Minnaminungu, The Firefly
Cast: Surabhi Lakshmi, Rebecca Santhosh, Krishnan Balakrishnan
Director: Anil Thomas
“When I am plagued by problems I like to walk and walk to shake it off,” says the 31-year-old-national-award winning actress Surabhi Lakshmi. Surabhi, who picked up the best actress award earlier this year for her powerful portrayal of a middle-aged, nameless woman, from the lower strata of society in the Malayalam film Minnaminungu, The Firefly, is grateful that director Anil Thomas, had allowed her to do just that. When words die and sorrows besiege the protagonist, to convey the depth of pain that overwhelms her, the nameless middle-aged woman walks. And her gait though stooped by her burdens, remarkably shows a steely determination to push on that is so true to her character. The nameless woman, Surabhi embodies, belongs to the invisible army who work as maids and cleaning staff in houses, offices and public spaces. The woman’s identity is subverted and she is referred to as a mother, a daughter or the “chechi” (sister) who cleans the office or a home. And her life is measured by her hard labour and the wages she receives, and her dreams and emotions are governed by this contract. Yet, the nameless woman comes across as a strong-willed person who must fight the odds to live each day.
Minnaminungu, The Firefly, a female-centric film, which was recently released in theatres,comes as breath of fresh air from the Malayalam stable even as the Malayalam film industry is sucked into a maelstrom of allegations of misogyny, casting couch and sexism. Interestingly, the director and scriptwriter are both male: directed by Anil Thomas and written by another male Manoj Ramsingh. They have been able to blow life into a woman with much more sensitivity than men are credited to have. Says Thomas, “This woman took a long time creating. She has been on my mind for more than four to five years and Ramsingh perfectly shaped her up. I have always marvelled at how single women survived in spite of all the odds and thought about what makes them tick. Somewhere, in the film the woman is asked if she has sexual desires and she answers in the negative. She does not have the time for that.” That scene, so delicately depicted does not jar, or disrupt the flow of the film which is about this woman’s struggle to survive. She does not have the luxury of time to indulge in sexual fantasies.
Widowed young, the woman stays with her father in an un-plastered house near the backwaters an hour away from Thiruvanathapuram, while her daughter is in the hostel in the city. The woman rises before first light and with the help of her aged father, milks her two cows, collects eggs and berries from their small backyard to sell in the city. She must count every penny and stretch herself to pay for her daughter’s hostel fee, buy medicines for her father and live on this wretched earth. But she is not unhappy with her lot for her dreams are pinned on her daughter who is doing her college degree and who will someday get a job. She works as the cleaning lady in a mobile service providing company called Free Talk, while her father washes buses somewhere in the city. And to make more money, after company hours, she labours in a writer’s house as a maid or takes on odd jobs.
But then her daughter Charu, who is better educated than her mother, has bigger dreams. She wants to leave the dirty soot of her mother’s kitchen for “higher education” in Canada and for that she needs at least six lakhs which her mother must provide. The woman, who can hardly put together a few thousand rupees to pay for Charu’s hostel fees, must now find ways to send her daughter to Canada or she will fail her daughter’s dreams. The woman and her aged-father then set about selling everything that they possess to make Charu’s dreams come true. Says scriptwriter Ramsingh, “We have brought out the selfishness of the present generation through Charu. She seems totally oblivious to her mother’s hardship as she sets her agenda to leave home.”
The woman, totally devastated by her daughter’s actions and burdened further by debt, is determined to clear her debts. She does not sink down into the depths of her sorrow. She no longer has the luxury to think of her sorrows. She just walks and walks.