The opening shot of Njan Marykutty is that of someone writing a letter. We see fingers with long, pointed nails. We don't see the face, we only hear the voice reading out the letter. Jayasurya’s, but slightly different in modulation. The camera shows the back of a person leaving home. Leaving life itself, as Mathukutty. When Jayasurya finally turns to the camera - it's Marykutty we see, a smiling bold woman wearing a beautiful cotton sari, courtesy Saritha Jayasurya.
There is no back story. It is stated at the beginning - Marykutty has been trapped in the body of a man and wants to become a woman. The doctors are convinced; there is a surgery and Marykutty starts life once again at a childhood friend’s home, with the friend’s little daughter.
For a moment, it seems all too easy. There are so many hassles a trans person goes through to make this happen, to live life in the robes and body of a gender they desire. But then the director – Ranjith Sankar – has done his research, and the troubles in Marykutty’s life are only about to begin. As they probably would for any trans person who has decided to come out and live in a society which has highly restrictive norms.
There are the predictable ‘looks’ Marykutty gets, the ‘touches’ in buses, and the random hitting on, that most women and trans women face on the street. Marykutty reacts with irritation and anger, but it seems like she can never stop fighting.
Ranjith, who has also scripted the film, has not turned Marykutty into the trans woman stereotype we see in cinema with exaggerated movement and expression. Marykutty walks, runs in a natural fashion; she is athletic. She also does not use a singsong tone to speak. To a lawyer (Siddhartha Siva) who is highly infatuated with her, she explains her identity, demanding that he understands it.
However, Ranjith is careful not to reduce Marykutty to her gender identity alone. The film goes beyond this and does not lose sight of the character in establishing the gender politics. Marykutty is presented to us with every feeling, strength and weakness. And ambition.
And what is it that Marykutty wants to do? She wishes to join the police force because it is from the police that trans people face the most harassment, she says. A good portion of the film covers her run-ins with a policeman, played by Joju George. The helplessness is all too real, especially when her family wants to distance themselves from her while all she wants to do is impress them.
However, this is not a plot written to draw sympathy. Jayasurya does not exaggerate emotions. He appears to do it effortlessly, but that only shows the work that has gone in behind the camera, perhaps for months, learning, unlearning, and learning all over again.
Despite the many positives in the script and execution, it needs to be said that Ranjith could have gone a step ahead and cast a transgender person in the role of Marykutty. Once upon a time, men played the roles of women characters on stage because women weren’t allowed to act. A man playing a trans woman is just as sad, especially when trans actors do not get the opportunity to play lead roles.
Nevertheless, Jayasurya has definitely pulled a career best here. Ranjith has also made a wise choice in casting Jewel Mary as the friend. She’s done the small bits of conversation all too well, the everyday lines between friends flowing with ease.
Joju, as always, excels in villainous roles as he does in comedy. Only Suraj Venjaramoodu, who usually pulls off his serious characters convincingly, has not quite worked as the helpful district collector. The polished talk doesn't work. The ‘aanum pennum kettavar’ (people who are neither male nor female) insult that Suraj uses seems jarring. It is fine when Joju’s character says it - he is the bad cop, after all. But when Suraj, the good collector, uses it, one feels disappointed.
Quibbles apart, Njan Marykutty deserves appreciation. The film will definitely convey a lot to many unaware viewers, and perhaps even help remove the myths and prejudices about transgender people to an extent. For that, Ranjith deserves a pat. Jayasurya, two pats.
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.