Film: Udhaharanam Sujata; Director: Phantom Praveen; Cast: Manju Warrier
Most of the action in Udaharanam Sujata takes place inside a chawl - dark, dingy and bursting at the seams. There lives Sujata, a domestic help, and her bratty daughter, a class 10 student and DQ fan. Phantom Praveen sets his story in this lower middle-class colony, and this time, for a change, these fringe-dwellers are not a clan of anti-socials. There is a lot of unrehearsed, easygoing camaraderie, nuances that define and validate each character, filling the screen with oodles of feel-good factor. The film is all about how Sujata, a widow and class 9 dropout, wades through the hurdles to fulfill her dream.
A seemingly soppy and cliched subject, but the director gives it a fresh, bright treatment, making his debut a totally engaging watch. And the film is not wholly built of the ambiance as Sujata, in her synthetic saris and plaited hair, treads a highly relatable terrain.
The USP of the film is that it takes you to places and emotions you have seen and known despite its clear-cut backdrop. Manju's maid act is not confined to comfortable chores in an upscale household - you see her in front of a sink overflowing with grimy dishes, squatting inside the claustrophobic kitchen of a wayside eatery and cleaning fish. And when she steps into that dim-lit one-room apartment after the bath, a towel wrapped around her hair and her face creased with fatigue, she almost belongs.
Her slang is inconsistent, her de-glam greasepaint slightly over-the-top, but Manju makes you forget all these little glitches. She completely loses herself to the character and may be this is the first film in her second innings where you can confidently say that you are happy to have her back. Most of the child artists excel in their respective roles and Anaswara Rajan, who plays the daughter, is a real find. There is a kind of incredible spontaneity about her that the girl even outshines Manju at times. Joju Geroge once again proves his surprising range and his school principal is a real delight to watch.
The best part about the Madhu Neelakandan's frames is the way they gel with the narrative, creating the right mood. And finally, yes, Udaharanam Sujata is a message movie, but not the Sathyan Anthikad variety where you have to suffer through heavy preaching. Here it comes as small, poignant dialogues that exude warmth and positivity. It gives you lessons on the importance of education, parenting and relationships, but in a sweet, effortless style. In short Udaharanam Sujata is an uncluttered fable that introduces you to the power of aspirations in the simplest and subtlest manner.