Nayattu Review: The wrong arm of the law

Sushmita Bose /Dubai
sushmita@khaleejtimes.com Filed on June 9, 2021

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.

sushmita@khaleejtimes.com

author

Sushmita Bose

Sushmita, who came to Dubai in September 2008 on a whim and swore to leave in a year's time (but then obviously didn't), edits wknd., the KT lifestyle mag, and writes the Freewheeling column on the Oped page every Friday. Before joining Khaleej Times, she'd worked for papers like Hindustan Times and Business Standard in New Delhi, and a now-defunct news magazine called Sunday in Calcutta. She likes meeting people, making friends, and Facebooking. And even though she can be spotted hanging out in Dubai's 'new town', she harbours a secret crush on the old quarters, and loves being 'ghetto-ised' in Bur Dubai where she is currently domiciled.





 
 
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