After a series of anthologies were made during the pandemic, and not all of them turned out well, you tend to look at a new one skeptically. Will just some of the short films work, or will all of them, you wonder. In the case of Freedom Fight, a Malayalam anthology put together by Jeo Baby, all of them do. Five films, each unique, tell straightforward stories, sprinkled with a little humour and a lot of emotion. They are enjoyable and they make you think.
One woman realises what a big mistake it will be if she went ahead and married her boyfriend of two years and backs out of it. Another woman gathers around females working in shops on a street in Kozhikode to raise the problem of toilet shortage. A third runs from pillar to post to replace the expensive fish belonging to her neighbour, after accidentally cooking it. A fourth sympathises with an old man who is fast losing his memory and yearns for sweets. A fifth watches in silence as a septic tank cleaner walks into her house leaving dirty footprints.
In order, these short films have been made by Akhil Anilkumar, Kunjila Mascillamani, Francies Louis, Jeo Baby and Jithin Issac Thomas. The films broadly fall under the theme of freedom.
Rajisha Vijayan, who has mastered the art of letting a story revolve around a female protagonist, becomes the woman who breaks off an engagement, and is forced to feel the shame it’s brought the family in Geethu Unchained. Rajisha as Geethu, lets her family and her workmates treat her poorly for her choices, while telling her side of the story to random strangers. Akhil Anilkumar keeps using this adorable tool to quickly let the viewer catch up with what’s been going on. Geethu appears to be on a guilt trip, uncomplainingly accepting all the new rules for her, but it is no sad story. Except for the abrupt ending and the trying-to-be-cute beginning, it is a humourous half an hour.
Kunjila’s segment plunges straight into the heart of the story – a bunch of women climbing gates in the night to build a toilet. It is a familiar story – the real life fight led by Viji, a tailor turned activist, to get toilet facilities for women working in a Kozhikode street. Titled Asanghadithar (The Unorganised), the film does not attempt to paint pictures of overly brave women spitting out lengthy words against their unjust employers. It simply points the camera at the very real lives of a few women, suffering without a toilet to use amid 10 to 12 hours of work. Srindaa is just wonderful in the film, you’d want to adopt her and take her home. She is sweet, innocent, speaks her mind, gets tongue-tied, shows her fear and never backs down. Simply because that is not an option for these women. Viji plays herself in the movie and smoothly fits into the plot, even adding to the humour that the film is rich with.
Watch: Trailer of Freedom Fight
In the third segment, Jeo Baby appears out of nowhere, handing out ration in a shop. It is not the one he’s directed but it’s just as good. Francies Louis, who was Jeo’s editor, directs the film titled Ration, effortlessly showing the stark difference between the rich and the poor without obvious enunciations. There are two neighbours, one so rich there isn’t enough space in her spacious fridge to hold all the ingredients for the night’s dinner, and the other poor enough to not have Rs 2,000 with her on a wretched afternoon. Kabani, playing Jeo’s wife, steals the show. She plays the average homemaker, shouting at the child keeping the house running, and having friendly conversations with the rich neighbour. Things go awry when the wrong fish is cooked and the rest of the film is full of visuals telling you the story – hands moving over a number of dishes laid out on a table, a ring, legs of men drinking together, and disturbed sleep. It’s short and beautiful.
Jeo Baby, presenter of the whole show, changes tack with his segment Old Age Home. He had addressed the basic problem of women’s freedom more than well in The Great Indian Kitchen. This time, he has chosen to tell an old man’s tale, played remarkably well by Joju George. Only, even with the makeup and the greying hair, his face gives away that he is not old enough to be the pensioner he plays. But Joju lets you forget all of it as he moves in slow steps, wearing a pair of shoes and tying up his mundu, asking around for more laddus and gilebis. He is suffering memory loss, speaks slowly, but still holds onto his sense of right and wrong. “Why won’t you let Dhanu go to temple,” he asks his wife when he thinks it was a wrong act. Dhanu is played by Rohini, so easily fitting into the role of a sensitive domestic worker. The easy camaraderie between the two is a treat to watch.
Finally, Jithin’s segment Pra. Thoo. Mu., one of the shortest of the lot, shows the everyday plight of septic tank cleaners by narrating a single day’s incident. Lakshmanan, one of the workers cleaning the tank of a wealthy minister’s house, loses his temper when a toilet is flushed and the dirty water gets sprayed on him. What happens afterward is where the story begins. The film is in black and white, perhaps to mark the difference between the classes of people, or else to hide the colours of human waste. But it draws attention to Lakshmanan’s story. Sidhartha Siva and Unni Lalu play the main roles. The film with a powerful message though falls short due to lack of conviction.
The film is streaming on SonyLIV.
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.