‘Neru’ movie review: Jeethu Joseph and Mohanlal’s courtroom drama almost delivers a cathartic high

Mohanlal is back to form with an understated performance, while Jeethu Joseph has found his mojo in this mostly riveting legal drama

December 21, 2023 08:08 pm | Updated December 22, 2023 03:35 pm IST

Mohanlal in ‘Neru’

Mohanlal in ‘Neru’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Half an hour into Jeethu Joseph’s Neru, almost all the cards are on the table, unlike the filmmaker’s previous outings. We know almost everything about the crime. We know the accused, and the court proceedings have started. No groundbreaking reveal happens in the two hours that follow, as we have come to expect in his films. Yet, it leaves one with a sense of satisfaction.

The best of Jeethu’s films rely on powerful ideas, which often helped to mask the other inadequacies, even in Drishyam, where the domestic sequences before the crime were quite bland. Neru, too, has one compelling idea at its heart, the challenges faced by Sara (Anaswara Rajan), a blind rape victim, in identifying the accused and in convincing the world that her other senses can make up for the lack of eyesight. This one idea is powerful enough to sustain the film, even when it is close to sagging.

The way she identifies him is quite a story. No less is the manner in which it is ripped apart in court and used for character assassination in sequences which mirror some high profile trials. Neru is also the story of redemption of Vijayamohan (Mohanlal), a down and out lawyer who hasn’t been in court for a long time after being suspended from the bar. Ranged against him are the powerful forces, a rich business group and their high-flying lawyer Rajasekhar (Siddique), with whom Vijayamohan has some history.

Neru (Malayalam)
Director: Jeethu Joseph
Cast: Mohanlal, Anaswara Rajan, Santhi Mayadevi, Priyamani, Siddique, Jagadeesh
Runtime: 152 minutes
Storyline: Set against the backdrop of the Indian legal system, Sara, a blind artist, seeks justice post a traumatic incident.

After establishing the background, Jeethu, who co-wrote the script with Santhi Mayadevi (who has also acted in the film), starts the court proceedings, which take up much of the runtime. Quite a few of the court scenes are riveting, especially the ones featuring the victim, while some others seem clumsy, like the frequent reaction shots in the courtroom of a sneering accused whenever the public prosecutor faces a challenge or of people looking suitably impressed when the prosecutor scores a point, and of a lawyer frequently prompting the witnesses without getting noticed. The constant shifts to television chatter to further explain the courtroom proceedings also appear as a downer. Some passing references to Drishyam are present as well.

The writing decision to let Sara have almost as much role to play in the fight as the lawyer, hits the target. Her character is a world away from the silent victims in our movies, on behalf of whom brave men fought. Anaswara Rajan aces the role, playing it with a lot of conviction. Mohanlal performs in understated manner, bringing a certain shift in dialogue delivery, making it sound more natural than in his recent films. It was a joy to see him in form after quite a long time, although it is still not a patch on the best of his performances.

After the forgettable 12th Man and the passable Drishyam 2, Jeethu has found his mojo in Neru. The entire act of chipping away at the lies and obfuscations of a powerful defendant and navigating the sometimes torturous process of seeking justice, which forms the better part of the film, almost delivers a cathartic high.

Neru is currently running in theatres

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