Ammani: Heart-Piercing Fiction

Severe deficiency in churning out healthy Tamil films has become a pressing concern these days. When most of us are blindly celebrating the successes of Remontic films, there are people working silently, taking intervention steps to alleviate the deficiency. Ammani is one such genuine intervention. Ammani gives us hope- realistic hopes. Ammani is Lakshmi Ramakrishnan’s 3rd directorial venture in which she has brilliantly woven a social message in the fabric of storytelling and I would say this is her best to date.

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The story revolves around Salamma (Lakshmi Ramakrishnan), a helper at a government hospital. She is just a couple of months away from retirement but continues to be the chief provider for her family, which includes the families of her two sons — the older one, Saravanan, is a drunkard painter, and the younger one, Siva, is a self-centred auto driver. There is also a new arrival — her grandson, from a daughter who had eloped. Then there is Ammani, a cheery elderly rag picker, who is a tenant in Salamma’s matchbox of a house. The similarities and differences in the way Ammani and Salamma approach life are beautifully picturised in this 90 minute heart-wrenching tale.

To be honest, the film loosely travels in the first 20 minutes. Its gloomy sombreness makes it a challenge until the viewer recalibrates their expectations of rhythm and tempo; you must readjust to something slow. It’s a film you have to feel your way into, like a ruined church. Even after intermission, I felt that there were parts that could have been narrated in depth. There were parts which could have been backed up with strong reasons. There were parts in which transition could have been more comprehensible.

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But that, I found, was the beauty of the film. Just like life, the film has its own flaws. Ironically, that was the strength of Ammani. Every character oozes realism. Completely inspired by victims of both the nuclear and joint family structures, who appeared in Lakshmi’s famous TV show, Sollavethellam unmai, she has perfectly scripted a fiction that pierces our hearts with bitterly harrowing truths. The director captures Salama’s vulnerability and Ammani’s indefatigable energy to such perfection. When 82-year-old Ammani explains life’s philosophy at the most crucial point of Salama’s life in simple words “intha velicham ponaa, namma nizhal kooda podium” would definitely not fail to resonate with the audience as well.

We all know the aimless direction in which tamil films of recent times are heading towards and how those films are still anchored in unabashedly heroic narrative that draws its power from older mythological forms. Among such massive heroes and multi-crore budgeted films, Ammani, may not witness a roaring success at the box office. This film may not have the publicity in which hero cries on the stage. This film may not have a musician-turned hero who is all out there to ruin and entertain the society. This film may not have flower-filled exotic locations. But what amazes me is how Lakshmi boldly wants to make an unpretentious film among the chaotic, misogynistic cinema. Ammani might possibly be labelled as an ‘art film’. Yes, that is how we have been failing good films. Despite the commercial success that Ammani may not guarantee, as a director Lakshmi, with sheer confidence, wants to tell a story. Cinema is as simple as that. It is about telling a tale, straight from your heart. For that boldness, Lakshmi, hats off!

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Usually a viewer chooses the film to watch, but this is one rarity where the film will select you. Because this film is for the matured, sensible and strong-hearted people. A good film needs to be celebrated. In contrast, I would say let’s not celebrate ‘Ammani’, lets protect this film like a new-born baby. All it needs, is warmth, affection and love from the right people.  

If you happen to watch Ammani, you are privileged. If you happen to appreciate the film despite its imperfections, you are blessed.