In her third directorial venture Ammani, Lakshmy Ramakrishnan reveals a far better understanding of the craft of filmmaking. There is a consistency in the screenplay and a maturity in her storytelling, which was missing in the earlier ventures (Aarohanam (2012), Nerungi Vaa Muthamidathe (2014)). The narration here has a smooth natural flow, and everything is handled with intuitive perception and sensitivity.
The characters are well fleshed out. And to top it, there are some finely tuned performances from both Subbalakshmy who plays the title role of the 82-year-old rag picker and Lakshmy herself who takes on the role of the 57-year-old Saalamma, who faced with the shocking realities of life, takes inspiration from the older woman’s attitude towards life.
The two women are a study in contrast. Ammani had no one and nothing to claim as her own. With no roof over her head, it’s Saalamma who rents out a portion of her place to the older woman who is erratic in her timings. But Ammani is cheerful, lives for the day, taking each as it comes.
Having seen life at close quarters, she had no expectation from it. While Saalamma, a widowed woman working in a government hospital, owned a cramped dingy tenement in a low down neighbourhood. Hers was a normal life, the constant bickering between her two sons and their families a natural part of it. It’s a realistic scenario of the household, where Saalamma could be alternately both the affectionate and the berating parent. Till she realises the selfishness, the hypocrisy and the conniving nature of those she held dear and trusted.
A fine touch is where Ammani, sitting outside the house and listening with a cool cynical demeanour to the bitter fights going on in Saalamma’s household, bursts into old philosophical Tamil film songs apt for the situation. The expressions of both women here are pitch-perfect. The screenplay had enough space to push in more melodrama. But the director stays away from it, the emotions natural and lending a realistic feel. There is no attempt to moralise either.
The technical crew has cooperated in transforming the director’s vision on to screen. The ambiance is authentic, the camera (Imran Ahmed) capturing the action effectively, while K’s background score sustains the mood and feel.
The supporting cast are well chosen and fit into their respective characters like a glove. Like Nitin’s Siva (the younger son) who plays on his mother’s emotions to get what he wanted; Regin’s Selvam the older son, who paints houses and strikes independent in expectation of his mother’s pension money; and Sri Balaji as Saalamma’s estranged daughter’s son, returning to the fold hoping to get a share of the pie. These are believable characters we can relate to.
An unwanted distracting moment is the Kuthu song where Saalamma envisions how her death should be. But it does have a thoughtful ending, positive and uplifting.The scenario of a person retiring from service, the family’s anticipation of the pension money and the resultant changing equation among family members, is not a new theme. But it’s the director’s refreshing take on it that has lent it a new dimension. And at about 93 minutes of viewing time, this simple but inspiring tale of two women touches an emotional chord.