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Nayattu Another Stunning Malayalam Masterpiece
Starring Kunchako Boban, Joju George and Nimisha Sajayan
Directed by Martin Prakkat
I am fully certain now that the renaissance in Indian cinema is coming to us through Kerala. Every month there is one masterpiece in Malayalam, if not two. I could barely get Dileesh Pothen’s Joji out of my head when this one creeps up on us like a motionpicture meteor tearing through many of notions on the vicious cycle that controls the relationship between the common man and the government machinery.
There have been brilliant films on police brutality in recent times, the Tamil Varnan being the most recent one. Before that there was Vetrimaaran’s Visaranai in Tamil.So graphic in its brutality it made you flinch. Nayattu provides the view from the other side.
Three cops in a Kerala police station of different ages and ranks get embroiled in a case of police brutality that sends them on the run and ends in the only way a tragedy as topical and burning as this can end.Nayattu takes about 30 minutes to warm up. Once the three cops’ escape from sure-punishment for a crime they havn’t committed kicks in, the narrative pace is breakneck breathless and unstoppable.
Very often when a director adopts the thriller format for a socio-politically relevant theme, the ‘message’ gets submerged in style, and the substance is lost in posturing.Not here. Not this time. Director Martin Prakkat(whose last film Charlie with Dulquer Salman was a cult hit) manages a near-impossible balance of headlinish immediacy and a far deeper thematic thrust and relevance which question a system of governance where the oppressor and the oppressed eventually become one.
This is what happens with the three cops Maniyan(Joju George) , Praveen Michael(Kunchako Boban) and the lone woman among the two men Sunitha(Nimisha Sajayan , the richly lauded protagonist from yet another Malayalam masterpiece of 2021 The Great Indian Kitchen). It is to the three actors’ credit that their kinship in crisis doesn’t need to be constructed by the plot. From the moment they are thrown together in the crisis, they seem to share some kind of an anguished camaraderie which doesn’t depend on extraneous props and trappings.They are cops by choice and fugitives by fluke.
Organically and effortlessly the director follows his three heroes through their nightmarish road trip which never runs out of fuel, never loses momentum. There are times when I nearly stopped breathing.Till the last , I was holding my breath to see how this monstrous mess would end.
I can’t say the ending is conclusive or even satisfying to me as an audience. But I am not surprised that director Martin Prakkat and his writer Shahi Kabir leave us with more questions than answers about a system and work ethic where corruption is a byword. The director’s eye for detail and his keen observation of human behavior during crisis make Nayattu a remarkable journey into the heart of darkness.
The three main actors seem to have been born in khaki.My favourite moment in the film is when Sunitha has her periods in the forest in the hills and her colleague plods down to the nearest market to get her pads. But before that their impoverished host senses her discomfort takes off his only clean dhoti and gives it to her quietly.
This show of empathy in a relentlessly speeding narrative is like a slap in the face. We have created our own hell, when we could have created the other alternative just as well.