In director Antony Sony’s debut film C/O Saira Banu, the two protagonists (played by Manju Warrier and Amala Akkineni) are unconventional lead characters, rarely seen in Malayalam cinema. One is a happy single mother, the other is a firebrand woman lawyer. Both are independent, courageous, and immensely kind. Their contrasting social worlds clash one night, and they are pitted against each other in a legal battle.
The film is about how they emerge from this, unhurt.
C/O Saira Banu is a smart film. It seamlessly weaves a number of contemporary issues like moral policing and the kiss of love protest into its narration, without any judgement. And although the fight for justice in the second half is bizarre, the film sugarcoats the whole sequence, such that the audience never feels the gravity of the unfairness they just witnessed.
Moreover, C/O Saira Banu has Manju Warrier playing the titular role. And Warrier is a highly talented actor who exudes charm in even the plainest get-up. She plays her part with finesse – as if she has known Saira Banu, a nondescript postal officer and the modest life she leads, forever.
In one scene, she proudly shows her college-going son (Shane Nigam) an old photograph of hers that was featured on a newspaper’s front page. She giggles like a child when he looks at her in amazement and asks, “Is this really you, Banu?” It’s beautifully natural.
In another scene, she walks out of the office of a government attorney who has insulted her, sits down on a bench in the corridor, and bursts into tears. She draws empathy. She makes you grieve for her son, Joshua, who is behind bars for a crime he never intended to commit. And when she says, “Joshua will never do this!” you nod in agreement. Because this woman is so genuine, she deserves to be believed.
The second woman in the film, Annie John Tharavadi (Amala Akkkineni), is a lawyer whose brilliance and charisma makes the men around her envious. She is someone who can veil the darkness inside her with innate grace. Although Amala’s looks are perfect for the part, you can’t help thinking how much better the character would have been if portrayed by a better actress. Someone who could depict vileness as credibly as she can be cherubic.
In a scene where Banu confronts her about a secret she had been guarding carefully, Amala falters. Her lips and eyes quiver, and she looks furious. Except, that’s not quite the Annie John we had been watching till then. She is sharp and intuitive – someone more sophisticated than Drishyam‘s Georgekutty.
Better writing and a better actor would have made this role iconic.
C/O Saira Banu laments the plight of Saira, whose low-class status and lack of political influence make her lose out in a system driven by money and power.
Oddly enough, the film never bats an eyelid for the man whose death forms the core plot of the film: the young migrant labourer from West Bengal who is killed in a brutal hit-and-run case. It shakes both Saira’s world and Annie’s.
In the legal trial that follows, the perils of hiring workers without checking their identity is discussed. However, the dead man gets no sympathy. Even the young activists whom Joshua befriends are unconcerned with the lost life.
And this lack of empathy fuels an unintentional dark satire that mocks itself.
C/O Saira Banu doesn’t try to be extraordinary in its filmmaking style – the song sequences are old-fashioned, and scenes where Joshua’s passion for photography is depicted are cliché-ridden.
However, the film has a warmth that elevates it above these flaws. The mother-son relationship is portrayed delightfully, without being preachy about the virtues of motherhood. When Saira holds Joshua close just as she once embraced orphaned kittens as a child, the analogy is beautiful.
And the icing on the cake is Mohanlal’s near-poetic voiceover, gentle and deep, used to narrate Saira’s flashback.
In an industry that is centred around male stars with stories written for them, C/O Saira Banu is a crucial step for feminism and Indian cinema.
The C/O Saira Banu review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.