First, and most importantly, I think I might “get” Fahad Fazil now! I’ve seen a fair number of his movies, from Bangalore Days to 24 North Kaadam, and he always just seemed sort of blah. But somehow in this, his character worked for me!
I called it a “travelogue”, but that wasn’t an insult. I am continually stunned by the ability of Malayalam films to convey a real sense of place. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before. Except, maybe, a few exceptional films from other industries like Chashme Buddoor (the original) and Ratnam’s Bombay, and kind of the recent Kapoor and Sons. But almost every Malayalam film that manages to just envelop me in a particular time and place and convey a sense of what it is like to be there.
(Love Chashme Buddoor! And love Deepti Naval in this and just in general)
This movie starts with a voice over from a sailor returning to Cochi after an indeterminate time away. He situates us right away with what this city and it’s people are like. Lots of growth, lots of change, lots of people coming and going, but few places to live. A precarious existence.
And then we leave our voice over guide and see Fahad Faasil in a tiny room, answering a knock on the door, and it’s the police. They are here to investigate his brother, who is trying to get a passport. And we get our second theme, the persecution of the Muslims/immigrants. If I was following this correctly, his brother was arrested as a juvenile and sent away to reform school. Now, he is trying to get a passport, and the cops keep hassling him. Fahad manages to get rid of them by introducing them to the shopkeeper who helped him and his brother get their jobs. The shopkeeper is another Muslim. So, this community is taking care of itself/it’s hard to find work outside of the community network. And the cops are enjoying making life difficult for a young Muslim man who went to reform school and has connections within the greater Muslim community of the city.
Also, I found Fahadh’s room kind of stunning for how poor it was. To the point that I thought he couldn’t be the hero of the movie, because the hero isn’t usually quite this badly off. It’s not depressing or dirty necessarily, just very plain and unfinished. It’s especially noticeable when Fahadh gets dressed and goes to work as a taxi driver. Because outside of his room, he looks just like any other Malayalam movie hero, button shirt and pants, neatly brushed hair, etc.
This all sounds really critical, like I think it is unrealistic, but that’s not what I mean at all! I think it’s just showing what we learned in that voice over, that this is a rapidly changing city, everyone has jobs and money, but the living conditions haven’t caught up yet. In a greater sense (as we will see in the rest of the film), the living conditions are just the most visible symptom of the issues with the sudden changes. Communities and families are disconnected and shifting around, the social fabric has holes in it, connections are tenuous, there is distrust and isolation between groups. Everyone is living very well, nice clothes and decent jobs, but they are right on the edge of disaster.
The lack of connections is why our narrator, a Christian just arrived from traveling the world in his ship, is able to become so immediately close to our hero, a Muslim taxi driver who has never left Kerala. Fahadh asks him, since he has been all over the world, where are there the most beautiful women? And the narrator replies “Vypin” (the neighborhood he is from in Kochi). Which is enough to make Fahad laugh and break his rules about smoking in his cab. Just that fast, they are firm friends.
We don’t see how Fahad met his other two closest friends, Colin (a Christian) and Abu (a Muslim), but no doubt it was a similar small moment which lead to an immediate bond. Because that is how things happen in a changing city, there are no lifelong friends, or distant relatives, or even close family. So you leap after any small moment of connection you can find. Especially Fahad. While the other characters have minimal families (for India), Abu with a wife and Colin with a mother, Fahad has only his brother, who is trying to get a passport to leave him. So he has to rely on friendships for his support system.
We spend a good 45 minutes of the film merely building up these friendships, but it is worth it. Not because the friendships themselves will pay off, but because it is another way that the audience gets a sense of how fragile their existence is. That there are no wise elders to go to for advice or support, or even for food! And what little family he has, Fahad treats as equal to his friends, or even less. We see Fahad casually walk out without eating a meal his brother has prepared for him, and later mention his closeness with Colin in terms of “I have eaten more meals at his house than my own!”
This is a lonely man, but also a brave man, one who is willing to try to carve out a life for himself with no support besides his newly born friendships. And this is a man who, through circumstances or personality, is easily able to build these connections. I mentioned the religions purposefully, because that is another way that his immediate bonds become apparent. While our narrator seems to be fairly settled within his Christian community, Fahad and his friends move easily between religions, with no hesitation, because they have no other choice. Or they want no other choice? They prefer this existence, untethered to anything but each other?
Also, like I said above, Fahad really worked for me in this role! It was a perfect combination of quiet calm, and the occasional brilliant smile. The sweet spot right between Bangalore Days (too boring) and Oru Indian Pranayakadha (too talkative). Plus, it was a really interesting character. Not a big fancy “hero!” type, just someone who kept going and never gave up. I mean, look at how he wooed. He just started texting twice a day at the same time everyday for as long as it took for her to respond. It wasn’t super imaginative or romantic or difficult, but he kept doing it and never gave up. That’s just what he does, he keeps going and doesn’t give up.
