Nayattu movie review: A near-perfect thriller cum socio-political drama cum police procedural cum escape flick
It did not seem possible that Malayalam cinema could throw up a gem to rival The Great Indian Kitchen this year, but it already has – Nayattu is it.
castJoju George, Nimisha Sajayan, Kunchacko Boban, Yama Gilgamesh, Jaffer Idukki, Anil Nedumangad, Jineesh Chandran, Vinod Sagar
Not a word, not a pause, not a glance, not a sigh feels out of place or unnecessary in Nayattu (The Hunt). Director Martin Prakkat’s new film is many genres packed into one: a police procedural, an escape flick, a suspense thriller and a socio-political commentary on today’s Kerala (or India, or the world, if you choose to see it that way). It did not seem possible that Malayalam cinema could throw up a gem to rival The Great Indian Kitchen this year, but it already has – Nayattu is it.
Written by Shahi Kabir and exquisitely edited by Mahesh Narayanan and Rajesh Rajendran, Nayattu begins with a burst of noise and colour, and ends in silence on a grey, dismal landscape. It takes over half an hour to get to an incident that sends its three protagonists on the run. Every moment thereafter holds an observation, a portent or an unexpected turn of events that keeps the story rolling unrelentingly yet quietly towards its climax.
The opening 30 minutes establish the characters and backgrounds of the police personnel KP Maniyan (Joju George), Sunitha Krishna (Nimisha Sajayan) and Praveen Michael (Kunchacko Boban). Two of them are Dalits. Maniyan is a veteran who dotes on his gifted daughter. Sunitha and her mother live together, and are battling a troublesome member of the extended family when the film opens. Praveen is a new joinee whose focus is his mother’s well-being.
A complaint by Sunitha against her rowdy relative leads to a fracas at a police station. This clash goes against the trio when they are later involved in a dramatic episode and find evidence piling up to suggest that they colluded in a crime. The facts could easily be found out, but the political situation in the state is such that reality matters less than perception, so the force is tasked to frame Maniyan, Sunitha and Praveen.
The brawl at the police station is the only passage in Nayattu that gave me pause. The aggressor in the case is an unlikeable Dalit youth (Jineesh Chandran) which, in and as of itself, is not a problem – the representation of marginalised communities in cinema should be about normalisation not deification, and characters ought to cover the gamut from good to bad. The problem here, however, is that without quite saying so, the chain of events appears to imply that social, political and media sensitivity towards Dalits gives Dalit hooligans an unfair advantage over law enforcers. When you view Nayattu in its entirety it becomes clear that this is not at all the overall point being made by the film, but still, the room for doubt that that scene leaves in passing is unacceptable considering how sections of the upper castes are always on the lookout for an excuse to play up exceptional instances as the norm and to claim victimhood at the hands of Dalit-protection laws and politics.
Nayattu is about how individual human beings are irrelevant in the face of political machinations, and how amoral politicians who claim to care about an oppressed social group use the community’s anguish to further their own selfish ends. If displaying concern for the marginalised calls for destroying scapegoats among them, so be it.
A sense of disillusionment and despair pervades Nayattu, but the open-ended finale also leaves space for hope if you wish to interpret it that way.
Early in Nayattu, Maniyan follows orders to set up an innocent man for a crime he did not commit. The matter-of-factness with which he goes about planting evidence is chilling, but he says bitterly: “Even goons have a choice to accept or reject quotations, we don’t have that freedom.” Soon, the system he once obeyed turns on him with the same callousness with which it once used him so casually.
Shahi Kabir, who earlier wrote the Joju George-starrer Joseph, has once against put his experience as a policeman to good use in Nayattu. His knowledge shines through Maniyan’s hopelessness and the investigation methods used by his colleagues, all of which are portrayed convincingly.
Unlike last year’s otherwise remarkable Anjaam Pathiraa, in which Unnimaya Prasad was cast as a token senior policewoman who ended up standing around helplessly and messing up her job while a man slayed the case, in Nayattu an officer called Anuradha is in charge of tracking down Maniyan, Sunitha and Praveen, and she actually does something. Anuradha is well-written as an efficient sleuth, and actor Yama Gilgamesh looks and acts her part superbly.
The supporting roles are all filled by well-chosen artistes including, in a rather long role, Anil Nedumangad who we lost so tragically last year.
The leads are in smashing form. Joju George gets the most colourful role among them but is not allowed to overshadow Nimisha Sajayan or Kunchacko Boban. At first, Nimisha’s Sunitha is shown to be less mentally tough than the men and it appeared that the film was headed down the path of writing the two men as protectors of this hapless woman, but thankfully it does not go there.
Perhaps unwittingly, the screenplay shows Maniyan, Sunitha and Praveen slipping into traditional gender-designated roles at one point when they are fugitives. That apart, Nayattu defies the tendency to normalise patriarchy in contemporary Malayalam cinema with small touches such as a man seen hanging up a woman’s intimate clothing on a washing line and a man wordlessly purchasing sanitary napkins for his female companion when he figures, without being told, that she is having her periods. Such consideration is not a common sight in Malayalam cinema.
The effortless beauty of Munnar captured by DoP Shyju Khalid in the second half of Nayattu mirrors the effortless beauty of the film. Nothing is strained or contrived in the script. The music (by Vishnu Vijay) and sound design (by Ajayan Adat) are spare and just right. And Prakkat, whose last film was the widely acclaimed, widely awarded, widely-watched Charlie (2015), patiently allows his ingredients to simmer without once marring his chosen pace or the narrative’s serene demeanour.
Nayattu is about a heartless system that unflinchingly devours the very people who sustain it. The synopsis on Netflix reads: “Three police officers become pawns for unscrupulous lawmakers when they are framed in an incident amid political elections and must flee to evade arrest.” It is that – yes. It is also quite indescribable.
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Nayattu is streaming on Netflix.
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