Aami movie review: Manju Warrier, Tovino Thomas, Murali Gopy
Aami movie director: Kamal
Aami movie rating: 3 stars
Just last week, acclaimed writer Kamala Das’ celebrated but controversial memoir My Story was commemorated by Google with a doodle. My Story was first published in Malayalam as Ente Katha on February 1, 1973. National Award-winning director Kamal has been very smart in adopting Kamala’s memoir for the big screen as Aami. He has cherry-picked important chapters from My Story and episodes that transpired beyond her book for the film.
Kamal has staged most of Aami’s (Manju Warrier), as she is lovingly called by her family, teenage years in Calcutta at the window of her bungalow that oversees a busy street. It is through that window she watches her first love vanish, India celebrating independence and horrific violence of partition.
She grows into an adolescent fantasising about the type of life she wants to live and the kind of men, she wants to share her life with. It’s the only window where she is free to let her thoughts and fantasies to travel as far as her eyes can see.
Another important place in Kamala’s story is the Nalapat house, located in her native village in Thrissur. It is where her life-altering episodes unfold. From knowing the level of influence Gandhi wields on her native house, attaining puberty, being married off to a man who is 20 years older and the birth of her sons.
The film also sheds light on the life of young Kamala aka Madhavikutty who struggles to fit into a school, which is filled with white kids from English families. Her cutlery skills inspire a disgusted look from her father at the dining table. Her father tries very had to fit into the idea of high society created by his British neighbours in Calcutta. The parts where characters converse in Bengali, the audience (who don’t know the language and can’t read Malayalam subtitles) may feel lost. Especially, in the scene where Aami’s drawing teacher, who she is in love with, bids goodbye to her for good.
Kamal has been very loyal in trying to capture emotions that Aami conveyed through her words. For example, Aami’s rapidly changing relationship dynamics with her husband Das, effortlessly played by Murali Gopy. Kamala loves and hates Das, who introduced sex to her at the age of 15 when she was neither ready physically or physiologically. Das’ treatment of her just as an object of pleasure during her teenage years and throughout her 20s played an important role in shaping her perception of men. Despite being surrounded by her husband and three sons, Aami never met a man, who could take away her loneliness. The perfect men only existed in her imagination. Her imaginary friends also included Lord Krishna (Tovino Thomas).
Aami’s significant achievement will remain her memoir My Story that brought out the loneliness suffered by women during her times. People who have read her memoir will know many women in her family died a lonely death. Women were gradually sidelined once they served their purposes. They lose their value once their husbands passed away or their children and grandchildren don’t need them anymore. While many women did their time on earth without saying a word, Aami disrupted the status quo with her letters. Most men saw her work as salacious, while it struck a chord with women.
She was a victim of patriarchy, but she never stopped fighting against it. Her becoming Muslim during the final years of her life was also seemingly part of her struggle against the system that devalued a woman after passing of her husband.
Kamal has done a brilliant job in picking actors for the film. Especially, his choices of actors for playing Aami at different stages is the high point. The child actor, Neelanjana, who plays teenage Madhavikutty, and Manju Warrier, all have knocked the ball out of the park delivering endearing performances, which are totally in sync. It is, indeed, impressive to watch Manju play the role of a conflicted woman. Her conviction in the performance is what keeps our attention even when narration loses steam.