Breaking off bits from the laddu in her hands, little Anshiya feeds the fish in the village pond with her friends. For some reason, she is fascinated by the fish pond. Every afternoon after school she rushes off to it, leaving her hijab aside. Back at home, she recites names of the fish and asks her mother to come along one day. She seems undeterred despite being repeatedly told off for roaming around and loosening her hijab. As Athiru, the short film, tells her story, it seems inevitable that something will stop her childhood jaunts. Something almost does, but Anshiya mutters as the end credits roll, “You don’t need to do anything else for me, just come with me to the fish pond.”
“Athiru” means boundary in Malayalam. Fazil Razak, its director, says he had no intention to make a film on limitations on girls. He only wants to tell a story. “This is something that happened to a girl I knew when we were children. She roamed around to go fishing, didn’t wear her hijab or listen to the elders, and one day, was punished for it.”
[Spoiler alert] The punishment comes in the form of the little girl getting her head shaven. All through the film you’ve seen her running around the fields with her long strands let loose, or adorned with pretty clips. Only moments before her infuriated father takes her to the salon, she was singing in front of the mirror, flipping her hair.
Pleasantly, the women in the family don’t seem to mind her shenanigans. They seem to enjoy her carefree ways, muttering fondly, “This girl!” Only the patriarch in the family is angry, especially after an evening the girl goes missing for a while. It turns out she had only fallen asleep by the pond, but it gave the family and the whole village a scare and something to talk about.
Watch: Trailer of Athiru
“We were inspired to make this film after we attended the International Documentary and Short Film Festival (IDSFFK) in 2019, with a couple of entries in the campus film category. We watched other serious films and wanted to make good films,” says Fazil. He and the others in the team did not have a background in film studies. They are students of the UC College in Aluva, learning arts and science.
When he told his friends about this incident that happened to his childhood pal, they were keen to make a film out of it. “I was like one of the boys you see in the film towards the end, teasing her about her shaven head, calling her “mottachi.” I didn’t know any better then.”
But the film’s protagonist Anshiya is not dispirited by such jibes. She lays down, staring at the sky with a friend, and just when you think she might turn glum and change her ways, Anshiya says that line about going to the fish pond.
Team behind Athiru
Interestingly, Fazil has entered two films in the just concluded edition of the IDSFFK 2021. Athiru was one, Pira was the other. Pira is a sort of sequel to Athiru, though it can be watched independently. “We put little Anshiya’s story in the background. This is the story of the older Anshiya, a girl of 17, who has just finished school and wants to go to college, but her father is trying to get her married off.”
It sounds terrible, the kind of situation girls find themselves trapped in, in many households across the country. Beautifully though, the film shows a really calm Anshiya, who has planned her escape, her emancipation. It doesn’t take many lucky coincidences except one – the guy who comes to see her to marry her is a nice one. He understands her, even admires her openly as she reveals her plan. The coziness of the film comes from its quietness, from it not making a hue and cry about it.
"If the first film began happily and ended on a sad note, the second is the opposite," says the director.
Fazil set both of his films in his hometown Pattambi. And Pattambi, as seen through the lens of Mridul S, the cinematographer, is a beautiful place. “All the actors are from there; most knew each other so they were very comfortable.”
Nandita Das and Aparna are both unforgettable as the younger and older versions of Anshiya, respectively.