I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying that Manoj Bharathiraja gives a great performance in Annakodi, but, as a comic villain, he certainly delivers a lot of entertainment. He bleats like a goat. He recites doggerel. He finds inventive ways to kill – sometimes with a razor blade, sometimes with a live wire plunged into a vat of water. With a woman who expects him to pay for the privilege of sleeping with her, he quotes the sum of five paise. (She expected five rupees!) He oversees the abduction of a little goat, which ends up roasting on a spit. Manoj Bharathiraja, propped by a part that’s the very definition of author-backed, keeps throwing things at us, and he grounds a film that’s alarmingly prone to “poetic” flights of fancy. Without the actor’s exertions, we’d be stranded in a story where the moonstruck hero, in search of a keepsake, trims the heroine’s fingernails with his teeth and requests her to bestow her moochu kaathu, life’s breath, on the clippings. If she’d had an iota of sense, she’d have run for her life.
But if she had, there’d be no story – at least no triangular love story, with the attraction between Annakodi (Karthika) and the goatherd Kodiveeran (Lakshman Narayan) being threatened by the looming presence of Sadayan (Manoj Bharathiraja). Bharathiraja, the director, continues to be fascinated by blood-soaked rural romances, and with good reason. This material, stuffed with class and caste politics, is perfect for melodrama, with juicy twists and turns at every point. But, here, there’s no emotional core. The leads strike no sparks together – they could be siblings. (The fault could lie with a screenplay that prefers to deal with their romance in flashbacks; we have nothing to hold on to in the present.) And the drama doesn’t explode. A strange kind of listlessness settles over the proceedings, and we see a lot of things happening without being affected by any of it. And what can one really say about the symbolism, like the image of a raging fire superimposed on the heroine to depict her anguish, or the milk that flows down cactus leaves to mirror her tears? It feels like a trip back in time, and not in a nice way.
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