Thankamma review: Make way for the ferry-woman

Release Date: 29 Jan 2018 / 14min

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Sonal Pandya

The no-nonsense nonagenarian earns her keep by ferrying passengers back and forth in Alappuzha, Kerala.

The simple crowdfunded Malayalam documentary by Ramabhadran B focuses its lens on the solitary life of 91-year-old Thankamma from Alappuzha, Kerala. The resilient nonagenarian rows people back and forth as a ferry-woman in the 14 minute documentary that gives us an insight into life of the elderly.

Thankamma lives a spartan life by the river. By her own admission, she has good and bad days. Some days she earns Rs50, some days only Rs2.

After the death of her husband, she had to become resourceful in order to support herself and chose to begin rowing people, something she had been good at since she was a little girl.

Now, she is hunched over by old age and needs a stick to walk, but all her teeth are still intact. A local, much, much younger shopkeeper laughingly tells her that he envies her; he had three of his teeth pulled out.

However, the usually light-hearted Thankamma turns somber while discussing her solitary life — she has no children and making ends meet is a struggle.

Besides an income, being a ferry-woman gives her a chance to stay up to date on the local gossip and social interactions. The feisty lady isn't one to back down from anything. She's a proud member of the Communist Party and would crawl to cast her vote.

When most youngsters are afraid to speak their mind, she is not shy to stand up and protest. "Mess with me, and I will fight back," she says.

The documentary was crowdfunded by students of the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts.

Director and producer Ramabhadran B chose to tell the story of an incredible woman, whose never-give-up attitude serves as inspiration to all, no matter what age.

Thankamma was screened at the 15th Mumbai International Film Festival on 29 January 2018.