Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam(Movie Explained)
Onto the final release of the weekend and I have my digi-family to thank you this. With that I did finish watching the new Malayalam film Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam in a theatre near me. And this marks only my second Malayalam movie in a theatre in its original language. As you would know that finding a theatre which would play the movie with English subtitles is difficult. But after being coaxed by my digi-family, I decided to do some research. Please note that Book My Show(BMS) does not always give an accurate information about shows with English Subtitles. I happened to follow a page on twitter titled ‘Mumbai Subtitles Database’ that is the most accurate page as far as communicating the screens playing films with English subtitles is concerned. And so I did take a risk by going to a theatre which wasn’t listed in BMS for the English subtitles.
My theatre experience was traumatic to begin with. After confirming that the English subtitles are present at the counter, the film began without it. At that point I was furious and immediately went to check with the Duty Manager. The issue was resolved thankfully after 5 minutes and given the nature of the drama, I could easily play catchup too. But little did I expect that the next 2 hours would be probably the best of the weekend, analytically speaking.
The combo of Lijo Jose Pellissery and Mammootty was always going to be a mouth-watering one. Given the form that the latter is in, doing some of his best works at the age of 71 is an inspiration in itself. While some of his peers are romancing girls half their age, Mammootty has been on reinvention mode in his second innings. Be it One, Bheeshma Parvam, Rorschach or now Nanpakal Nerutha Mayakkam(NNN), the man is in sizzling hot form. This while LJP does remain the undisputed king of ‘absurd’ly beautiful films where the sheer technique and storytelling often shine, be it Angamaly Diaries, Jalikattu, Churuli or now NNN. And given his filmography, I really was looking forward to another drama which was seemingly more twisted than it looked otherwise. So then does Nanpakal Nerutha Mayakkam manage to impress, hell yeah and I shall tell you why!
Story & Screenplay(Spoilers + Movie Explained)
Nanpakal Nerutha Mayakkam, which literally stands for ‘An Afternoon Nap’ or ‘Like An Afternoon Dream’, follows the story of a theatre group who are returning from Velankanni, Tamil Nadu back to Kerala where the leader of the group suddenly disappears, only to reappear as a different man. The story is touted as a comedy with a lot of layers and subtexts that made my brain run riot and in all directions, long after the film has ended. The runtime of a shade under 110 minutes was crisp and did not overstay its welcome. But the film did have a lot to pack in and so this section will contain major spoilers, so viewers discretion advised.
The fun in a twisted LJP film lies in the fact that you enjoy decoding the film long after it has ended. And you have to do that in phases, bit by bit, from start to the end as there would be clues thrown in the narrative. So you are introduced to the protagonist James, who is a miserly Catholic who is also agnostic. In a discussion early on in the film, he expresses that he is a Christian but knows how much to invest in it and where to draw the line(paraphrased). He is a bit of a joykill kind of a person who doesn’t enjoy his theatre group singing out loudly in the bus. Additionally, his love for Tamil Nadu isn’t the best, although he can be termed as ‘tolerant’. In an instance, he does criticize the food from the state, terming the tea as ‘too sweet’. But the reason why he maybe tolerant is because he doesn’t flinch an eyelid at the Lodge that has pictures of Hindu Gods along with symbols of Christianity.
Now if the bridge was a gateway to another ‘world’ in Churuli, it is the phenomena of ‘sleep’ that changes the course of the film. One of the major clues is right at the beginning, wherein a verse is written on the lodge wall, a quote from Thirukural(one of the best Tamil scriptures) that reads, ‘To Fall Asleep Is Death And To Wake Up From Sleep Is Birth'(with frames of ‘Gods’ staring at the protagonist). This line perfectly symbolizes the events to follow. After a heavy lunch on the way back, all the passengers including James do fall asleep, only for James to wake up suddenly and request the bus to be stopped. What did seem like a routine pit-stop does turn out to be a long wait wherein, in an absurd turn of events, James enters a household and begins behaving like another man Sundaram. At one point, in a hilarious sequence, he takes the bike and disappears around the village, with all the residents(including the bus passengers) after him. What does make things interesting is that none of them recognize him!
