Malayalam Reviews

Njan Prakashan Review: Sathyan Anthikkad Revives Himself, Sreenivasan Not So Much

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Director: Sathyan Anthikkad

Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Nikhila Vimal, Sreenivasan

Composer: Shaan Rahman

Women in Sathyan Anthikkad’s post-2000 films belong to one single universe where no one ever makes an ethical or moral misstep. Be it Bhavana from Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal or Anupama from Vinodayatra, they are all experts at the ‘middle-class’ art of living. They stay steadfast in the face of adversities while playing muses to the rudderless male protagonist and delivering one-liners taken straight out of amateur self-help books. Njan Prakashan is set in a familiar Anthikkad terrain bound by the aforesaid gender roles and a formulaic narrative that barely takes a risk.

The titular Prakashan (Fahadh Faasil) is a semi-caricature construct that laughs at the hypocrisy of small-town Malayali community. A male nurse by training and a loafer by practice, Prakashan is looking for an easy route to migrate to an exotic country in the West. He believes nursing belittles his gender, and has categorically refused all blue-collar job prospects citing his caste and pedigree. He has even redesigned his name to a more modish PR Akash. Enter three women one after another, and Prakashan’s middling life takes an unexpected turn.

Notwithstanding the plot that falls in the middlebrow zone Anthikkad has voluntarily confined himself in, this time there are some interesting changes in his approach to storytelling. This film is atmospheric. The scenes are fresher and rich in texture, with a great deal of attention paid to the background, shot to look natural as against the glossy look and toneless lighting that had rendered the filmmaker’s previous films visually flat. For instance, during a scene set in the migrant workers’ camp run by Gopalji (Sreenivasan), Prakashan’s moral guide, a group of workers are throwing a fit about the nonavailability of WiFi as the camera moves to focus on a brooding Prakashan. When Prakashan goes to the house of his girlfriend, Salomi (an excellent Nikhila Vimal), the camera swings down from the sky, lending a sweeping view of her house by the side of the backwaters, as though a reflection of how this space would change his life forever. One of the crucial scenes in the latter half –  about a death – is remarkable for its emotional restraint. Anthikkad goes for a close-up of Prakashan going from shock to grief in silence, and in a subsequent scene, he bids farewell to Pauly (KPAC Lalitha), an old housemaid, another person who closely knew the one who passed away. A could-have-been melodramatic scene gets toned down to be a beautiful human moment.

Nevertheless, the writing isn’t very smart. Sreenivasan’s screenplay is crammed with witty and moderately-laughable one-liners – so much so that sometimes it borders on cringe. The characterisations evoke an incomplete feeling, especially that of Salomi who disappears midway leaving several loose ends hanging. She starts off as someone cryptic, different from Anthikkad’s usual female characters. She poses herself as a naive young woman in love, but you can sense that she is hiding something underneath. Nevertheless, the character’s screen-time is brutally cut short and the film goes back to Prakashan and his animated idiosyncrasies, hence wrapping up Salomi as a proto-type selfish woman. Another half-hearted characterisation is Sruthi (Anju Kurien), a neighbor of Tina who, like the wonder-women Anthikkad has an affinity for, shoulders the responsibility of a large family. We see her in a market, selling her farm products (like Nayanthara’s Gauri in Manassinakkare), supplying life hacks (she quotes Charlie Chaplin) to Prakashan like how Vinodayatra‘s Anupama does to Vinod (Dileep).

Anthikkad’s heroes, right from Nadodikkattu era, have moved from white collar jobs and aspirations to the blue collar territory, thus upholding the proletariat. Yet in a song sequence featured on Prakashan’s budding friendship with Tina, the teenage scion of an opulent Christian household to whom he is a home nurse, you see a crowd of migrant laborers used as a prop to evoke an elitist sense of feel-goodness. The working class suddenly becomes a barely visible entity that exists only to make the life of the rich better; here, to cheer up Tina. This class-blindness renders the film’s lecture on ‘the art of living’ superficial.

Fahadh Faasil is, surprisingly, at his mediocre best. The efforts he makes to evoke laughter are painfully visible. The actor hams it up here, while he played a similar character with so much subtlety and grace in Venu’s Carbon last year. You see the difference when an actor like Sreenivasan assumes the center-stage and pulls off a laugh. The actor, albeit the visible frailness in his body-language and face, is a rage in scenes where he has to underplay. Ironically, it is Sreenivasan who becomes the film’s hero as well the villain.  The butt of the film’s jokes are the same kind of people and practices that the actor-writer regularly takes on in media interviews and writings. He pushes forth his personal views a little too much through the dialogues and characterisations – for one, there is a brief scene where Gopalji ridicules Malayali community’s aversion for farming profession, something the actor-writer has been doing at every public appearance he does off late –  turning the screenplay jaded. This glaring lack of focus pulls down Anthikkad’s film from what it could have been.

*****

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