Synopsis: A woman who has put all her efforts into taking care of her family realises what she wants to do upon her retirement — live for herself.
Review: Ammani is an exploration of how money plays a crucial part in determining our relationships and tells us that our lives will be much better if we learn to live for ourselves, and with very little expectations, but the manner in which these messages are conveyed is hardly preachy. As she did with her directorial debut Aarohanam, Lakshmy Ramakrishnan once again tells us a life-affirming tale shorn of the melodrama that creeps into many such films.
The story revolves around Salamma, 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.
What makes Ammani feel not manipulative and genuinely heart-warming is the way Lakshmy Ramakrishnan presents her characters. These are flesh-and-blood individuals rather than as archetypes, unlike as in her previous film, Nerungi Va Muthamidathe, which suffered from clichéd characters. Even Salamma’s sons, who treat her in a less than satisfactory manner, are shown as not heartless men but as individuals tired of struggling with their lives. Saravanan believes there is no redemption for him and seeks solace in alcohol, while Siva thinks he has a better future and wants his mother to see that. The real triumph is the way the character of Salamma is perfectly balanced. She never asks us to celebrate her or pity her, but in her own quiet way, she earns our respect. As for Ammani, she is the film’s way of telling us that there is more to life, if only we start seeing past the pettiness that creeps into our daily lives.
The understated writing is matched by the unobtrusive filmmaking, which revels in the film's milieu. Cinematographer Imran Ahmedh KR’s visuals of Salamma’s rundown living quarters convey the story on their own, while K’s score enhances the drama with its discreetness. But there are a few false notes. Like the sub-plot involving the grandson, which promises to be crucial but is actually left off midway. The climactic reveal, too, doesn’t strike you as hard it should. And despite her competent performance, it takes some time to warm up to Lakshmy as a lower-class woman as her real-life sophistication peeks through at times. Still, these are negligible given how gratifyingly close the film gets us to its characters and their lives.