And then we have Anna! The love interest. This was sold as a love story between a Christian and a Muslim. But more accurate, I think, would be between a young male immigrant to the city and a young female who was born into a community there. Anna is able to physically move outside of her community, with a job at a sari store in the central city, but mentally she is trapped. She can’t imagine a life outside of what she has now, can’t see the possibility of anything better.
In a bigger sense, it is a romance between the kind of person who becomes an immigrant to a city, and the kind who stays where she came from. Fahad just keeps pushing and fighting and moving, no matter what. Anna can barely bring herself to move at all.
Oh, and the heroine was great! I’m not sure if it was just really good casting and she had the perfect look and attitude for the part, or if she is really that good. I just looked her up, and in “real life” she is a playback singer? Who was then cast as an actress by a director who she sang for? She’s only been in 3 Malayalam films so far, this was her first, but she’s been in a bunch of Tamil stuff. At some point, I will have to watch something else with her and figure out if it was just casting, or if she really is a good actress.
(this isn’t her, this is Tamanah, but it is her voice!)
Which brings me to the SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER part of it.
Anna reminded me of the heroine’s of Dil Se and Tere Naam. In Dil Se, our heroine is doomed from the beginning. Her life has been such a nightmare, that she sees no alternative to death. Even falling in love only provides a brief relief, ultimately there is no saving her.
In Tere Naam, our heroine has a similarly trapped life. She can’t see out of it, she can’t imagine ever doing anything different than what she has been doing. It isn’t a sad way to live, but it is a limited one. And so when something happens that falls outside her ability to cope, her only possible escape is death.
In Annayum Rasoolum, Anna and Fahad can never be because she is the immoveable object and he is the unstoppable force. The more he pushes, the more she retreats. After pounding away at her resistance and almost winning her over, Fahad loses her because he lets her see him fight. Fight literally, beating with a brick some boys from her neighborhood with whom he had a previous run-in, but also fight metaphorically, reveal the kind of anger and madness that lets him survive in this city. He points out that he was fighting her friends, they attacked him first, he offers to apologize, but that isn’t the problem. It’s the way he was fighting, really struggling to survive in life and to dominate others.
I think that’s what scares her off. Anna is so passive, so passive that she can’t imagine fighting for anything. She admits to him that she was so beaten down by life, by her uncle who was mute (yes? I think?) and her sister who had become a nun, that she was ready to kill herself months ago. But Fahad forced his way into her life, and now she doesn’t know what to do.
Backing up a bit, I think this might be why the film is set in Kochi. And Anna lives in Vypin, an island. Our hero lives in the center city, connected to others, moving easily around in his taxi. Our heroine travels everyday into the city for her job, but she is still trapped on the island where she lives. She can’t imagine breaking free of it, not without Fahad forcing her.
And in between them are all the other people of society, all the obstacles Fahad has to break through. There are some wonderful scenes showing these obstacles. Sneaking into visit her through twisted alleys, the fight scene in the middle of traffic on the highway, and of course the many many boat trips and bus trips. Literally navigating through their world is difficult.
And then there are the narrative difficulties. Her family, his friends, their religions. Stuff just keeps happening! And in the end, it is too much. Rather than continue to fight alone through all these issues, Anna gives up again, the destiny she has been resisting all along, and kills herself.
That’s the two halves of this love story, the girl who is so passive it is deadly, and the boy who is so active he will never stop trying. And the third halve (yes, this movie is so rich, it has 3 halves!) is the town where they live, filled with grinding overwhelming problems that have no concern for their petty love story. Which brings me to my absolute favorite part of the movie.
But before I get there, I’m going to skip ahead to the end-end. In the end, we find out that there was a purpose to all this, Fahad’s grinding force broke through another character’s passivity, even if it couldn’t quite change Anna. Our narrator was inspired by their love story to finally confess his own love. Which in turn inspired the woman he loved (Anna’s sister) to leave her life as a nun, her own form of surrender, and fight for her right to love him.
And at the same time, Anna’s passivity and acceptance changed the other characters. Fahad’s brother stopped trying to get a passport and became content with what he had. Colin, Fahad’s friend who was always romancing a different girl, got married and settled down. And Fahad himself stopped fighting and left Kochi. We see him at the end, seemingly happy, riding a train in Bombay, a city where he could find a place.
But before that, the really amazing bit! Fahad has been arrested, the police continuing to distrust him as an immigrant to the city and a Muslim, but he breaks out the day Anna is to be married. He runs through the city to her, passing massive malls, skyscrapers, multiplexes, all the luxuries of this growing wealthy city, all of the things that dwarf his running figure and his small love affair, all the ways in which the wealth of the city looms over his pitiful efforts to succeed.