Malayalam Reviews

Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela Review: Too Many Desserts Can Spoil Your Dinner

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A father sits down with his family of three adult children, a son-in-law and a grandchild at a high-end restaurant, and with a sombre face, tells them that he has something important to discuss. He wants to tell them that his wife, their mother, has been diagnosed with stage-two breast cancer. “Life offers you many dishes, but sometimes, you won’t like the taste of some of them…” he begins, trying to ease them into the bad news. The children, supposedly reasonable adults, immediately think their dad is talking about the chicken curry that they just had. “Oh, I had a bad feeling about this curry,” they say, and summon the bearer.

For a moment, this confusion might seem funny. On a second thought, you look at them closely, and see that they are playing fools for your sake. The makers of Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela (A Break In The Land Of Crabs) believe that every serious situation has to be watered down with a joke, no matter how awkward it might look. The film has bright buttery visuals, and interesting music. The production design is quaint. The little stunts and tricks done in the editing part have worked out well. The actors are good-looking, and their wardrobe is pretty. Melodrama has been carefully replaced with casual conversation and action, exaggerated theatrical facial expressions replaced with blank expressions that could mean many things, and gloom with jokes and more jokes. 

But there is little beneath the film’s surface. Blame it on Vineeth Sreenivasan, the new-age Malayalam feel-good films are syrupy tales that scream bland life-affirming messages. They have become too familiar, and hence, predictable. They might as well be written by Shiv Khera. 

NNOI, directed by Althaaf Salim, is a feel-good tale of an opulent Christian family in Kochi. In good times, they resemble the family in Vineeth’s Jacobinte Swarga Rajyam. Only that the lead characters here are much more unabashedly imperfect than they were in JSR. The elder son, Kurien (Nivin Pauly) is a loafer who loves food. The father, Varkey (Lal), a jolly-good realtor, isn’t shy to confess to his wife and kids that he is not very brave. However, the film doesn’t hold together these positives.

When Sheela Varkey (Shanthikrishna), a college lecturer, finds out one day that a lump on her body might be cancerous, she shares her fears with her husband, Varkey. This puts him in jitters. The couple goes to a doctor who confirms their fears. They break the news to their children, and together, the family prepares for Sheela’s fight against cancer. It is a situation akin to the Titanic. The ship has hit the ice-berg, and death is imminent. Instead of running helter-skelter, the family has to stay calm. 

In Shakun Batra’s Kapoor And Sons, a brilliant family drama, it is in the scenes set at dinner tables and living rooms, the grey shades of the characters come to the light. The family members indulge in talkathons which begin passively, explode midway, and culminate at a point so delicate.

In NNOI, such spontaneous long conversations create no hard-hitting impacts. After a certain point, they become exhausting. There is a long-winded romantic track involving Kurien and Rachael (Aishwarya), a girl he bumps into at the chemotherapy ward where he had accompanied his mother. Her dad is a cancer patient too. They embark on a cute relationship, and the film invests in a romantic song sequence on their relationship arc. Because this film is not just about people beating cancer, but also about by-standers of patients finding life-partners from cancer wards. There is too much hope and positivism stuffed into this film. It is one thing to be cool about cancer, and another to stay real and behave sensibly. 

Of the actors, Nivin Pauly, who is also the producer, delivers the weakest performance.  He wears his tried and tested mask of a ‘clueless young man’ again in this film. He sure looks like a loafer, but goes overboard with his ‘playing the fool’ act. He looks weary here. Lal is utmost natural in the role. His Varkey is funny and helpless at the same time, and Lal’s fine-tuned acting helps you sympathise with him. Ahaana Krishna, in her second outing, has done a neat job. She has an interesting screen-presence that commands attention even in the most casual scenes where she has little to do. 

The actor who steals the show here, is Shanthi Krishna, the yesteryear heroine whose brilliantly subtle performance shoulders the film. It’s her restrained acting that adds layers to Sheela, an otherwise one-note character. When she is scolding her family members, you can see that it’s not just anger that is driving her. Shanthi Krishna helps you see the life and character of Sheela beyond what the film shows you. She makes Sheela’s vulnerabilities poignant. 

There is an undeniable glimmer of talent in Njandulakalude Naattil Oridavela. There are several brief moments that speak highly of the skills of Althaf Salim and cinematographer Mukesh Muraleedharan. However, the film is pulled down by mediocre writing that discounts any possibility of grey in life. It is a dinner where you are served dessert seven times, and nothing else. 

***

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