Thank God It Is Friday and with it comes its fresh spate of new releases. And it does seem like the good old weekend wherein I have a chance to watch and review a Malayalam film! With that, I finished watching the new Malayalam film 1001 Nunakal which is now streaming on SonyLiv. The film had previously premiered at the IFFK and garnered a huge round of applause with its unique and magnetic theme. While I did not know what the film was about, I did read about its synopsis that did promise for an exciting watch.
A group of people stacked together in a single room usually does account for an exciting watch following an event that transpires – usually a murder. Films like 12th Man and Neeyat are prime examples of films in this genre, with multiple personalities of full display throughout the course of the film. And I was keen to watch 1001 Nunakal aka Thousand And One Lies precisely for this reason given how exciting the format is. Studying human emotions and their psyche with a stake in the existing relationships that they have is a topic wherein I would be sold. That said, does 1001 Nunakal manage to impress, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
1001 Nunakal follows the story of a group of friends who gather one night to play a game of lies wherein each one of them has to confess to a lie that they have hidden from their partners. The story here has a moody atmosphere with a magnetic pull that often indulges you in the conversations. This, while it tactfully covers various themes related to gender dynamics and class hierarchy while staying true to the title of the film! The screenplay standing at a modest runtime of about a 100 minutes is taut, playful yet subdued all at the same time, something that contributes to a compelling watch.
The drama does open with a bunch of characters interacting with each other. This was a very interesting opening act that relied on the intellect of the viewers to piece together the conversations without providing a glimpse of the baggage that the characters are holding onto. In fact, the writers go as far as not quite providing the names of the characters as well while the focus remains on the ‘unrelated’ talks that act as a buildup to the drama. I quite enjoyed this technique of world building that instantly had the potential to draw me into the narrative. Soon, the focus shifts to a couple of the characters in what seemed like a searing commentary on the class hierarchy along with bonded labour. Yet, you aren’t quite sure on how things would tie up to the main plot!
The proceedings are engrossing and entertaining especially when the ill-fated night kicks off. While the stakes for the night aren’t as high as that of 12th Man(meaning there is no murder that transpires), the game of lies itself was an act of indulgence that had my complete attention. It is through this game that the viewers are acquainted with the personalities of the individuals and the character dynamics that the characters share with one another and their spouses. Through this period, there are various themes that the writers choose to address. One definitely was the compatibility test between the couples and that was evident through the frivolous first revelation which was also a take on the prevalent patriarchy taken down by a progressive feminist.
As the night gets darker, so do the secrets between characters. The conversations are engrossing, often focussing on the power dynamics between the couples be it through gender politics or simply love. In a moving scene, you see a character bringing out points of money in the argument knowing fully well that he had lost his job while his wife was the only bread winner of the family. Elsewhere, a man admitting to his first marriage results in mayhem between the couple. But also, a searing revelation also brings a couple together. So love as a concept was reflected in different kinds of insecurities through different people.
There was an undercurrent of the class hierarchy that is prevalent throughout the film with respect to the two sets of characters. While an anniversary prompted one character to gift his wife a watch worth of 5 lacs, another character had to help her husband to pay off a loan of 50K. This was the contrast in the lifestyles of these characters that contributes to an incident in the film. But there were constant questions by me on where this film is headed. And while the stakes in the drama are low, it leads to a shocking final act that made me ponder after the film had ended. I would just wish to throw some light on it, so spoiler ahead!
In the final scene, you see the character of Indu being slapped right across her face by her debted husband, after she failed to bring the watch worth 5lacs which would have helped them waver the loan. This was in the lead up to the character of Vinay first claiming that the watch is just a first copy and not worth 5lacs, only to reverse his statement later(which was oblivious to Indu). So the fact that Indu did try to be truthful to her husband, was met with a severe reaction which was in contrast to the 1001 lies spoken by various characters throughout the film(for years to their partners). It was a poignant end which is quite reflective of today’s times wherein a person tries to be brave a speak the truth. It makes you question on the integrity of the society who is often happy to be fake while not wanting to face the truth. As a character says in the film, the truth or lie is often based on what we wish to hear. Something to ponder on, thus summing up a wonderfully penned screenplay!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are conversational and you do need to pay attention to the details which you are subjected to, to truly indulge in the proceedings. If you do, then there are rewards to be had. The BGM is subtle and sparingly used to enhance the tension in the scene. The cinematography is excellent particularly with its frames. In a scene, there is a focus on the barbeque fire just before the game of lies is about to begin that is almost a signal for things going awry. The colour grading is lovely focusing on themes of yellow to depict the upper society with darker shades representing the lower class. The editing is sharp and crisp as well. Director Thamar KV makes an impressive debut by almost designing this drama as a thriller. The conversations flow through the night and its natural progression results in some unwarranted situations which are beautifully handled by the director. The direction is top class here!
The performances are simply brilliant here. Noufal Rahman as Joffi makes his presence felt with his performance that has a certain sense of ease to it. Sudheesh Scaria as Vakeel is terrific and a character that acts as a bit of a catalyst for the drama to follow. Vidhya Vijaykumar as Aleena is brilliant as a feminist who doesn’t shy away from voicing her opinion. Zhinz Shan as Anil is a layered character weighed under the burden of his financial state while also being a body of patriarchy. And it was a phenomenal act by him. Niiniin Kassim as Divya is wonderfully restrained while representing her vulnerability that can be traced to the fact that she doesn’t completely trust her husband. Another way of looking at it might be that there may not be love prevalent between her and her husband but to the world all seems to be fine.
Vishnu Agasthya as Vinay is lovely to witness as a character who is loyal and still in love with his wife Divya. But his vulnerability might stem out of expectations from his wife. Rashmi K Nair as Bency and Sooraj Kolassery as Elwin represent a perfect couple who do not allow the smaller obstacles get the better of their relationship and both are wonderful acrors delivering stellar acts. Shamla Hamza as Salma is yet another layered character who may not completely trust her husband and she portrays it brilliantly. Sajin Ali Pulakkal as Mujeeb represents the truthful husband carrying a sorrow of pain within him and she was really affable and endearing.
Anusha Vellavathukkal as Somya is wonderfully restrained herself in a character who is silently supporting her family while continuing to be in guilt. Sudeep Koshy as Rajesh has insecurities of his own but he does quite conduct himself well, and that meant that the message conveyed through his character definitely did hit home. He was excellent in the film. Remya Suresh as Indu was perhaps the most understated character who for the first time decided to lie to her employer while continuing to be truthful to her husband. And this was a battle that she lost both ways, but her performance is heartfelt and it tugs the strings of your heart. She also hss such expressive eyes that seemingly have been carrying a burden of pain in what was a brilliant performance overall.
1001 Nunakal is a moody atmospheric drama with layers of social commentary that comes with my highest recommendation. Available on SonyLiv and Highly Recommended!