Tamil Nadu’s Velankanni becomes a meeting place of lost and abandoned souls in filmmaker Vipin Radhakrishnan’s Ave Maria, which has finally found a home on OTT platform Roots Video after a festival circuit run (it was an official selection of the 23rd IFFK). Replete with themes of guilt, sin, and redemption, the 75-min film is primarily a tale of faith —not just in almighty but in the human spirit—told through the eyes of a diverse set of characters. It’s also a portrait of a gritty, seedier side of a much-popular town.
Ave Maria revolves around a chance encounter between a driver, Rex (Ashand Raju) and Maria (Reshma Malayath), a woman who seems to be grappling with heavy inner turmoil. We occasionally get a mix of voiceovers from multiple characters, each going through a crisis of faith or given a lesson on it. For instance, a child in a classroom has to write an imposition for asking a genuine doubt pertaining to human existence, but we are never shown this scene; it’s narrated through a voiceover.
I liked how the film almost acts like a puzzle when it comes to our perception of the characters. When Maria first meets Rex, she questions his intentions when he gets caught staring at her. She tells him she has seen many men ogling at her but can’t judge what his eyes tell her—lust or love? It’s a scene that may look ordinary at first glance, but its significance becomes evident once we get to the ambiguous ending, which happens to be one of the film’s high points.
Meanwhile, a separate strand runs through the film. A woman and a child are in the same place, hoping the almighty will answer all their prayers. She mentions an ailment, but we don’t know what. The vagueness of this subplot is infuriating because most of the film’s attention is devoted to Rex and Maria. We would see the same woman again, but this time, her problems are different. And we wonder what happened to her daughter.
I recently watched Rejissh Midhila’s Innu Muthal, in which Siju Wilson plays a driver who begins questioning his faith and then a meeting with a stranger changes his life. Ave Maria, too, asks similar questions, albeit in a different manner. It reminds us of all the decisive moments we find ourselves in and how we tend to attribute some of our decisions to the “will of God” because we fear accountability. Maria has been struggling with a difficult question to which she hasn’t found the answer yet.
When Maria recounts her past, Rex gives a straightforward answer, and later, there is a moment in an orphanage that makes you want to agree with him. She will find the answer, though, following a life-changing road trip and a tense ordeal later.
Though Ave Maria has a sense of hopelessness, loneliness and desperation owing to the mood of its setting and the isolation of the characters we meet, it is not a thoroughly depressing affair. Yes, it doesn’t give any clear answers—there are times when things seem artsy for the sake of it—but there is much warmth to be found here, especially in the silent yet hopeful finale. I like to think that the unseen story following the end credits is a more cheerful one.
Film: Ave Maria
Director: Vipin Radhakrishnan
Cast: Ashand Raju, Reshma Malayath, Mekha Rajan, Arokia Mary Stella
Streaming on: Roots Video