There are texts that don't suit another genre. Perhaps the life of Kamala Surayya aka Madahavikutty (Kamala Das) was one of them. At least when you try to film it from a moralistic point of view where even a bit of sexuality is still considered a taboo.
Aami, directed by veteran director Kamal and featuring Manju Warrier in the title role, is nearly a word-by-word translation of the celebrated writer's autobiographical account 'My Story' in the first half and a documentation of the news reports of her controversial conversion to Islam in the second half.
In between, what is lost is the poetic yet troublesome life of the woman who was always a darling of controversies. Whenever he has to reveal the complex thoughts and confused mindset of the writer, the director treads the easiest way – to quote lines from her book.
The film is filled with such monologues in the feeble voice of Manju Warrier, who was cherry-picked by Kamal to essay the role after Vidya Balan opted out of the project.
Aami is shot in picturesque frames which are as beautiful as the title.
The rustic charm of both the exteriors and interiors of Punnayurkulam house and the magnificent streets and Victorian architecture of Kolkata unravel along with the narrative, and the credit goes to Madhu Neelakandan, the man behind the camera.
However, the scenic frames alone can't keep one's eyes fixed onto the screen when the narrative moves slowly. Kamala carried many names, or many identities indeed. She was Madhavikutty to her Malayalam readers and Kamala Das to those who read her in English.
Kamala to her family; Aami to her husband, and Kamala Suraiyya, first to the man who came to her life on a later stage and to the rest of the world. For anyone who tries to read her works now, the toughest task remains to find out the true woman or the individual who penned them.
The challenge becomes manifold when another artist tries to portray the eventful life especially since it involves several people, dead and alive, and religious groups that are very much alive. Hence, Kamal needs to be appreciated for burdening himself with the tough job.
His attempt to explore the life of the writer and her true self revolves around the notion of family and places her as a woman who valued family bonds more than anything. The film keeps asserting that 'My Story', widely read, appreciated and condemned for the explicit portrayal of the writer's sexual encounters, was a work of semi-fiction.
Aami in effect is as much about Madhav Das, Kamala's husband who was 20 years older than her, as it is about the writer. The writer-director has devoted much time for portraying the complex, yet affectionate relationship between the two.
Murali Gopy showcases a matured performance as the dominating as well as careful Madhav Das. However, the drama in the script reflects evidently in performances by most of the artists, especially in dialog delivery. Among the lot, debutant Neelanjana has done a brilliant job as the adolescent Kamala.
There is an attempt to reflect the romanticism in visuals, music and so on. However, the repetition of the beautiful rendition by Shreya Ghoshal doesn't serve the purpose.
Kamal seems to have attempted to cover almost all the important events in the writer's life including her unwarranted attempt in electoral politics that ended up in an embarrassing defeat, and her failed attempt to stitch together a new life with a man who mesmerized her with his vast knowledge, oratory skills and love for ghazals.
Madhavikutty's decision to embrace Islam and the ensuing social tensions have been documented in detail. Aami is watchable for those who wish to have a glimpse of the life of Kamala Suraiyya. It doesn't matter whether you have read her or not.
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