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MovieMazaa Review: Naalu Pennungal

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Nallu Pennungal
(Cross-posted at Movie Mazaa)

Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s tribute to Thakazhy Shivasankara Pillai – Naalu Pennungal (Four Women) – chronicles a journey of womanhood across assorted backdrops; a classic amalgamation of source matter and technique that splendidly spans frames and times.

Of the four disjoined narrations The Prostitute is by far the best; Kunju Pennu, the street hustler (Padmapriya) and Pappukutty (Sreejith Ravi) who falls in love with her find themselves caught up in an ironic violation of civil laws that blandly brands them as having crossed the fragile borders of morality that leisurely vanish as they cautiously approach. The Spinster oddly resembles a telefilm of the 80’s in feel and form as it truly belongs to an age that had long back made its exit. Kamakshi (Nandita Das) can only watch as her younger siblings are married off; the apathy and desperation in her stagnates after a while into a cold recognition that helps her regain what she had lost a few years back. The Housewife has Chinnu Amma (Manju Pillai) lamenting over her inabilty to bear childeren to a lusty visitor Nara Pillai (Mukesh) who puts forward the only solution of taking him to bed with her. Geethu Mohandas plays The Virgin married off to a man who has an obsession with food and little liking for anything else including his wife. Back home, she starts life afresh, the marriage having passed off as an unpleasant interlude that never really took off.

Even as the tales are as dissimilar as they possibly could be, a streak of parallels that runs through can be identified that invariably point to a quizzical analysis of passions that underlie a relationship. The sexual undertones are muffled and hushed and forever behind closed doors; doors are slammed on your face as the younger sister (Kavya Madhavan) of Kamakshi enters matrimony or when Chinnu Amma finds out to her delight as to why her husband has returned home early from work. Sexual deprival stains are splashed over the composed Virgin portrait while the Prostitute has moved beyond a world of haphazard sex into a singular scenario where warmth and the sense of togetherness offers a fulfillment that she has been hitherto unaccustomed to.

At times sluggish, plain and edging on the melodramatic Naalu Pennungal does display magnificent directorial skills compounded with some fierce acting by at least a couple of its lead performers. I would pick Padma Priya and Nandita Das out of the lot, the former for a real squall of a performance that throws together a gamut of emotions ranging from the absurd to the abandoned, and the latter for a fierce struggle that she puts up with a character that monstrously has intentions of slipping into a chestnut. Adoor’s film has no dearth of stars this time around vying for screen time, with a few of them real out of place, looking discomfited and quite ill at ease.

Adoor’s women remain engraved in conformist stones, never ever even marginally moving away from the firm frontiers that have been intricately drawn around them. There are indeed a few clichés that paradoxically stand the test of time, and in the transactional process across media, quite a few of them have managed to scurry across. More than one tale among the four thus suddenly assume the garb of a moralist fable and starts babbling about issues that had long lost purpose or worth.

It’s well worth pondering if there exists an association between the women than what appears on the peripheral level; perhaps there is, which makes the film appealing on three zones – a devout one that holds fast to assumptions of morality, a mutinous vein that confronts steadfast conventions and beliefs and a passive discernment that views it all with an unconcerned inquisitiveness of a spectator. As such it emerges triumphantly offering a few vaguely brilliant insights but nevertheless remains a movie with utterly no raison d’être for being.

(Photo courtesy: sify.com)

4 Comments

  1. For those who lament about lack of stories in Malayalam, this movie is a good pointer. Iam sure there are many gems in Malayalam literature which could be made into movies. I guess movie makers would rather stick to successful formula.

  2. Pingback: varnachitram » Blog Archive » Looking back at 2007

  3. the last 2 films by the maestro deal with slices of life from the past.
    a great director has all the freedom one can think of in choosing the time place and action.one disturbing aspect for me is how adoor chooses moments from time past for his ‘women-part 1 and part 2’.quite aware of the fact that the viewers must accept the logic of the director to some extent,i feel it is regressive for someone of his stature,given the sad plight of the conditions obtaining in our own times. i haven’t any sort of prerogative to write this way except as a conscientious viewer.yet one would look forward to adoor’s take on the present. at least in his next venture. g. balachandran

  4. i happened to watch adoor being interviewed on dd malayalam channel.in his observations on aravindan i heard adoor saying that he doesn’nt approve of the works of aravindan and for that matter none else except ray benegal,kasravalli.just right may be.but the reason he cited is that none except them have tried to understand the medium.he even ridiculed aravindan for taking earned leave to make films.in the same logic fassbinder,pasolini,polansky and others who led bohemian lives must be ruled out too?adoor seems to imply that only an elite few can make good films.in one of godard’s films he asks the lensman courtard,is there any regimented structure to make films..to which the all time great cinematographer replies no.has adoor advanced stylistically from swayamvaram.i personally and emphatically think no.adoor even when he says he doesn’t hold any grudge betrays his repressed hostility.even after getting all major recognitions adoor belittles himself.success is good.but being magnanimous essentially is the real thing.it is time to incinerate the holier than thou attitude adoor.gbc menon

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