The Malayalam film Neru is directed by Jeethu Joseph and stars Mohanlal, Anaswara Rajan, Siddique, Priya Mani, Jagadeesh, Sreedhanya, Ganesh Kumar
The problem for actor Mohanlal and director Jeetu Joseph in Neru is, well, Drishyam. Well, the two Drishyams have been such standard-setting hits that the expectation from the lay public is for a similar edge-of-the-seat thriller from the duo. If that is what is in your mind, then Neru is not for you. But relax, Neru is a different film, one filled with a lot of emotional heart that also has elements of suspense. Also, your expectations are not Jeethu Joseph and Mohanlal’s problem. What they set out for through Neru is a different film, one they more or less manage to deliver with conviction.
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The story of Neru and the plot arc are not too difficult to guess. But what Neru does very well is with the emotions and also getting the courtroom nuances spot on. Malayalam cinema is no stranger to movies that involve legal jousts, but what sets Neru apart in that category is that it cuts down on theatrics and instead embraces quiet realism. Such an approach also serves the larger message of the film on women’s safety.
The film gets to the nub quickly. Sara (Anaswara Rajan), a visually-impaired sculptor, is raped. The villain of the incident is a well-connected and wealthy youth. He has a typical legal army to back him. The sculptor’s parents (Jagadeesh and Sreedhanya) are caught on a cleft stick as they do know little to proceed further.
And then there is Vijaymohan (Mohanlal), who is on a break as a lawyer. But the sculptor’s family believes in his ability. They want him on their side of prosecution. Vijaymohan is reluctant. However, he is forced to get into the case because of the emotional pressure. But his lack of practice in the court shows in the initial phases of the case and also serves the director to build some buzz for the hero to come back in the latter portions.
And this is where Jeethu Joseph serves as a surprise, a happy one, at that. The film, when it moves to its climactic phase, does not become a hero’s vehicle. It is where the Sara character is given the agency, and things are sorted more through her pluck.
The film is filled with emotional meat and, in some, stretches into some melodrama, but in the flow of things you don’t exactly mind. The other strong part of the movie is the legal portions. It does not slip into a verbal exchange between the advocates. It is quite restrained even while maintaining the momentum and mood. In recent times, we have had plenty of Malayalam movies with courtroom elements — Saudi Vellakka (2022), Nna Thaan Case Kodu (2022), Vaashi (2022), and Jana Gana Mana (2022). But Neru goes for a different beat and gets it right.
Mohanlal is splendid in a role that is tailor-made for him — poker-faced but with a thinking and ticking brain. He understands the tone of the film and matches his performance in line with that. Anaswara Rajan is the real revelation of the film. She really comes to her own with a bravura performance. The film’s final stretches are all hers. The others in the cast are more than adequate. Vishnu Syam’s music is another aspect of the film that fits in so agreeably with the overall tenor.
Jeethu Joseph shows that he has a yen for emotional craft within a suspense drama. His writing with Santhi Mayadevi (who is a real lawyer and also plays the role of Vijaymohan’s assistant in the film) gives the film all its core. And the larger message of the film lands spectacularly when a defence lawyers question the behaviour of the rape victim, the prosecution lawyer Vijyamohan holds his emotion and asks: ‘How should a rape victim?’. You felt like standing up and clapping right there.
We rest our case.
Where can you watch Neru in the UAE?
An engineer-turned-journalist, K Balakumar’s career began in print publications as a sports writer. That also opened doors for other journalistic avenues like films, music, finance, technology and politics, which nobody can escape in India. After 30 yrs in mainstream journalism, now a freelancer for various digital publications.