Attam (The Play) – 2023, Malayalam

-Manjula Jonnalagadda

“There is no timestamp on trauma. There isn’t a formula that you can insert yourself into to get from horror to healed. Be patient. Take up space. Let your journey be the balm.”— Dawn Serra

          Aattam is a film written and directed by Anand Ekarshi. The film won the Grand Jury Award at the Indian Film Festival Los Angeles in 2023. Most actors who acted in this film are theater actors. Many have not been in front of the camera before.

          Anand Ekarshi has been involved with the theater since his college days. This is his debut film. Before making this film, he was involved in making advertisements and music videos. He also assisted the filmmaker Imtiaz Ali on a film titled Tamasha. He cited Asghar Farhadi as his influence on character development.

          The film opens with actors in the theater troupe preparing to stage a play. Anjali is the only woman in that troupe. She has a good rapport with most of the artists. Anjali works as a architect, acting is her hobby. Other actors also have jobs of their own. Hari is a reputed film star who has been part of the troupe for 2 1/2 years. The rest of the cast members have been with the troupe longer.

          Anjali is in a relationship with another actor Vinay. Vinay is also married and is in the process of getting a divorce. Vinay has been in the troupe for a longtime along with Anjali. He worked his way up playing the main lead in the plays. But after Hari’s arrival in the troupe, Hari has been playing the lead roles. The Star power of Hari brings in a lot of audience.

          The play the troupe stages becomes a success, a European couple who loves their play invites them to have a party in their resort. People have fun at the party, everyone including Anjali who gets drunk. That night Anjali is molested. Even though she has not seen the attacker, she is pretty sure it is Hari. When Anjali talks about it with Vinay, he decides to take it up with the troupe.

          The film works very well because of the characters. The characters are all gray, and have their own motives. When the actors learn about what happened to Anjali, everybody has their own reaction. One blames her outfit and consumption of alcohol. Another one says they just have to take her word for it. When Hari tells them that the troupe is offered a deal to go on a trip to Europe, their reactions are different from each other as well.

          One important issue that is addressed is the issue of sexual assaults. Sexual assaults are very common in India due to crowds. While traveling in a bus or a train, it is common to be touched inappropriately. Anjali has always thought that the troupe is her safe space. She is devastated when she is assaulted. Her trust is violated.

          Women usually don’t report the assaults due to shame associated with it. There is always victim blaming or distrust. Anjali is told that she may be just hallucinating her attack as she was drunk. I don’t want to say anything else about the film, as it will take away from the experience of watching the film.

          Even though some thought the film is a bit in the mold of 12 Angry Men, I felt it is closer to Shantata Court Chalu Ahe. Like those films, the film deals with individual and group dynamics and has nothing more in common.

          Even though only three of the cast, Vinay Fort who played Vinay, Kalabhavan Shajohn who played Hari, and Zarin Shahib who played Anjali ever faced the camera before, the performances were excellent. There is no character in general that dominates the screen. Score is minimal and non-intrusive as it should be. Camera work by Aniruddh Aneesh is very good!

          Watch this film for the experience it offers, excellent characterization that does not give into tropes of any kind. I sincerely hope that Anand Ekarshi makes a lot more films. The film is available on Amazon Prime to watch.


Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.