Malayalam cinema may have produced some of the finest woman-centric films in India, but their numbers have seen a drastic decline in the last decade or so. Sadly, films like ‘Parinayam,' ‘Susanna,' ‘Innallenkil Nale,' ‘Kazhakam,' ‘Chakoram,' ‘Desadanakkilikal Karayarilla, ‘Adaminte Vaariellu,' ‘Perumazhakkalam' and ‘Achuvinte Amma' have become a rarity.

So V.M. Vinu's ‘Pen Pattanam,' which opened yesterday, comes as a pleasant surprise as the film narrates the story of four women who refuse to be defeated by fate or circumstances. The film has raised expectations because it has been written by Ranjith and scripted by T.A. Razak. Surprisingly the film has been made by a director who unabashedly celebrated the central male character in his films like ‘Balettan,' ‘Bus Conductor' and ‘Vesham.'

Dismissing any claims of ‘Pen Pattanam' being an art house film or a celebration of feminism, Vinu says he made the film to prove wrong the popular perception that women are not as strong as men.

Turning point

“In the film, the four women get into serious trouble – that actually is the turning point of the plot – but they get out of the mess all by themselves, without any help from the men,” Vinu explains.

The four women are ‘Kudumbasree' employees who work as sanitation workers. Each one of them has a separate tale of her own. K.P.A.C. Lalitha, Revathy, Shwetha Menon and Vishnupriya enact the four women.

Vinu elaborates: “Revathy plays Girija, a widow with two children; Shwetha is Suhara, a Muslim woman married to a Hindu; Lalitha is Shantha, an elderly woman who provides for her lazy son and wife; Vishnupriya, the youngest of the quartet, plays Raji, who is in love with a reformed goon.”

Vinu believes he's got a perfect cast. “Revathy and Lalitha were my first choices; I had Padmapriya in mind for the role of Suhara but she didn't have the dates that I required. I must say, however, that Swetha has done an excellent job; she has already proved her class in the film ‘Paleri Manikyam: Oru Pathira Kolapathakathinte Katha.' Vishnupriya too has performed well, despite her lack of experience. She may have been pitted against seasoned performers such as Revathy, Lalitha and Shwetha, but she has acquitted herself well,” says Vinu.

It is indeed a role reversal for actors like Lal, Nedumudi Venu and Kailash who play second fiddle to the four heroines.

‘Pen Pattanam' may not be the most serious film on women and its director has no intentions of comparing it with films like ‘Parinayam' or ‘Susanna.'

Explains Vinu: ‘“Pen Pattanam' is a totally commercial film but it is different from my previous works such as ‘Balettan,' ‘Bus Conductor' and ‘Vesham,' which revolved around a hero.”

Although two of Vinu's hits (‘Makente Achan' and ‘Yes, Your Honour') did not feature the superstars of Malayalam cinema, Vinu admits that ‘Pen Pattanam' was made because a Mammotty-starrer (‘Ganapathi') that he was planning to direct had to be shelved. That was when Ranjith, his senior at the School of Drama in Thrissur, phoned him from Egypt to ask him what he wanted as a gift. Instead of asking for a souvenir from Egypt, Vinu asked him for a story and that was how ‘Pen Pattanam' began.

Ranjith's story

“I am delighted that finally I am directing a film based on his story. Ranjith had actually planned to produce and script ‘Pen Pattanam,' but he became busy with his own film with Mammootty. And I roped in T.A. Razak as the scriptwriter, because I had enjoyed working with him in ‘Vesham' and ‘Bus Conductor,” gushes Vinu.

Vinu believes small films like ‘Pen Pattanam' could offer a lifeline for the ailing Malayalam film industry. “Although I enjoyed making small-budget films like ‘Makante Achan' and ‘Pen Pattanam,' I will continue to make films with Mammootty and Mohanlal. But we need to make films for less than Rs. 2 crore to save the producer from burning his fingers. I hope the veterans of the Malayalam film industry also begin thinking of making small films,” says Vinu.