Nizhal movie director: Appu N. Bhattathiri
Nizhal movie rating: 2 star
Modern-day Malayalam films need to be celebrated for their diversity. Most films have characters from different cultural, religious and ideological backgrounds. And this is beautifully presented by the names of the characters which are anything but conventional. For instance, the name of the protagonist in Nizhal is John Baby (Kunchacko Boban), and he supported in his day to day life by Ajith Kumar, Shalini, Dr Basheer, driver Kaif, constable Sainudheen and his colleague Vijayan. There is also a cook named Bahauddin. How often you come across characters in a mainstream film with such unique names. It feels like a conscious effort of filmmakers to avoid monotone in the narration and subtly remind us how we all are dependent on each other. And such vivid names makes a story feel more cosmopolitan, progressive and inclusive. A noble practice that filmmakers in other parts of the country could embrace.
However, just picking colourful names for characters cannot entirely salvage a film. For a film to work, you also need substance and style. Debutant director Appu N. Bhattathiri chooses a narrative style that is low on impact. He aims to pull the rug from under our feet, but barely moves us. The rug stays firmly in its place as he gives us a film that is high on promise and low on delivery.
The film opens with a road accident. We find out that the car that crashed into the bikers had John Baby behind the wheels. What starts as road rage ends in the tragic mishap. What’s more, the ill-tempered John Baby is a judge at a court and is often distracted by his emotions while doing his job. It is anyone’s guess how balanced and fair he would be in delivering judgement in the cases.
For some reason, his friend Dr. Shalini (Divya Prabha), a child psychologist, finds it necessary to discuss the case of a school kid who explained a murder in great detail in class, frightening everyone. The motive of Shalini seeking help from Baby, who is suffering from post-traumatic disorder since the accident, remains unclear. Baby also comes up with a lame excuse to justify why he’s taking such a special interest in helping the child, Nitin (Izin Hash). He might have simply said that he was attracted to Nitin’s mother Sharmela (Nayanthara). It would have been more plausible than the reason he gives for digging up the past.
The mystery at the centre of the story is Nitin. The eight-year-old boy knows about a series of murders that happened close to 30 years ago. How? Does he have some sort of gift where he could see ghosts? Or is he possessed by a ghost?
There are a few glaring logical holes in the narration that cannot be discussed without spoiling the suspense. The tone of the movie dull as the story fails to live up to the suspense created by the visuals. The script is so weak that it doesn’t demand a lot from the actors. While cinematographer Deepak D. Menon’s frames move around, the characters remain mostly stationary. For some time it adds to the suspense but as the movie progresses, it sort of becomes repetitive. Especially, Nayanthara remains a pretty face on the screen; an expensive cosmetic addition to the cast. She hardly tries to mimic the nightmarish feeling of a single mother, whose boy is trapped in some kind of a mysterious tangle.
Nizhal is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.