Director: Sujith Vaassudev
Cast: Anusree, Rahul Madhav, Tini Tom
Director-cinematographer Sujith Vaassudev sets up his new film Autorsha with an intriguing hook and then proceeds, unhurriedly, with the job of carefully fleshing out his principal character Anitha (Anusree). Set in Kannur, Autorsha presents in its first half an authentic, documentary-style peek into the lives of auto-rickshaw drivers before moving on to include relatively more mainstream elements in its second half.
When Anitha parks her auto-rickshaw in a stand dominated by men, naturally she is met with stares.
But these are harmless men and it doesn’t take very long for her to become one of them, partaking in their various mischiefs and trying to sort out their dilemmas. In one sequence, we see Anitha trying to deal with a passenger suffering from Alzheimer’s while in another, she is frustrated by the actions of a mentally unstable man whose thoughts keep changing every five minutes. And if the intensity of these moments weren’t strong enough, she is asked to transport an unconscious kid to a hospital later.
Sujith brings a Paul Greengrass-level of grittiness to most of these sequences. Though a special rig named ‘Autorsha 360’ was specifically designed for the film, we don’t sense here any gimmickry. At no point do we see Sujith’s camera calling attention to itself. It remains mostly inconspicuous, occasionally making its presence known when going through the tightest of corners. The rest of the time, it moves with the characters or observes them from a distance. At times the camera moves around the vehicle, giving you a sense of the spatial challenges and thereby heightening the tension in a particular scene.
There is also an ample dose of humour in the form of digs taken at the stereotypes usually associated with Kannur. Most of the laughs arrive courtesy of Tini Tom’s police officer character who, at one point, whines about the absence of lentils along with his morning puttu (as a Kannur dude myself, I found this scene hilariously relatable). And a running gag involving Tini and a foreigner eager to take pictures of a hartal feels like a breath of fresh amidst the numerous ‘WhatsApp forwards’ we’ve been seeing lately in other films. Though Tini’s portions are in no way connected to Anitha’s story, they make for welcome distractions when things get too tense.
The heart and soul of Autorsha are, undoubtedly, Anitha, who is imbued with the right amount of vulnerability, charm, and determination by Anusree. This is one of those rare women-centric films with a well-written female character at its core. There is not a false note in Anusree’s performance.
When Anitha’s dark past slowly begins to take over, we get to see a completely different side of her character, and her transformation is subtle and convincing. We are so invested in her journey that when the final payoff arrives, we are willing to overlook the moral implications of some of her decisions.
I find it odd that there was zero hype accompanying the release of this film. In this day and age when directors make exaggerated claims about their films, something like Autorsha comes along silently and leaves you with a smile on your face. Sometimes it’s these hype-less films that make the maximum impact.
If you’re planning to see one Malayalam film this week, make it Autorsha.