtle gender role reversal has been effected in the films, by three brilliant directors – Jay K, Aashiq Abu and Venu.

The anthology begins with Savithri, Jay K’s contribution. Samyuktha Menon plays Savithri, a Communist on the run, in mid 20th century Kerala. The next is Venu’s segment – Rachiyamma, played by the versatile Parvathy Thiruvothu. Finally there is Aashiq Abu’s Rani, which has Darshana Rajendran proving she has so much of unexplored talent in her.

Both Savithri and Rachiyamma are set in early periods. The main events in Savithri happen mostly in the night; fire and night lamps adding to the mood of resistance in the air. Samyuktha is beautifully subtle. She does not display a show of strength or preach in length. Her lines are short and speech itself is seldom. You get to know Savithri through the many minute expressions that flicker through her face. It gives you the confidence that she can get out of the troubles at hand.

And troubles are many. Circumstances have put her in the role of a domestic worker. Joju George plays a ruthless landlord openly giving her dirty looks in the presence of his wife who looks away. It is the stereotype of a dominant caste family, the matron of the house telling stories to the grandchildren, the women unaware or pretending to be so of the affairs of the men. Communism is a threat they all fear. "Earlier, many domestic workers used to come, now nobody wants to, with Communism," a woman in the house complains.

You see the gentle role reversals without really noticing it take place. A young man who comes home for vacation is guided by Savithri in the night when he has to go take a bath at the pond. He shrieks thinking he saw a snake and there’s scorn on Savithri’s face. That you don’t notice Savithri being the braver one in the darkness only shows how well her character has been built in the short sequence. Even with the presence of the young man, Joju George and a short appearance by Indrajith, it is Samyuktha’s face, clouded by many thoughts, that you remember the film by.

Watch: Trailer of Aanum Pennum

In Rachiyamma, the tone mellows down. In place of the dark colourless frames, everything turns colourful. Venu, known for his magic on the camera, finds beautiful spots to tell Rachiyamma’s story. Parvathy obviously had to work a lot to be Rachiyamma – she has to play a Mysore woman who grew up learning Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada. Her voice appears louder when it comes out as a mix of many accents. Asif Ali plays Kutti Krishnan, who gets a new job at the tea company in the high range. Rachiyamma comes knocking to sell milk. She wears colourful saris, laughs loudly, minces no words and has a simpleton’s solutions to every problem.

You wait for love to bloom, for the rocks and the mountains are set like a stage for romance. In cue, you find Kutti Krishnan sleeping on two rocks arranged by nature like a cradle, the sun on his face. Rachiyamma appears like a protector by his side, and Kutti Krishnan, like a child waiting to be rescued.

Asif Ali appears comfortable playing Kutti Krishnan, his mustache trimmed to a line, all Prem Nazir-like. His growth as an actor can be observed just by the way he settles quietly into the character, without letting too much attention fall on him, and letting Rachiyamma take the upper hand. At times though the loudness of her character appears to stick out. The laughter appears more scripted than in character. But you’ve got to bow before Rachiyamma and her strange ways of life. She does not stop dressing up or change her ways when she suffers pain. She has her reasons for doing what she does, and this she does, without listening to anyone else.

Rani goes a step further. Making-wise, this is perhaps the best of the three. Dialogues are nice and easy between the man (Roshan Mathew) and the woman (Darshana) – both unnamed college students, very much in love. In the beginning, it seems the stereotypical story of man wanting to be more physical. But as it proceeds, you observe how he is easily the weaker one of the two. He is afraid to express his feelings in public while she asks him why not hug and kiss her wherever they are. He insists on going to a secluded place. To be fair, his reasons are very familiar in present-day Kerala, and therefore very relatable. People will see, family will know, and you know how the people in our place are like – he says. He does not spell it out – moral policing.

The film, however, is not going into those terrains. It is simply a beautiful expression of love and the revelation of character. She is the unafraid one, he is the weepy one. If you find that disturbing, you have to question your prejudices. If it had been the other way around – which it had been represented as for ages – and you simply bought it, then you may be the biased one. Darshana is so good as the more playful daring one of the two, you’d find it hard to believe she’s the one who played the tragic heroine in the recent movie C U Soon. Roshan too has such a lot of transformation from the slogan-shouting rebel in Varthamanam to being the scaredy-cat of a lover in Rani. But like in the other two segments it is the woman that walks away with the film.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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