The characteristics of Sundaram(former James) has now changed completely. He is no longer a miser, often seen cracking jokes and being very friendly with the people around him. Also, he is shown to be a staunch believer in Hinduism, with a point of reference being the village temple. Soon we get to know a startling fact about Sundaram. The man had disappeared 2 years earlier, only to return(in the form of James) on the same date. This does make things interesting where the plot minutely introduces a bit of a social commentary through the character of Sundaram at the half-way mark in a terrific interval block. The argument being that no one can be termed an outsider and everyone can stay wherever their heart lies. A reference of it being, all the world is a stage and I can dance wherever I wish to.
In between, there is a terrific meta reference of Mammootty(who is Sundaram at that point), chanting out and enacting dialogues from the television at an eatery. The interesting bit being that the television was playing the 1990 film Parampara that had Mammootty essaying the roles of both father and the son! What a legend! These elements add to the humour and was met with a round of applause by the members of the crowd. While the focus is on the character(s) of Mammootty, the other characters are well etched out too. You have a person that needs to rush back to Kerala to open his ration shop in time that adds a bit of urgency to the otherwise ‘sleepy’ narrative. Another character involves a nurse who the residents of the village term as ‘mad’. And we have the characters of two wives who are surprisingly cordial to one another.
The rest of the story involves the residents and bus passengers trying to sedate Sundaram and coax him to be James again. The dynamics that is created within the group is interesting given that the wife and family of Sundaram have secondary thoughts on letting him go. This includes the blind mother who ‘watches’ TV the whole day yet loves her ‘son’ around her, who often sleeps in her lap. While the films meets with its end and it may seem abrupt, there are many lingering questions about the ambiguity of the drama. Why was James behaving in a sudden manner? What happens to Sundaram? And it is here that I shall be giving out a couple of conspiracy theories.
The film ends with a writing on the bus – One Stop Take Directed By Thilakan(a legendary playwright). This opens a possibility of this being a film within a film with the thing to remember is that this was a theatre group afterall. Another possibility might be James simply reflecting on himself and his sins while taking a nap. Remember, the theatre group were on the way back after visiting a Church and so self introspection could have been a natural phenomena. Lastly, this could have also been a case of things unfolding in the mind of James given his belief and perhaps a plot for his next play(or an adaptation). Whatever be the reason, the drama is a slow burn and moves at a leisurely narrative just like its title signifies. Yet, it is engaging and engrossing and a rather fulfilling experience. I really appreciate films challenging the viewers to think beyond the ordinary and that is when my creative juices begin to flow. And strangely enough, this was a consecutive Mammootty starrer that was twisted yet it felt so organic. A brilliant display of writing!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues have lines in two languages – Tamil and Malayalam. And both add authenticity to the drama which is set on the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The BGM is absolutely brilliant and an offshoot of the brilliant drama. The only noises you will hear is from television playing in the neighbourhood wherein the BGM seamlessly adapting itself with the ‘noises’, without the viewer recognizing it. The ‘noises’ were of old films with high melodrama that did add a bit of theatrics to the drama(remember this was a theatre group afterall). In a separate instance, the radio playing in the bus plays out music, replicating the speed of the bus. The cinematography is absolutely brilliant with wide frames that almost reminded me of European cinema. The stills had action taking place somewhere on the screen and it was left to the viewers to spot it. Phenomenal is the word! Director Lijo Jose Pellissery is a living legend who doesn’t repeat films or genres. With his first attempt at a twisted comedy, he excels and how. He enjoys playing on the second level, often trusting the intelligence of the audience. His direction is phenomenal here which is another timely reminder of his skills as a director as well as controlling the engaging narrative in a brilliant manner.
The performances by the ensemble cast is absolutely brilliant. Vipin Atley as Tomy and Rajesh Sharma as Kannan are first rate. Ashokan as Babukutty is excellent. Ramya Suvi as Sati is such a natural onscreen and she does a terrific job. Ramya Pandian as Poonkhuzhali is excellent in a wonderfully restrained role. But it is Mammootty as James/Sundaram that shines and how! He seamlessly transports from one role to another, almost like he did have a switch. The moment he entered the Tamil household he transformed to Sundaram and later back to James. This is honestly a stuff of legends, almost catching the audience unaware and taking them on a joyride. A legendary performance by a legendary actor!
Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam is a whimsical tale of cinematic brilliance that ensures that the Mammootty-LJP supremacy continues. And it is once again Malayalam Cinema that has got off to a flyer in 2023. Available in a theatre near you and Highly Highly Recommended!