C/O Saira Banu is a story about a woman who was underestimated of her abilities yet she decided not to go down without a fight. Manju Warrier, after delivering back-to-back films with her on the spotlight, stepped into the show and delivered a versatile portrayal of a woman who raises a boy as her own. The film is artistic, emotional and punchy. We fell for these characters and the thrilling facets keep us engrossed till the end with anticipation, most of it credit to the pacing of the film and Manju’s performance.
Saira Banu (Manju Warrier) is a Muslim woman living alone with Joshua Peter (Shane Nigam), a boy she had been raising since she was a teenager. His father Peter George (Mohanlal) went missing and for Saira Banu, who survived a mass suicide, Joshua means the world to her. She encouraged Joshua to chase his dreams and played the role of his moral support who paid for his broken camera without any more words. Amidst all this, a tight quarrel drives Joshua to leave the house in anger. He encounters several problems while on his way back and is arrested for manslaughter. Sair Banu, being a single woman without proper education and knowledge about legal formalities, is forced to represent Joshua when all doors were closed to her. What follows is an edge of the seat thriller.
If you are a lawyer or if you know a thing or two about Indian Penal Code and how the courts work then you will end up finding one mistake after the other. Saira Banu struggles a lot to find a lawyer. She faces major obstacles from an orthodox Brahmin who turns her down for being a Muslim, an expert lady who charges her with very high fees, and a defense lawyer who is coincidentally the accused boy’s brother in law. Above all, the legal aid turns out to be a guy who is doing the job for publicity and for the “sake of it”. Getting a lawyer need not be that difficult as there are newbies who would do anything to represent. We see the batch of lawyers making fun of Saira Banu when she enters the courtroom as Joshua’s representative. As someone who faced injustice, Saira is supposed to get sympathy and not laughs, plus the scene is poorly directed as we know that laughter is more forced than spontaneous. Saira is fighting against Annie John Tharavady (Amala Akkineni), a feisty public prosecutor who wouldn’t go down without a fight. She single handily brought down several cases including a multinational food company. But, it is Saira Banu’s determination that fuelled her to fight the case. We see a clash between two women having their aim and background. Thus the film passes Bechdel test with flying colors. Saira is intelligent and some of her observations helped her immensely along Joshua’s positive influence in his college. The relationship between Saira and Joshua, her backstory as a young girl who showed kindness and the thriller which followed make this film exemplary.
Manju Warrier delivers a passionate portrayal. The film gave her the opportunity to exhibit a large pool of emotions from her yelling “eeehaaaaa” while riding the scooter to confronting Annie about her discovery. Compared to Manju, Amala Akkineni couldn’t hold up. The biggest drawback about her portrayal is that her voice is dubbed and the vocal performance didn’t match with her expressions. Manju’s range overshadowed Amala in their combination scenes and however, Amala nailed those moments when she didn’t have any dialogues. Shane Nigam performed the comic scenes and dialogue delivery with ease but by the second half, he looked off. Niranjana Anoop did a fantastic job as she did the parody version of Rashmi, the co-founder of “kiss of love” campaign. She is bold, outspoken and charismatic. She earns respect from her fellow students unlike the stereotypical representation of women like her, who are vilified and made to kneel, which might have happened had the film been shot 20 years earlier.
There are several plotholes which bothered me. Being a witness in the crimes (main accused himself) how could the police possibly leave out Joshua’s senior just like that? He was never involved or even brought in. By the second half, the person who committed the manslaughter is revealed but the reason why the person didn’t take the victim to the hospital is beyond me. In accident cases, the perpetrators do not face the jail term and the situation could have been handled more gracefully. The pinnacle of the film is that Saira Banu decides to go find the relatives of the victim so he as well as she could get closure. But she discovers something else.
The songs and background music matched well with situations. The visuals added a feminine touch and brought the best based on performances. The cinematography and editing and modern, notably in the single camera shot where Saira and Joshua have an argument.
C/O Saira Banu is a celebrated feminist film of recent times and one of the best films of 2017.
Featured image : siarbanu