It is a Monday but I still have plenty of leftovers from the weekend. With that I finished watching the new Malayalam film Neelavelicham which is now streaming on Amazon Prime. I had earlier missed out on its theatrical release and despite its mixed word of mouth, I was really looking forward to what the film had to offer. And there were plenty of factors going for the film straight up. The film had a killer star cast in the form of Tovino Thomas, Shine Tom Chacko and Roshan Mathew along with a brilliant director at the helm of it in the form of Aashiq Abu. Along with it, the film was based on the literary work of one of the greatest writers of Kerala, Vaigom Muhammed Basheer.
Now I haven’t read the short story of Basheer and neither have I watched the original 1964 film Bhargavi Nilayam, something which I came across while researching about the film. And so I will not quite have a reference about the original source material and I would only be able to work on assumptions given my perception of the film. That said, does Neelavelicham manage to impress with its story telling and its horror elements, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
Based on a short story and a reboot of the original 1964 film Bhargavi Nilayam, Neelavelicham follows the story of a recluse writer who does decide to stay in an abandoned mansion wherein resides a revengeful ghost. What happens next? The story here is interesting but too predictable for my liking. And this was honestly the challenge in front of the makers – to stay true to its source material(assuming it had a similar setup) and adapt the story to the modern era. But the creative decision of just opting for the former does backfire to an extent given that the screenplay standing at about a 130 odd minutes lacks an emotional depth.
The drama does open on a good note in what was a beautiful sense of world building. The opening frame itself does provide the viewers with a faint idea of a ghostly presence in the mansion. This, until you are introduced to the protagonist, a writer by professional who comes to stay with it. The drama is a slow burn and opts to build on the atmospherics of the place where the recluse mansion is situation. You are also exposed to the locals who have their own theories as to why the mansion is abandoned while warning the protagonist to stay away from it. When the protagonist refuses to budge, you know you are in for some fun. Yet, that fun element doesn’t quite kick in with the right kind of emotions.
The proceedings focus on the ambience of the area but in the process reduce the characters to being rather one-dimensional. I feel you could have explored the psyche of the protagonist and his relationship with the ghost which would have added layers to the drama. The idea of being isolated was different for the ghost and the protagonist – one out of choice and the other out of revenge. And this aspect could have resulted in an unexpected friendship which is hinted at but there aren’t many moments to completely back the idea. The layers in the drama are missing and that is what comes back to haunt the product.
The drama is as fluid as poetry in motion with a sense of deftness provided to the horror element. Yet, when the flashback begins in the second hour, the drama does get just so predictable and plain devoid of any twists and turns that it did make me think – the screenplay wasn’t adapted to the modern era at all. This may have worked in 1964(assuming this was the exact same screenplay) but it will never work in 2023. The emotional connect was lacking to a point that I didn’t quite care about the proceedings which was such a shame given the technical prowess of the film. Even the final act was bland thus summing up the screenplay which was far too simplistic for my liking despite a good sense of world building.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are soft and intricate and they would have stirred up the right emotions had the screenplay writing and character development been better. The music is beautiful and this is perhaps the best album I have heard all year. The songs deserve a playlist of their own and I felt sorry that they might be forgotten due to a bland product overall. The BGM too is good and tries to enhance the drama so well. The cinematography and the VFX are two unsung heroes of the film adding texture to the ambience of the drama. The editing is crisp as well particularly in scene transitions. Director Aashiq Abu is a master of his craft but he misses the mark here. My thought was that he may have gotten too carried away with this drama being true to its source material that he may have overlooked at adjusting the screenplay to the modern day palate.
The performances are pretty good here although all characters do not quite have that ‘meat’ in their roles. Shine Tom Chacko once again is excellent in a negative role and there is something about his expressions that makes his character come across as wicked every single time. Roshan Mathew as Sreekumar is sincere and earnest. Rima Kallingal as Bhargavi looks pretty and does a swell job although the emotional connect was missing in her character(majorly due to the writing). Tovino Thomas as Basheer is impressive as the recluse writer but I wish his character had more shades to it.
Neelavelicham is a beautiful poetic horror that lacks an emotional connect thereby ending up as a bland affair. Available on Amazon Prime.