Nayattu Review: The wrong arm of the law
The critically-acclaimed Malayalam film Nayattu is a raw, gritty thriller with political underpinnings, set amid the backdrop of a caste conflict
I don’t understand Malayalam, so I must have missed many nuances embedded in Nayattu — which, in English, translates to The Hunt. But even with the disadvantage of an unintelligible language (there are obviously sub-titles), this is one of the finest Indian films I’ve watched in my life. It has the unglossy starkness of a Sairat, with the pitch-perfect art direction of Django Unchained, and an unflinching cast that delivers on every score.
Nayattu is set amid the pulls and pushes of a Kerala small town that has a crucial election coming up, where Praveen Michael (Kunchacko Boban) takes up a position as a civil police officer at the local station. He, another female colleague Sunitha (Nimisha Sajayan), and a senior officer Maniyan (Joju George) get embroiled in a murky caste drama, leading to an accidental death. The powers-that-be try to make the three of them scapegoats in an effort to douse sentiments against the ruling party — in a command operation coming straight from the chief minister’s office.
The trio have no other option but to flee, with a quickly-assembled crack hunt party — that needs to hand over the ‘culprits’ on a tight deadline — in hot pursuit. It’s a team of hunters that will stop at nothing: they are working on the directive that the destiny of the hunted is already a casualty.
And yet, most of Nayattu is about human drama, fragility, empathy and a furious — and constant — repurposing of the moral compass. Maniyan, for instance, has been complicit in framing a host of false allegations because ‘corruption’ was part of his job profile — how does he deal with it when he’s at the receiving end himself?
The best bits? The attention to detail. Be it the cinematography — a landscape that’s drawn out like a messy artwork — or the “cutting” camerawork or the social anthropology or the fleshing out of characters. The hint of a relationship unfolding between Praveen and Sunitha, the effortless paternal instinct of Maniyan, the sheer sophistry of the political regimen, the disturbing ambience of “leftist” ideologies — everything is frighteningly spot on. The ‘typical’ small-town Kerala wedding, the backyard clothesline, the tea stall in Munnar, the bumpy jeep ride in the dead of the night…
Each performance is flawless — even the bit role of the protagonist’s helpless mother or the shopkeeper who hurriedly wraps sanitary napkins in a piece of newspaper.
The worst bits? Can’t think of any. But there is bound to be unsettlement giving company to the awe. This is not a feel-good film by any standards. You need to rise above the expectation of an entertaining watch and surrender to art.