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Lure of the enigma

13 December 2011

Shalini Usha Nairís Akam offers a glimpse into the female psyche

Anything enigmatic can be disturbing, and if that happens to be a woman, it is almost a given that a flood of questions will follow — all perhaps in anticipation of an element of conformity to stereotypical notions.

That societal fixation, perhaps experienced by women anywhere in the world, is what Shalini Usha Nair, the director of Akam, the only Malayalam language film that screened at the eighth Dubai International Film Festival, sought to address with her movie.

She had a timeless source to fall back upon for the movie: the novel Yakshi by acclaimed author Malayatoor Ramakrishnan.

Shalini was always inspired by the strong narrative backdrop of Yakshi, perhaps one of the most seminal works in Malayalam that tries to presenter the oft-misunderstood female psyche. In fact, the climax of her film was the subject of an eight-minute film she made while attending film school in Prague.

“The idea of a woman who has to answer for herself, and describe her context has disturbed me. One is expected to explain herself, and if she doesn’t do that, the ‘mystery’ gets branded as ‘evil,’” she says.

In Akam, which she also calls Palas in Bloom out of a whim referring to the Alstonia flowers that have been mythically attributed to mark the arrival of she-ghosts, the protagonist is a man whose life is turned upside down following a terrible accident.

How he reacts to the woman he is irresistibly drawn to and marries forms the crux of the film, which has bold portrayals by Anumol K and Fahad Fazil.

Anumol, an engineer turned actress, who was also in Dubai for the screening of the film, says Ragini, the character she plays, “is a dream role, a lifetime role.”

A trained classical dancer, Anumol brings a sort of intensity and personality that straddles both the urban and rustic characteristics Shalini looked for in her lead actress, says the director.

Having assisted some of India’s top-notch directors, Shalini says it is hard to say which director has left a lasting impression on her filmmaking style. “Perhaps subconsciously you imbibe certain things but really when it comes to Akam, I am really wearing blinkers — I cannot be objective about how I evaluate it.”

Now to that question which Shalini might have to face in the days to come — ‘how does it feel to be a female filmmaker?’ Well, if you had asked that in the first place, in all probability Shalini would have brushed it off, as she will have to learn to do so more often now.

She has good reason to do so: “Would you ask a male filmmaker how it feels to be a male? This is 2011: We have to stop thinking about gender in the workplace.”

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