Falling in love and willing to wait endlessly for your beloved isn’t something new to us Indians.There seems to be some satisfaction even in waiting, painful it indeed is but the very prospect of their love emerging triumphant keeps them going. For them distances are not a problem at all, being unable to meet or talk to their dear one doesn’t dampen their spirits. Are such people for real? Does it even make sense in today’s times to give up everything for love? Irrespective of sceptics questioning the sanity of such people, by and large even today there seems to be something in these tales which appeals to a majority of the people. What else can explain the phenomenal response to R.S.Vimal’s blockbuster, Ennu Ninte Moideen which is still playing in a few theatres in Kerala. Now that Sachy’s Anarkali has released and has already been declared a hit, there seems to be some validation of people supporting and believing in such tales of love.
Sachy of the erstwhile writer-duo Sachy-Sethu has written films like Run Baby Run and Chettayees on his own ever since they went their separate ways. Anarkali now sees Sachy turning director as well. Needless to say the trade has been quite anxious to know if Sachy would manage a successful transition from writing to direction. Anarkali also marks the 3rd straight release for Prithviraj in under 2 months, with his previous 2 films, Ennu Ninte Moideen and Amar Akbar Anthony turning out to be successful commercially. So naturally expectations were that Prithviraj would complete a hat-trick of hits with Anarkali, easier said than done though. The film also sees lyricist Rajeev Nair make his second attempt at production, after quite a successful debut with Ordinary (2012). Interestingly the film also appeared to be majorly shot in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep, which despite its geographical and cultural proximity to Kerala hasn’t really be utilised effectively in Malayalam Cinema. All these were more than enough reasons for me to eagerly wait for Anarkali, managing to watch it in a couple of days of the film’s release in Mumbai in the bargain.
Anarkali begins with a family being concerned about a girl who seems to have eloped with her lover, only to see her get back home on the advice of her uncle Shanthanu (Prithviraj). Shanthanu an ex-Naval officer is now a diving instructor in the Government sports service and arrives in Kavaratti, Lakshadweep on a posting. But his reason for voluntarily taking up the posting is to find out the whereabouts of his lady love Nadira (Priyal Gor). Theirs is a love story which started more than a decade ago when Shanthanu was in the Navy, with Nadira living in the same naval base as she was the daughter of a senior naval officer, Jaffer Imam (Kabir Bedi). Having lost all means of communication with Nadira, Shanthanu hopes to find out some information now finally in Kavaratti and he is aided in the process by his old colleague and friend, Zachariah (Biju Menon), as well as his local contact, Koya (Suresh Krishna). What happens to their love story and do Shanthanu and Nadira manage to have a happy ending to their romantic tale is what the film is all about.
It doesn’t really require you to make your brain work overtime to realize that the story per se isn’t anything great; after all you must have surely come across many such tales in numerous films. The girl’s father proving to be the thorn in the flesh for the lovers is by no means a remarkable premise, but it is to Sachy’s credit that he turns out with a few aces up his sleeve. To start with there are some truly interesting moments woven into the narrative, like the whole angle of how Shanthanu and Zachariah are left with no alternative but to voluntarily take a discharge from the Navy. The entire court martial segment, especially the way Commodore Madhavan Nair (Shyamaprasad) explains the predicament to Shanthanu and Zacharia, followed later by the discussion between Madhavan Nair, Shanthanu and Nadira is quite well done, without going overboard on an emotional drive. Even the April fool/I Love You part is quite refreshing indeed. And what’s unique about Anarkali is the way most of the story develops in Kavaratti, keeping us engrossed, with the social and cultural weave of the island and its people featuring prominently in the tale, without appearing forced.
