Aami (2018) Malayalam Movie Review – Veeyen


Kamal’s ‘Aami’ falls short of the requisites of an elegant biopic by a mile, and plays along like an unimaginatively scripted radio show, never really drawing you in, and never really letting you leave either. There is little of that captivating life that had enamored us here, or even less of the angst and authenticity of the woman who had chosen to live and love on her own inimitable terms.


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For the scores of viewers who have settled down on their seats to watch the life tale of their much adored woman writer unfurl on screen, it comes as a niggling surprise, that Kamal’s biopic on Madhavikutty, ‘Aami’, is self-confessedly a fictional account. What is perhaps even more deplorable is the fact that it is selectively fictional, conveniently switching between the life that perhaps the most controversial of all Malayalam writers lived, and the one that the filmmaker opportunely envisages she did.

This is also the reason why ‘Aami’ would best be remembered as a cinematic compromise, where a film maker, apparently fuddled at the prospects of a realistic portrayal of a woman who was without doubt, way ahead of her times, settles for a severely toned down account of her life, and probably surmising that his edition might hardly do justice to his subject, brandishes that it’s all about cinematic liberty and little else.

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It’s in 1939 at Punnayurkulam during the summer vacations that a young Aami (Angelina Abraham) realizes that she holds this green land close to her heart, and reluctantly goes back to Calcutta as the vacation draws to a close. Kamal’s film chronicles the writer’s life thereafter, as she grows into a doe eyed teenager (Neelanjana) who discovers her first love in a painting tutor who bids her a hasty farewell, gets married to a man who is twenty years her senior, and discovers love, or perhaps the weighty absence of it, through the course of an eventful life.

But it’s back to the Neermathalam tree and the bits and pieces of a blue sky that one gets to see through gaps of its foliage that Kamal brings ‘Aami’ to, time and again. The camera remains as if fixated with the large petalled flowers that keep falling down, and everything else, including the much adored writer’s turbulent, yet emphatic journey across a cultural terrain that watched her sashay down it with wonder, is lost as if in a haze.

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The non-linear timeline that the film adopts keeps flitting between Bombay and Calcutta where Madhavikutty has astral visions of the Lord Krishna (Tovino Thomas) on window sills and crowded streets; where she hushedly asks him if he could forever be her lover. It is also at this point, about half an hour into the film that you can certainly foresee that final scene where Krishna would hold Kamala Suraiyya in his arms, and assure her that it’s all one and the same.

Madhava Das (Murali Gopy), the man whom Madhavikutty gets married to, is as much a mystery as his wife, who deploys a sex worker to teach her the basic lessons on seduction. Later, Madhavikutty realizes that Das has been having a clandestine affair with a young man, a relationship that he soon brazenly starts flaunting before her. He is also the man who later admits to having lived his life with a woman who barely had any resemblance to the writer that she was, and the one who proclaims that post-retirement, he would like to be remembered as his wife’s caretaker more than anything else.

After Das had passed away, Kamala takes a liking to a man who sits at her feet and sings Ghazals to her. Akbar Ali (Anoop Menon), a handily illusory character that Kamal sketches out in fuzzy strokes, points at the morning star that has just emerged on the night sky, and whispers that it could possibly be her new name.Akbar leaves, almost as abruptly as he had appeared and Suraiyya sighs resignedly that he probably was nothing more than a breeze that blew across for a short while, leaving behind a few ripples on the waters.

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There is the politics of conciliation that Kamal so subtly works out towards the very end of his film, after Madhavikutty embraces Islam. Kamal does a balancing act here, and points his barbs with utmost care, scratching here and there, but never deep enough to leave a gash or a bruise. In the process he also attenuates the reasons behind the most important decision in her life to convert to Isalm, thereby raising a question as to how appropriate it would be to creatively construe a life that has indeed been truly lived.

‘Aami’ sticks to the conventionalities of a biopic and robs its unconventional protagonist of all the distinctiveness that renders her personality incomparable. There is a clumsiness to it that is perceptible through out, and not just on the highly conspicuous occasions as when an English tutor with a fake accent pays a visit, or when a frail looking pen friend who loves to swim in the sea drops by, all the way across from Europe.

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The varying degrees of efforts that Manju Warrier puts into her role, to bring Madhavikutty into life are surprisingly uncharacteristic of the actor renowned for her natural act; the struggle is evident here and so is the noticeable lack of soul and there are instances galore, when the character easily slips away through her fingers, leaving behind only the reverberations of the halted, simulated laughter that escapes her awkwardly made up face.  In sharp contrast, the young actors Angelina Abraham and Neelanjana, who play the writer during her childhood and teenage, are starkly convincing, while Manju’s rendering of Madhavikutty is tonally confused,  never really capturing the sensitivity or vulnerability that made the writer the mystifying soul that she has always been.

The male folk in the film, are persuasive, be it the deep sounding, puzzle of the husband that Das is, etched to precision by Murali Gopy or Anoop Menon, appositely cast as the genteelly appealing Akbar Ali.  There is also Tovino as the Lord himself, clad in full sleeve shirts and white dhotis, flashing that charmer smile of his that brings an even otherwise inert scene to life. Bijibal’s musical score is enticing, M Jayachandran’s tunes mellifluous, and Taufiq Qureshi’s compositions poignant. Madhu Neelakantan’s frames are bewitchingly beautiful as well.

Kamal’s ‘Aami’ falls short of the requisites of an elegant biopic by a mile, and plays along like an unimaginatively scripted radio show, never really drawing you in, and never really letting you leave either. There is little of that captivating life that had enamored us here, or even less of the angst and authenticity of the woman who had chosen to live and love on her own inimitable terms.


Verdict: Disappointing


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