And Malayalam cinema does it again. So this is what happens when you are free from the trap of making things commercial—true creativity shines through, which is the theme of the film itself, though approached from a very different angle. “19 (1) (A)” has a forgivable slow pace because of its expert handling of the sensitive subject matter. The story is about a woman, Penkutty, who runs a xerox shop and feels trapped in her mundane life. One day, a writer leaves his manuscript in her shop, effectively changing her life forever. Let us see what makes this movie so magical.
How Does The Manuscript End Up With Penkutty?
The movie “19 (1) (A)” starts with Penkutty making her way to the xerox shop that she runs. It used to belong to her father, and now she manages it. She leads a very mundane life, set in a routine. She wakes up in the morning, cooks lunch for herself and her father, and then goes to the shop. Half the time, the electricity goes off, and she has to go to another xerox shop across town to get the client’s order ready. Penkutty has aspirations to study further and find a better job, but she is stuck with the responsibilities. Her father has pretty much lost interest in taking care of himself or the house since the death of his wife, and it is up to Penkutty to pick up the pieces now. She has a friend, Fathima, who is about to get married but doesn’t want to. Amidst all of this, she gets a customer, Gauri Shankar, who gives her a manuscript and asks her to keep a copy ready. He tells her that he will be back later to collect it.
It is shown that he has gone to meet his sister but does not find her at home. The next day, Penkutty sees on the news that he has been shot dead. This shakes her up, and she is completely confused about what she needs to do. Later, she sees an interview by the investigating officer in charge, Ismail Ibrahim. Gauri Shankar was a writer and a human rights activist, and he had been shot to stop his writings from being published. But he had sent a message to Ismail on the day of his death that ‘his words were safe.’ Penkutty understands that he was talking about the manuscript with her. It also clicks that he had been expecting to die and was taking care of his final affairs this way.
Penkuttu finds the name of the publishing house that had published his previous works—KM Publications. She goes there to see if she can get his last work printed through them, but something about the place and the people makes her leave right away. The editor, Anand, was a friend of Gauri Shankar. In a flashback, we see that he had gone to meet him and taken him out for dinner. On their outing, he told him that he must start writing something different from what he was currently doing to increase his growth. But Gauri Shankar refuses, and Anand leaves him in the middle of the road in anger. When Gauri Shankar reaches home, he finds his house raided, and his work is burnt down. Luckily, he had a spare tucked away. It is evident that Anand was in cahoots with whoever did this. It was also probably Gauri Shankar’s first clue that he would be the next target, since he had no plans of giving up. We see some more flashbacks, where he is giving a talk at a meeting. He says that we must first know ourselves before we start telling the people what we think.
Back in the present, Penkutty starts reading his manuscript and begins a journey of introspection in her own life. On the day of Fathima’s marriage, she asks her if she has ever tried to tell her family that she did not want to get married. Fathima tells her that it is just easier to listen to them. At this point, we understand something crucial. Freedom of speech and expression is not just about us expressing our thoughts and views to the state. It is what influences the choices we make and the direction our lives take. Fathima’s house did not have an environment conducive enough for her to express herself. And that ends up pushing her into an unwanted marriage and, potentially, an unhappy life. Penkutty also goes to visit Gauri Shankar’s sister, as a way of understanding the man better. She comes to know that he had given all of his books to his niece. The act had been a hint, although understood later, that he was expecting to die. When she gets back that day, her father is waiting for her. From the next day onwards, he starts taking the responsibilities that he had neglected for so long and goes to the Xerox shop.
’19 (1) (A)’ Ending Explained: Does Gauri Shankar’s Book Get Published? Is Penkutty Alive?
Penkutty understood the weight of the responsibility on her shoulders. Seeing the plight of her friend, understanding the manuscript, and noticing the instances in her own life that have been affected by her silence and by her speaking up, she knows the importance of the book getting published. She makes a few copies of it and sends them to Gauri Shankar’s sister, his publisher, the officer in charge, and to the reporter of a TV channel. The book was titled “Karuppu,” which means “black.” It contained the stories of nine people who had been murdered. The story was mostly considered folklore, but it had happened. The skin color of all of them was black.
Gauri Shankar’s work Karuppu was an account of the atrocities committed on the basis of caste. And he was killed by the elements who did not want this to become popular discourse so that they could maintain the status quo. Having done her job, Penkutty makes the choice to follow her dreams and apply to study law. As she closes the shutters of the shop, we hear the sound of a scooter, similar to the one that killed Gauri Shankar. But we do not hear gunshots. So, despite our doubts, we will be hopeful and say that Penkutty lives and follows her dreams.
Final Thoughts: What Works For ’19 (1) (A)’?
Malayalam movies have a way of not bombarding the audience with information but letting them use their own intelligence to understand the nuance of a topic. Article “19 (1) (A)” of our constitution gives its citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression. We hear often enough in the news that a journalist has been persecuted because of their reporting on a topic. But what we don’t hear spoken about enough is how this very right intertwines with our everyday life. In Fathima’s case, her lack of freedom was a way of maintaining the patriarchy and the archaic traditions. In the case of Penkutty, while there was no real barrier, the time she spent ignoring what she actually wanted was when her life was most stagnant. It was when she finally spoke to her father about how she did not blame him for her mother’s death that he took his responsibilities seriously, giving her the freedom to pursue her own dreams. 19 (1) (a) is not just a fundamental part of the functioning of a democracy, but also the way to live a life of your choice. And this was the real message of the movie. We can’t recommend it enough.
“19 (1) (A)” is a 2022 Indian Drama film directed by Indhu V.S.