A movie review by Balaji Balasubramaniam

Cast: Banupriya, Nasser, Baby Sadhika, Ramesh Khanna, Manobala
Music: Dhina
Direction: Manobala

Movies that are targeted at the fairer sex are referred to as 'chick-flicks' in Hollywood. These movies keep away from testosterone stuff like chases and explosions and instead concentrate on sentiments, emotions and in general, getting the women in the audience to get their handkerchiefs out (Stepmom is a recent example). Annai would be the Kodambakkam equivalent of a 'chick-flick'. As the name makes amply clear, it zeroes in on the 'mother sentiment' and never strays from it. But the movie avoids the pitfall of an overdose of sentiments and contains some surprises in the proceedings. The director also earns respect with a high-concept ending.

Kanagamahalakshmi(Banupriya) is a businesswoman who is always on the go. From her flashback, we get to know that after being childless for a few years, she and her husband(Nasser) had decided to adopt a child from an orphanage for one month a year. She had then gotten pregnant but had lost both her child and her husband in a car crash. Single and childless, she goes ahead with the plan of adopting a child for one month a year and it has worked out well for the past couple of years. When Anjali (Baby Sadhika) gets the chance, she brings about some changes in the household. Mahalakshmi gets really attached to her and even finds Anjali's parents.

Director Manobala deserves credit for eschewing all commercial trappings in the movie. With a villain established early on and reentering the picture after Banupriya gets attached to the child, I fully expected the final reels to involve a kidnapping, car chases, etc. But these portions have been handled cleanly. Ofcourse, another point of view could be that the developments are a disappointment after the setup but the selected path suits the overall atmosphere of the movie. The movie also contains some surprises. For instance, it does not stick to the expected route after the child's biological parents have been introduced. This issue is resolved quickly in a rather unexpected manner(though it does seem unfair to one of the parties involved).

One of the factors which irked me from the beginning of the movie was that the arrangement(of 'renting' an orphan for one month every year) seemed grossly unfair to the child and to the other children of the orphanage. The director scores some points by letting the child herself point this out to Banupriya later. Another appreciable aspect of the movie is the climax. The ending is a pleasant surprise and with its lofty ambition, reveals the director's good intentions.

The development of Banupriya's attachment for Baby Sadhika has not been portrayed very well. A few more incidents to establish their rapport would have been welcome. Infact, the scenes where the servants(the gardener and the cook) interact with Sadhika are much more enjoyable.

There seem to be several loose ends scattered throughout the movie. The story of the old man in the orphanage(which, by the way, is definitely not a story that a child needs to hear) is never touched upon later. Smaller sequences like the simple nature of the child's meals and why she likes to sleep on the floor are also not followed up. Ramesh Khanna's separate comedy track involving Balaji and Mayilsamy is unfunny and unnecessary but can be forgiven since the characters turn out to be useful later on.

Banupriya uses her years of experience and breezes through the role. She expresses her emotions well in the scene where she searches for the child on the beach and when shouting at the child's parents. Baby Sadhika is a good selection. Though she seems wooden initially, she improves and is natural in her scenes with Banupriya. Director Manobala takes on the role of old man Moses (he even looks like Moses with his white hair and beard!) and is convincing. Newcomer Dhina's songs are surprisingly quite good.

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