There is a lot of care and attention provided to the lifestyle and the culture of Lakshadweep and Kavaratti in specific. We are even given a quick capsule of the history of the place and an idea of life in general in the island, but thankfully it isn’t done in a documentary like fashion. The idiosyncrasies of the place, like the jail being closed due to no crime on the island, absence of theatres and alcohol prohibition, the craze that the islanders have for their favourite singer, how they are so connected to the mainland (Kochi) and yet remain cut off are all communicated wonderfully in the film. Then this aspect is explored a little more through some interesting characters on the island, be it the AIR Station Director (Arun) who keeps looking for suitable voices among people landing there,the Medical Superintendent of the island,Sherin George (Mia George) who is the decision maker when it comes to authorizing a medical evacuation (the angle being used cleverly in the plot later), Dua (Samskruthi Shenoy), the timid sister of Dua whose silence conveys there’s something deeper to her sadness.
Sujith Vaassudev‘s cinematography is top notch and he does more than good justice in highlighting the scenic beauty of Lakshadweep, yet without getting carried away and letting the visuals overpower the narrative. At a run time of 168 minutes the film certainly is quite lengthy but credit to Sachy and editor Ranjan Abraham in ensuring that you don’t really find it as a test of your endurance. If there’s one aspect that could have been a little improved then that definitely is the climax which appears a little over the top and not very convincing. Vidyasagar follows up his good work in Ennum Eppozhum (which released earlier this year), with his compositions here in Anarkali. The songs have a lot of variety, be it the Mappila Paatu “Aa Oruthi Aval Oruthi” (lyrics by Rajeev Nair, vocals by Vineeth Sreenivasan and Manjari), the playful romantic number “Ee Thanutha” (lyrics by Rajeev Nair, vocals by Karthik and Shweta Mohan) or the Qawwali “Mohabbat” (lyrics by Manoj Muntashir, vocals by Shreya Ghoshal and Shadab Faridi Nizami), all of them work quite well.
Another noteworthy aspect of the film is the usage of Hindi dialogues, especially by Nadira and her family members. Allowing them to speak in Hindi and using Malayalam sub titles during the same lends a realistic touch to the proceedings. When it comes to performances first of all its quite interesting to see many directors present over here in various roles including Shyamaprasad, Madhupal, Major Ravi and Renji Panicker. Among them it is Shyamaprasad as Commodore Madhavan Nair who leaves an impact. Samskruthy Shenoy does well as Dua, while Arun as the AIR Station Director is also effective. Sudev Nair as Naseeb Imam, the brother of Nadira does not get much scope while Kabir Bedi as Jaffer Imam goes overboard with his performance as the father who believes in adhering to age old principles rather than respecting his daughter’s feelings. Suresh Krishna as Koya is very good, fitting in as a Kavaratti native effectively, even getting to speak the Jeseri dialect, native to parts of Lakshadweep in the film. Mia George as Dr.Sherin George is wonderful, getting almost equal importance as Nadira in the film, if not more.
Priyal Gor as Nadira does leave an impact, especially in the flashback portions where her romance blossoms with Shanthanu. But while Prithviraj as Shanthanu goes through the transformation and his appearance justifies the transition over a period of 10-15 years, Nadira somehow looks more or less the same all throughout. And when it comes to pulling off the emotional moments she doesn’t look all that comfortable, nevertheless this is a good role for her to start her career in Malayalam cinema. Biju Menon continues to impress, he plays Zachariah the sprightly friend and former colleague of Shanthanu very well. Barring a moment during the climax where he goes a little overboard, he is good playing the reluctant but sincere supporter of Shanthanu and Nadira’s romance. Prithviraj is on a roll, he clearly shows once again that given the right role and under the supervision of a good director he will certainly do well. As Shanthanu he appears convincing both as the young naval officer falling in love, and as the slightly older diving instructor who is still hopeful of succeeding in love.
Overall Sachy makes a good transition from writing to direction and while Anarkali doesn’t boast of a great concept, he manages to overcome that with the help of the setting, bringing in some wonderful moments and above all a stellar performance from his leading man. Anarkali is one of the better Malayalam films of the year, something that would satisfy you by and large.