Achcham Madam Naanam Payirppu: A well-intentioned take on female desire that falls flat in execution

Akshara Haasan-starrer 'Achcham Madam Naanam Payirppu' to release on Prime Video on March 25.
Akshara Haasan's 'Achcham Madam Naanam Payirppu. Photo: IANS

The quintessential good girl, as described in most ancient scriptures, possesses qualities that are deemed stifling in today's world, as it should be. Born out of straight patriarchial minds, the idea of a 'perfect woman' lays out how she should even breathe. In that aspect, Achcham Madam Naanam Payirppu deserves a pat on the back for trying to break 'the myth of a good girl', which is also the movie's English title.

Indian cinema is still conservative when it comes to exploring female desire. Forget exploring, Indian cinema has been the most influential force in perpetuating the idea of a 'good woman' in society.

By placing the protagonist in an 'as conservative as it gets' Brahmin setup, director Raja Rajamurthy had the right vehicle to drive her journey from fearful innocence to newfound freedom. But the execution falls flat on its face on more occasions than once, turning it into a moderate coming-of-age flick.

Pavithra (Akshara Haasan) comes from a seemingly strict Brahmin household. Her overbearing mother (Malgudi Subha) wants Pavithra to be able to sing like her grandmother (Usha Uthup), and keeps pushing her to do better through the entirety of the film. Her father (Suresh Chandra Menon) is a lot more easygoing, but loathes her boyfriend Harish (Siddhartha Shankar), who plays for the Tamil Nadu cricket team. Pavithra fits society's idea of a good girl to a tee and has all the characteristics mentioned in the title, which loosely translates to fear (Achcham), modesty (madam), coyness (Naanam) and chastity (Payirppu). But like every child in a strict household, Pavithra leads a dual life. She is another person with her friends Jessica (Shalini) and Rathi (Anjana), who often feel like figments of Pavithra's imagination and are always at loggerheads with each other. In the scenes where they debate Pavithra's wish to have intercourse with her boyfriend, Rathi represents choice, while Jessica upholds the 'it's a sin' part of the argument. A lot of the movie then involves Pavithra playing with her dog Pixie, brushing, texting and contemplating.

Some neat metaphors

The movie tries its hand at using metaphors and it is a nice touch. The songs being crooned in the movie often denote the mood of the protagonist or her situation. Pavithra's stalker, who leashes a stray dog and waits outside her house till she takes her dog out for a walk, hums songs that celebrate stalking. Her neighbour, who sits on the verandah and keeps giving her the stink eye, could likely represent society and its tendency to peek into others' lives. Naidu aunty (Janaki Ganesh), who sells bogus products, represents the gullibility of the Indian consumer and how capitalism thrives by feeding on our insecurities. The shopkeeper being shocked at the protagonist asking for condoms and reluctantly giving it but not before asking if he should wrap it in paper, takes a dig at the conservative idea that thinking about sex before marriage is taboo.

There are moments when you want to question the movie's logic. Pavithra, who is so fearful of her parents, never stops Rathi from taking her to the shop she has been going to for 15 years to buy condoms. The moment her parents decide to go out of town, she does not hesitate to call her boyfriend home, often confusing the viewer whether she is scared of her family for good reason or if a lot of it is just in her head.

Akshara Haasan's uneven performance makes it harder for the audience to feel anything for her character. In scenes where Rathi and Jessica quarrel, Akshara sticks out like a sore thumb. Her reaction to most conversations in the movie feel very rehearsed, leaving us wondering if the director got the casting right.

It was nice to see female names behind the camera for a change. Susha's music, Shreya Dev Dube's cinematography and Keerthana Murali's editing complement the story well.

While the idea and story get an A, the execution and performances leave much to be desired for. Still, pulling off a movie on female desire indicates the change happening within the industry. For that alone, Achcham Madam Naanam Payirppu deserves a watch.

The movie is available on Amazon Prime Video.

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