The story of Nilambur Ayisha, who was Kerala's first Muslim theatrical artiste, is as fiery as the bullet she missed on that near-fatal morning in 1953. Forced to flee her home country, Ayisha lands in Saudi Arabia.
The palace in which she works as a gaddama ( housemaid), takes centre stage in 'Ayisha', the debut work of director Aamir Pallikkal.
Biopics usually narrate the entire life journey of a subject (atleast briefly), so 'Ayisha' doesn't really qualify as one. But the decision of the director to focus on this phase of her life (as a domestic help) , makes it for great storytelling.
But by opting for this choice, the filmmaker can be seen struggling at times. Nevertheless, the narrative is sweet and endearing.
Set in the Middle East, where people from different origins and languages arrive in search of better pastures, the characters are so diverse .
The kind-hearted Mama of the palace, played by Mona Essay, a foreign actress, is the matriarch of the family. Her word is final. The actress has enacted her role beautifully.
By her vivaciousness despite the pain she endures, Mona delights us, sometimes even overshadowing Manju Warrier, who plays the titular character. For sure, Manju Warrier infuses life to Ayisha.
The restraint, resilience and the empathy which Nilambur Ayisha embodies, has been captured with finesse. However, it is in some occasional oubursts that Manju excels.
All the other actors, including Krishna Sankar, have done a good job. The well-layed out tables, the food and the sisterhood between the gaddamas remind you of those English movies set in aristocratic households.
Cinematographer Vishnu Sharma has done a decent job with the visuals. The Indo-Arabic dance song Kannilu Kannilu sung by Ahi Ajayan, featuring Manju Warrier and choreographed by Prabhu Deva, had made way to several trolls, but it definitely is a good addition. It also captures the mood of the story. Shreya Ghoshal has crooned 'Ayisha' in the movie. M Jayachandran has composed the music.
Some scenes in the movie are fantastic, especially the scene when you realise the true essence of who Nilambur Ayisha is.
The best thing about 'Ayisha' is the way the Arab characters are portrayed. For a person unacquainted with Saudi Arabia, it is a small eye-opener to the lives of people there.
The typical treatment of the pyche of the people in movies gets a spin as it shows a different side of their persona. This is clearly evident from the way Mama speaks and treats Ayisha.
The director has also been careful not to make any of the characters look caricaturish, with the exception of one domestic help.
The loneliness and hardships of an old woman, who is battling the last stage of her life, has also been beautifully portrayed. Kudos to the makers for opening our eyes to struggles of people in the twilight of their years.
Some dialogues in the film are quite brilliant, like when Ayisha utters she is not a slave to her past or the owner of her future.
Wonder if those were really Ayisha's words or those made up by the film writer Ashif Kakkodi, who has also written 'Halal Love Story'.
Though the first half was more eventful, it is the second half of the film that dwells more on the emotional apect and the bonding between Ayisha and Mama. This aspect becomes a little tricky for the filmmaker as, after a point, some of the scenes become theatrical. However, we can't complain since the situations in Ayisha's lives were theatrical too.