Updated: May 12
Anantham, a web-series streaming on Zee5 is written and directed by V. Priya of Kanda Naal Muthalaai fame. It is a web-series that explores the concept and idea of what "home" is to different people. The treatment of the web-series is not so much a continuation of one story across episodes as it is like the diary entries of a house. It chronicles the lives of the myriad people that come and stay within the four walls at different points in time. Let me dive right in.
What I loved about this web-series is the fact that like the house, the writing and direction of the episodes are very inclusive, forgiving and warm - just like a mother. This makes me wonder if such heartwarming and sensitive cinema is possible only by the ladies. I ask this question because, of late, most of the films/TV shows have been focussed on the males (KGF: Chapter 2, Beast, etc.) or have male gaze written all over them (Kaathu Vaakula Rendu Kaathal). Therefore, this series is a very welcome and much-needed breath of fresh air in the OTT space that is far removed from the toxic masculinity and patriarchy.
Each of the episodes, as said earlier focusses on the people that stay in Anantham. The first episode, Maragatham is like the Prologue to the beautiful novel that Anantham is. Starting off after the collapse of a father (Prakash Raj, as Venkatesan is in sublime form) on seeing his estranged son (Sampath as Ananth) in a news piece on a daily, the juggernaut rolls back in time as Ananth reluctantly visits the house and goes through the artefacts left by the people who stayed in Anantham earlier. Maragatham shows how Anantham is born. The episode takes us into the breezy world of the 80s with Ambassadors and madisars. The age-old, "I show my love for you by teasing you" trope is used here too, but such eye-rollers can be easily overlooked because the cast and performance is pitch-perfect. Arvind Sundar (young Venkatesan) and Samyuktha Shan (young Maragatham) are so honest and endearing in their performances that the melodrama that follows towards the end of the episode doesn't affect all that much.
The second episode, Seetha, is my most favourite episode in the series. Amrutha Srinivasan nails it in her performance as the titular character. Her mannerisms, like the flailing of the arms, the head always down trying to catch on to the little noises and sounds, etc. are so on point that I thought the creators had managed to actually bring a blind person on set to act the role out. I can't even imagine the struggles she had to go through while acting with the prosthetic eyes. Dealing with disability and infidelity, this is episode is a fantastic example of how to treat people with disability on screen with sensitivity. This is such a welcome change where disability is just used as a tool to extort tears from the audience. Kudos to the writing of the episode where the person who can't see is always the bigger person. She is confident, intuitive, smart and unapologetic. My most favourite dialogue, "Divorcee naa suthathiramaanvanganu artham" (Divorcee is someone who is free) comes at a point in the episode which is a wonderful set-up and foreshadow to what happens in the story.
The third episode, Rekha is very personal to me. I saw my own mother in Rekha as the one with the unending hope, optimism and positivity. Sandeep on the other hand is someone I could relate to as sometimes it was me, and other times it felt like seeing my own dad there. While the children were the typical cute ones that you would find in any advertisements, it is Rekha (Mekha is absolutely adorable and powerful) who steals the heart. With her undeterred belief in the goodness of the world and her husbands abilities she shows how constantly expecting the best can actually make the 'magic' happen in real life.
Ananth, the fourth episode is the most beautiful representation and cinematic treatment of queer people on screen after My Son is Gay, in Tamil cinema. It was so endearing to see Vinoth Kishan (young Ananth) and Vivek Rajagopal (young Ramu) romancing each other so gently. I loved the fact that V. Priya completely did away with the unnecessary sleaze that wriggles its way into the web-series platform. The romance was subtle, gentle and soft. I loved the writing in the scene where the mother (an apparent pattikaadu) is more accepting and open than the father (Prakash Raj) who, despite claiming to be very progressive is the one who drives young Ananth out of the house. While I have seen such inversions in real life, it was a moment of elation to see the same on the screen as well.
Krishnan Menon is the episode where V. Priya is at her peak with the rom-com genre. The cast is perfect, performances to the point and the writing just phenomenal. George Kora as the titular character is absolutely brilliant. Was it only me that saw shades of the playful Thoma from Thirike? The conceit in the story beautifully plays out in the climax with a beatiful happy ending. What I loved the most in this episode is the use of the old Tamil songs that fit the various hilarious situations like a glove. There is a moment in the episode where Krishnan stands up for one of the women he stays with and she starts to swoon, "Epdi hero maathiri vanthu kaapaathinarilla?" (How he came and saved me like a hero!) to which the eldest one in the family shoots back saying, "You always need a hero from outside. I'm tired of telling you to stand up for yourself" and walks back into the house with a scorn. It is small moments like these that make this series shine despite the obvious cracks in the writing.
Lalitha explores relationship in a horror kind of a setting. It is a continuation of the second episode, Seetha. It explores the repercussion of a wrong-doing and it's effect on the human mind. It is a beautiful mix of psychological thriller and horror that is a brilliant deep-dive into the mind of a guilt-ridden person. The slow buildup is anxiety-inducing and the ending is justice served, albeit delayed. This episode got me thinking on the relevance of arranged marriages which, more often than not is a euphemism for forced marriage.
In Parvathy, V. Priya addresses another social issue - sexual assault. It beautifully captures the behavioural changes and triggers that affect a survivor of the assault without victimizing her or justifying the perpetrator. I also loved the fact that while showing the childhood portions where the assault actually happens the child is not subjected to any acting of going through the assault. I loved the way the assault was shown over montages with Bharathiyas playing in the background. It was the most sensible and sensitive portrayal of what a survivor of sexual assault goes through after being molested. The performance by Mirna Menon is so powerful that you can't take your eyes off the screen.
The concluding and the eighth episode, Venkatesan, is the episode where the story of his family comes to an end. The unresolved resentment and bitterness and leave paving the way for an expected but a poignant ending, nevertheless. The forced cliff-hanger is a bit of a bummer and kind of unnecessarily changed the whole flavour of the series .
The most beautiful aspect of the whole series is the way Bharathiyar's songs are used for each of the episodes. The beautiful re-imagination (thank you for bringing back the golden voice of MSV) with the tune and feel of the songs is laudable and fit the overall mood of the episodes like a glove. Kudos to AS Ram for pulling it off with phenomenal panache.
To conclude, the series is not great cinema or perfect. But this is a much needed series. When all OTTs are obsessed with blood, violence, gore and sleaze, this is a welcome breath of freshness, sweetness, sensitivity and feel-good content. All credit to the writer-director V. Priya for pulling off a beautiful series that is sensitive, has its heart in the right place and has managed to move it as well!